I love laminated doughs and there 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.
I also use this recipe for Danish pastries; even though a lot of Danish pastry recipes call for egg to be incorporated in the dough at the start, I find it doesn’t need it.
To make a good croissant, pain au chocolate or anything using a laminated dough takes time. 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 – decent results: a good flake and a fair crunch but not as light as they should be.
I made my first croissants when I was about 13 years old and had several bashes at these in my early teens although they were not hugely successful it has to be said. I came back to making them a few years ago and the pictures in this post are of laminated doughs I have made in the last few years, some of which have not worked well, others have been more successful.
I find laminated doughs fun to make. Well, as long as I am not making them on a hot day, in which case my love for this dough goes through many emotional stages and a crime passionel is often on the cards! It is a great thing to be making on a cold, wet day, however, when it isn’t much fun to go out and a day of baking is most definitely in order. In fact, as laminated doughs involve a lot of waiting around until the next stage can be done, many other odds and ends can be done around them – the house chores normally!
Rather than a light, cresent-shaped, bready concoction with not much flavour – ie) your average supermarket 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 and a soft, buttery flavour. And it 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.
The dough for croissants and pains au chocolat is not the easiest things in the world to make, with so many factors that can affect its success. Many of my earlier attempts at this dough resulted in mixed success, with some outright failures: 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 (as in the pic below). And the failures were mainly due to a combination of rushing, preparing them on a hot day, heavy-handedness or giving more turns than is needed.
There are of course many recipes for croissants involving different approaches:
- different ways of incorporating the butter at the start
- the proportion of butter- some use less than half the amount of flour, others using almost as much butter as flour
- using a pre-ferment or not
- having several rises in the early stages
- the number of turns and the type of turn (single turn, book turn …..)
- the amount of resting at the various stages….. and so on….
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 – decent results, good flake and a nice crunch but not as honeycombed inside. But the approach which does give better results each time is making a batch in just over a day from start to finish – involving a long overnight final resting. The overnight resting makes it much easier to roll out the dough thinner before shaping.
As I now do with my macarons, I stick to a recipe for laminated dough that I know works well for me, giving great results. The recipe I use is my amalgam of the many ideas out there after lots of fun practising, and more than my fair share of utter disasters, baking with different recipes for laminated doughs.
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. That said, the pictures of the Aug 2013 pains au chocolat were done during a very hot weekend with a lot of dough chilling in between and they turned out well.
- 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. It 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, without book folds etc gives perfect results.
- 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.
The two pictures below are of a batch of croissants I made recently on a very hot day and in half a day – foolishly on both counts! As there was a lot of quick dough chilling (the butter was starting to get too soft several times), for the final rolling out I couldn’t face wrestling too much with the dough to get the thinness that would have been ideal so I only rolled it a bit. Although this thicker dough didn’t allow me to get more of the croissant “ridges” I was after, they were certainly very flaky and buttery, and they tasted perfect, though! But an overnight final rest (and a cool day) would have made these just right.
When proving laminated dough, I tend to prove at cool room temperature or in the fridge. Having egg-washed the dough before the final proving, it doesn’t dry out 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 in a warm environment – although not too warm 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 straight from the fridge. But 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 one of the strips of dough, each with 10cm base, 15cm height. At the base of each triangle, make a cut going about 1cm inwards, pull apart the dough either side of the cut to widen the base. Then roll, not too tightly – you should have a little air pocket inside and a bit of tension at the end. I find pulling the point of the triangle gently to stretch it 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 roll the dough out further and make larger croissants, but my preference is usually for smaller ones.
Pains au chocolat: Cut out 12 rectangles (5cm by 15cm) out of the other strip of dough. 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)
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 a croissant, but tastes just the same!
My favourite savoury variation uses cheese and ham, made as for pains au chocolat: spread a thin layer of dijon mustard over the rolled out dough and a sprinkling of Gruyère or Comté cheese before cutting into small rectangles. Place a slice of a good ham onto each rectangle – Black Forest ham adds a heavenly smoky flavour – roll up, prove and bake as for pains au chocolat.
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 24 pains au chocolate)
- 600g strong plain flour
- 14g easy-blend dried yeast (2 sachets)
- 12g fine sea salt
- 60g caster sugar
- 350-400ml semi-skimmed milk
- 350g good quality unsalted butter
- 1 beaten egg.
- Mix the flour and yeast together. Add the sugar and the salt and mix in. Add most of the milk and bring together to make a soft dough – knead lightly for a minute or so, bringing it together to form a smooth ball. Don’t over-work it: it should have a little elasticity but not too much. Cover with cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size. Towards the end of the rise, put the dough in the fridge to chill.
- Meanwhile prepare the butter: shape into a square that is just less than 30cm 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 60cm by 30cm rectangle, with the shortest edge facing you. Place the butter in the centre of the dough and bring the flaps over the butter, sealing gently and trying not to trap air bubbles. 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.
- For the first turn, give the dough a quarter-turn and roll out to a 60cm by 30cm rectangle, as before, 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, but after the third and final turn, 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 60cm by 30cm, and trim the edges. Cut in half lengthways, giving two strips 60cm by 15cm, and shape into croissants or pains au chocolat – see “shaping the dough” section above.
NB: At this stage I often use one of the strips to make 11 croissants (plus off-cuts) and the other for 12 pains au chocolat.
- 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 – 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 for 15-20 minutes.