I have amended this post since I had originally posted it, to include a more detailed troubleshooting section and more images of the key stages of the lamination process (Dec 2013).
There really is something quite magical when you get the lightest croissant, pain au chocolat or savoury variation – all with the crispiest flakes and a buttery, though not greasy, flavour.
Rather than just a light, cresent-shaped, bready concoction with not much flavour – ie) a typical commercial croissant – I like a croissant to have a crisp outer shell as you bite into it, with bits of the flaky exterior falling off, a honeycombed structure inside, a soft, buttery flavour and a lovely sweet, almost nutty aroma. And a good croissant has to melt in the mouth rather than stick to the roof of the mouth!
Shape-wise, I tend to make my croissants straight rather than curve inwards but this is purely my own preference.
The dough for croissants and pains au chocolat is not the easiest thing in the world to make, with so many factors that can affect its success – but it is rewarding. Many of my earlier attempts at this dough resulted in mixed success; often the croissants or pains were not flaky enough, and they were essentially just a fairly dense enriched, buttery dough – nice enough in itself, but definitely not what I was after. The troubleshooting section below covers some of the key issues that could occur.
I have made batches of croissants or pains au chocolat in about half a day with only a little resting between turns and before shaping: these give results which have a good flake and a nice crunch as you bite through the exterior but they are not as honeycombed and as light inside as they should be.
The approach that does give the best results each time takes just over a day from start to finish and involves the resting of the dough after each turn plus an overnight final resting. This overnight resting really does make it much easier to roll out the dough thinner before shaping, and if light, airy croissants are what you are after then this is very much the way forward!
There are of course many recipes for croissants involving different approaches but as I now do with my macarons, I stick to a recipe for laminated dough that is an amalgam of several I have tried over the years and one which I know works perfectly for me every time.
A few tips
- Avoid making a laminated dough on a hot day! Not least for your sanity. If you are going to, though, you need to work quickly to prevent butter oozing out of the dough.
- The butter needs to be malleable but cold- this is far better than working with a rock-solid slab. And it must be of a good quality. The cheaper butters, often with a high proportion of water in them, tend to ooze out during the baking. Great if you are aiming for croissants flottants, though!
- Try to keep the butter and the dough at the same cool temperature and at similar consistencies from the start. If the butter is too hard, when you roll the dough it can tear and small shards of butter get displaced, ruining some of the layers you would have built up. If you feel the butter is too hard, leave the dough out at room temperature for a short while to soften just a little before rolling out.
-If the dough is resisting while you are rolling it out, and starts to shrink back on itself, place a sheet of greaseproof or cling film over it, gently roll it up like a swiss roll and either put in the fridge for an hour or the freezer for 15 minutes. Then unroll, set aside the greaseproof and continue. 15 minutes in the freezer, until the dough just firms up, works a treat and allows you to roll out the dough to the size required. This is also a good approach if the kitchen is too warm.
- Rest the dough properly. I go for at least an hour in between turns – this makes it much easier to roll out and results in a good structure of the final bake.
- Avoid the temptation to give the dough an extra turn in the hope of creating more layers. You risk compacting the layers already built up in the dough and this can result in a doughy, non-flaky finished bake – think buttery bread rolls! I find that 3 standard “envelope” turns gives perfect results, and book turns are really not needed.
- If the dough has been resisting somewhat, even after lots of resting, then for the final rolling you get very good results if you roll out to give a slightly thicker dough than intended. And you certainly don’t want to force the dough to become thinner. Ok, you won’t get as much surface area of dough and therefore you will get fewer croissants/pains au chocolat but you will still get great results and a lovely flake.
This is not an exhaustive list, but merely gives pointers for issues I have experienced with laminated yeasted doughs over the years.
(1) The butter is oozing out during the rolling
This could be because the butter is too soft to begin with or the kitchen is too warm for the butter to maintain its firmness.
Solution: put the dough back in the fridge until the butter is firm and continue the rolling.
(2) The butter is tearing through the dough as it is being rolled
The butter is too hard or the dough has been resting for too long.
Solution: leave the dough at room temperature for 15 minutes or so until the butter pieces are softer to the tough, and continue rolling
(3) The dough is not rolling out easily and keeps shrinking
This is because the dough has not been rested enough in the fridge; the gluten that has developed needs to relax to ensure the dough rolls out easily without shrinking back onto itself. If the dough does shrink, don’t force it as forcing it could ruin the lamination that has already taken place.
Solution: roll the dough back up, pop it back in the fridge for an hour and then re-roll.
(4) The dough has risen too much during the overnight resting period
Fear not! The dough will rise somewhat overnight but that is great in terms of flavour of the finished croissants as the rising will help the flavour develop. There will still be plenty of yeast activity to come during the main proving of the shaped croissants.
