It is just past eight in the morning as I make my way down the block to the local Boulangerie, quietly taking my spot in the line out the door, securing my place among the local daily routine, devout shoppers, all eagerly awaiting to appease their yearning for the unbelievable scents wafting out of the tiny shop ahead. Fresh baking doughs, from sweet to savory and everything in between, calling out to the morning risers, an important staple of this culture’s palette. I am jittery with anticipation, can something that smells like heaven really be just a few paces away? My mind starts reeling; how do I pick only a handful of items, all that I can comfortably carry, and still fit somewhat into the locale, picking wisely enough that none of my waiting comrades notice that I am a ravenous foreigner, approaching what may be my last meal, or so it seems to my American self, where bigger is always better. Do I stick with a simple baguette? Should I veer towards a brioche? Or pain aux raisins? What about the chouquettes or chausson aux pommes, tartes topped with all kinds of fruits, and don’t even get me started with the croissant selection! Pain au chocolat? Croissant aux amandes?? And the list goes on. Luckily, the line was pretty long so I had plenty of time to ponder these nuisances, and yet as the woman behind the counter greeted me with her quick “Bonjour”, eyes barely registering me, meaning “what do you want lets make this fast there are lots of people that I need to help today so you best be ready”. Needless to say, I panicked. No time for a quick perusal, satiating my hunger with my eyes, making any last minute decisions by seeing what the day’s offerings had to display. Panic took away all notions of French that I may have had along with my carefully picked out order, slipping straight down the drain. “Un croissant”, I said, half smiling like thats what I mean to order all along, like my insides weren’t screaming with excitement and confusion from all the amazing things laid out before me. I dropped my euro coins into the pay slots, mumbled a somewhat defeated and embarrassed “Merci” and ran out the door.
Once I reached an acceptable distance, I carefully unwrapped the steaming delicacy clenched in my palms. A plain old croissant, yet anything but plain. A magical moment happened on that street corner. Fresh from the oven, flaky on the outside and gooey dough on the inside, its hot buttery smells escaping in a tantalizing allure, as I broke the pastry in half. One bite was enough to send me to tears. Melt in your mouth goodness, unlike any other croissant experience I had ever encountered. Perhaps it was the long line, the anticipation and work that took into attaining this baked good, perhaps it was the resolve from my own indecisiveness that you can never go wrong in a good French bakery, but hallelujah I felt like the pious pilgrim breaking bread for the first time.
Now, I cannot say this recipe will bring you to tears or begin to compare myself to the professional Parisian bakers I encountered, but this will come pretty close and be sure to impress all your guests. Croissants are not hard to make. Many people shy away from them because they think it takes great skill to replicate these French beauties. Really, it just takes a lot of time and patience. The key to making a croissant, unlike a simpler stepped Brioche, is to layer the butter into the dough as opposed to mixing it in completely. (This will make sense in a few steps). I recommend beginning the prep-work the morning before you want to serve these. Allow the majority of the day for the dough to set and then finish the prep-work in the evening, placing your beautiful creations in the fridge overnight, ready to bake in the am. It took me a few times to get a croissant that I felt happy with, so don’t be too harsh on yourself if these don’t pan out the first time you try the recipe. But also, you’re baking with lots of butter so in the end you can’t really go wrong in the flavor department.
1 1/4 c warm milk.
2 1/2 tsp active yeast
3 1/2 c flour
1/4 c sugar
2 tsp salt
2 1/4 sticks butter
1 tbsp heavy cream
2 non-stick cookie sheets
rolling pin (I’ve also used a clean wine bottle)
pastry brush (any clean brush will work fine)
1- First we need to activate our yeast. Mix 1 cup of flour with the yeast and milk and let sit for about 20 minutes (bubbles will form on the top layer showing that the yeast is alive and working).
2- Add the rest of the flour, sugar, and salt.
3- Knead dough on a floured surface until it becomes smooth and stretchy (this should take only a few minutes)
4- Form dough into a cylindrical mound, cover in plastic wrap, and let chill in the refrigerator for most of the day (at least 3-4 hours)
5- When the dough has had time to cool, begin to prep the butter. Slice sticks into thin rectangles to create one large square on parchment paper. Use rolling pin to smooth out square to form one thin layer of butter. Let cool.
6- Roll out the chilled dough on a floured surface to make a flat square, larger than the square of butter.
7- Place butter square in center of dough and fold each side in, like an envelope, to seal in the butter. Press down on the dough to release any air bubbles.
8- Use rolling pin to tap the dough flat, again releasing any more air bubbles, and roll dough out horizontally to create a long rectangle.
9- Fold in one and then the other, like a letter fold/hot dog style, cover with plastic wrap and let cool in the freezer for 20min.
10- Repeat steps 8-9 up to 6 times (minimum 3). The more times you repeat the more layers of butter you are creating and the flakier the croissant will be.
11- Split dough in half and keep one half wrapped in the fridge.
12- Roll out the remaining half on a floured surface to make a long rectangle, aiming to keep a uniform thickness.
13- Starting at one corner, make diagonal lines from edge to edge, making triangle cutouts in the dough.
14- With each triangle, sprinkle off excess flour and roll out gently to make bigger.
15- With the wide end facing you, roll the dough forward all the way to the end, tucking the pointed end under the croissant.
16- (Optional step) Gently tug the ends of the croissant inwards to make a mild crescent shape.
17- Repeat steps 14-16 until all rectangles have been rolled into croissant shape and placed on cookie sheet.
18- Repeat steps 12-17 for the second half of remaining dough from fridge.
19- Let croissants refrigerate overnight. This will allow the yeast to keep working. The croissants will not grow much in size but will puff up a bit, creating that puff pastry flakiness.
20- In the am, let croissants sit out on counter for about 2 hours to come to room temperature before baking.
21- Whisk the egg with the heavy cream to form an egg wash, using a pastry brush to coat each.
22- Bake each pan one at a time, at 400F for 15 minutes, rotate pan, then another 15 minutes, or until croissants turn golden brown and begin to flake. Et Voila!
Welcome to the world of Boulangers! Et bon appétit!
Pauline, Apparis Bloguette