Solution: remove the dough from its clingfilm and place on the lightly floured work surface. Some of the air will immediately vanish from the dough but lightly pat the dough to release most of the excess air. As you roll it the dough will rapidly return to its original volume and because it has rested overnight, it should roll out quite easily.
(5) The butter is leaking out as the croissants bake
The oven is not hot enough or was not preheated before the croissants went in. A lower quality butter could also be the cause: some of the cheaper butters are prone to melting too quickly whereas the higher quality butters (typically the more expensive ones) have a higher melting temperature which is what you want here. Some block “butters” also contain oil and these need to be avoided for making laminated doughs.
Solution: you might remedy things somewhat if you whack the oven up immediately. However, next time make sure the oven is at the right temperature. It is also worth chilling the risen croissants to firm up the butter before popping them into the hot oven next time.
(6) The croissants are not flaky
This could be because the dough was over handled; the kitchen was too warm so the butter softened too much and could not form the layers properly; too many turns were given (the effect of too many turns is the layers compact too much into each other, effectively ruining some of the lamination); oven not hot enough when the risen croissants went in.
Solution: next time make sure things are as cool as can be and really resist making extra turns – less is very much more with croissants!
(7) The croissants are doughy inside
This is a common problem – all can look well on the outside but the interior is little more than a very buttery bread roll! The reasons could be the dough was not rested enough between rollings; the shaped croissants were not allowed to rise enough before baking (if they do not rise enough you should certainly get the flake on the exterior); too many turns were given. It could also be that the croissants were not cooked long enough.
Solution: next time make sure the dough rests fully – the longer the better – and resist making extra turns. Make sure that the croissants are cooked for a long enough time. Over-baking is better than under-baking – you can always cover darkening croissants with foil to stop them getting too brown while they cook through properly.
(8) The croissants are under-cooked
I would say that this is also a common problem: it is too easy as the croissants are baking to think they are over-cooking as they brown on top, then panic and take them out too soon. You then get a lovely crisp exterior with a soggy interior – or else they start to collape as you cut them. Not pleasant at all!
Solution: at the risk of stating the obvious, they need to be cooked for longer. I wait until the surface is darker brown rather than golden brown, and then cover them with foil to prevent them getting too much darker. A croissant is ready if when you lift it it should feel very light with a firm base, whereas an undercooked one does feel slightly heavier.
The pictures below are of bakes using laminated doughs that were not quite there so you can see the type of issues that can occur.For comparison, I have also include a couple that were perfect.
For maximum flavour the initial dough (ie: before the butter has been encased within it) should prove until doubled in size. This is then knocked back and is ready for the butter block and the subsequent laminating process.
When proving laminated dough, I tend to prove at cool room temperature or more slowly in the fridge.
When proving in a cool environment the butter doesn’t have a chance to melt and ooze all over the place (so many times I have mis-judged the warmth of a warm room temperature!); the fridge firms up the many layers of butter trapped between the dough so that as soon as it hits the hot oven it rises beautifully, always giving what I think is a better flake when baked, rather than after rising in a warm environment.
If proving out of the fridge – although not in too warm a place that the butter melts – once proved, put the shaped dough in the fridge for half an hour or so to allow the butter to firm up and then bake in the preheated oven straight from the fridge. I find that refrigerating the shaped and risen dough can make even the heaviest of handled doughs flake nicely when baked!
Shaping the dough
When making a laminated dough I often don’t know whether I am going to make croissants, pains au chocolat or a variety of savoury bakes. Frequently I have started out with the intention of making croissants only to change my mind near the end and opt for pains au chocolat!
Croissants: cut out triangles from the dough, each with 10cm base, 20cm height. At the base of each triangle make a cut going about 1cm inwards,and gently pull apart the dough either side of the cut to widen the base a little. Then roll up fairly tightly – I find pulling the point of the triangle gently to stretch it (and with cold hands!) helps. Have the tip underneath or it will unravel a little when proving and baking. Bring in the tops to form a crescent or leave straight. I sometimes make larger croissants by having the base of each triangle 20cm, but my preference is usually for smaller ones.
Pains au chocolat: Cut out rectangles (5cm by 20cm). Place a chocolate baton or a strip of chocolate chips width-ways about 1cm from the top and again about 1cm from the bottom of each rectangle (as in picture I below). Roll the bottom part of the pastry over the bottom strip of chocolate towards the centre – the dough will allow you to pull it a bit so you can roll it over. Repeat for the top (picture II below). Gently pat down and put on a baking tray with the seam underneath (picture III below)
If you want to freeze some of the dough it is best to do this once they have been shaped. Simply wrap them in greaseproof paper before freezing and just take what you require out of the freezer the night before – the greaseproof helps you separate them. Place them onto baking trays, cover loosely with clingfilm and place in the kitchen to defrost and rise overnight. You then egg-wash and bake the next morning.
Variations: I sometimes cut the dough as for pains au chocolat and then roll up each rectangle like a small swiss roll, with the seam underneath. Not quite a croissant, but tastes just the same!
My favourite savoury variation is my Cheese & Ham Danish pastries
For the trimmings, rather than re-roll them (which never gives a great, flaky result) I often spread mustard on them as they are, sprinkle over a bit of cheese, and slice into smallish chunks before proving and then baking – moreish rustic nibbles!
Laminated Dough (makes approx. 22 croissants or 20 pains au chocolate)
- 300g strong plain flour
- 200g plain flour
- 12g easy-blend dried yeast
- 10g fine sea salt
- 50g caster sugar
- 50g unsalted butter, melted
- 300-350ml semi-skimmed milk
- 300g good quality, chilled unsalted butter – for encasing inside the dough
- 1 beaten egg.
- Mix the flours and yeast together. Add the sugar and the salt and mix in. Mix the melted butter with most of the milk and add this to the dry ingredients, bring together to make a soft dough – adding more milk if needed. Knead lightly for a minute or so, bringing it together to form a smooth ball. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise until doubled in size. Towards the end of the rise, put the dough in the fridge to chill.
NB: The gluten in the bread will develop as you roll out the dough so the dough does not need anywhere like the amount of handling and kneading at the start as you would with a typical bread dough. Too much kneading at this stage will make it harder to roll out – even with the resting periods. I use a mixture of strong plain flour and standard plain flour to minimise the gluten content – this also helps make the dough less prone to shrinking as I roll it.
- Meanwhile prepare the chilled butter: shape into a square that is just less than 20cm in length.
NB: I have found it easiest to cut slices of the butter straight from the fridge, arranging on a sheet of greaseproof to form the square, before smoothing the surface with a knife. I then put this in the fridge until needed.
- Knock back the dough and roll out to a rectangle that is just over 50cm by 20cm, with the shortest edge facing you. Place the butter in the centre of the dough and bring the flaps over the butter, sealing gently along the two side edges and top, trying not to trap air bubbles. Straighten the edges (I find rapping the flat surface of a ruler against the edges works best). Dust off excess flour, cover with cling film and put in the fridge for about an hour.
NB: There are many ways to encase the butter in the dough, but this works for me. Don’t worry about the roughness of the seals as once the dough gets rolled out it will become perfectly smooth.
- For the first turn, give the dough a quarter-turn and this time roll out to a 60cm by 20cm rectangle, with the shortest edge facing you. If the dough had risen somewhat in the fridge, gently pat it down before rolling. Bring the bottom third of the dough into the middle and then bring the top third of the dough over this, keeping the edges as straight as possible. Cover with cling film and put in the fridge for about an hour to rest. NB: brush any excess flour off the exposed surfaces of the dough – too much flour trapped between the layers will not help achieve a light croissant.
- Repeat the previous stage two more times, making sure you rest the folded dough in the fridge for about hour after the second turn and give the dough a quarter turn before each rolling out. After the third and final turn, cover the dough with clingfilm and leave the dough to rest overnight in the fridge. After a night’s resting the dough will then be ready to use.
NB: Although you get very good results by rolling out and shaping after the final turn, the dough benefits from resting overnight – it makes such a difference when it comes to rolling out the dough prior to shaping, with a dough that rolls out with less resistance. Just gently pat down the dough to de-gas it as it will have risen overnight.
- Roll out the dough to a rectangle just over 100cm by 20cm, and trim the edges with a sharp knife to give a rectangle that is 100cm by 20cm. Shape into croissants or pains au chocolat – see “shaping the dough” section above.
NB: I tend to make half of the dough into croissants (getting about 11 of them) and the other half into pains au chocolat (getting about 10 of them. I also tend to freeze some of the shaped dough at this stage and simply take what I require out of the freezer the night before and place them onto baking trays. I cover these loosely with clingfilm and bake the next morning)
- Put the shaped dough onto baking trays lined with a double layer of greaseproof paper. Brush the shaped dough with egg wash, taking care not to get too much of the egg-wash over the cut bits of the dough and prove until puffy and almost doubled in size – this can take up to a couple of hours but don’t over-prove or the dough can start to tear slightly and develop a crust. Lightly brush again with egg-wash and bake in a pre-heated fan oven at 190°C (fan) for 15-20 minutes.
NB: Keep an eye on these: after about 10 minutes you might want to rotate the pans or turn the oven down to 170C (fan) so that they do not over-brown. And after about 10 minutes all the careful laminating work that has gone on during the making of the dough comes into its own and the pastries will show flaky layers, giving a teaser as to what is to come! This is arguably the most exciting, almost magical part of the entire process.