Post updated January 2017
Sections in this post:
- About the recipe
- Little tweaks here and there
- Recipe for a croissant dough
- How to shape the dough for croissants and pains au chocolat
- A few tips
- Proving: a cooler environment
- A rough timescale for making croissants
- Quicker croissants
I have been fascinated by laminated doughs since I was a young boy: making croissants is right up there in my top 3 baking joys (along with sourdough and pastry). There really is something quite magical when you eat a proper croissant, pain au chocolat or savoury variation.
Croissants should have a crisp outer shell as you bite into it, with bits of the flaky exterior falling off. They should have a honeycombed interior structure, a rich, buttery flavour and a lovely, almost nutty aroma.
Croissants have a reputation for being difficult to make, and while they are certainly not the easiest bake in the world, they are incredibly rewarding to make. It might take a few goes to feel more comfortable with the process, but that is part of the joy of baking.
For the best results, you need to set aside just over a day from start to finish. But don’t be put off, as there is actually not much hands-on work: most of the time is simply waiting around while the dough chills.
There is also no urgency with the timings and you can get on with other things while the dough rests in the fridge.
The recipe below
There are so many recipes for croissants involving different approaches for various stages. I have tried dozens of recipes over the years in my quest to make what for me is the perfect croissant.
This recipe takes ideas from the many recipes I have worked through and gives the best results for me.
Despite having tweaked a few things with the recipe at times, the version below is always the most up-to-date version.
I have also given a recipe for quicker croissants, which is a less daunting recipe to try and gives excellent results: but it’s down to personal choice as to the approach that works best for you.
Little tweaks here and there
Even with this recipe, I like to ring the changes from time to time. For example:
- sometimes I use a mixture of strong flour and standard plain flour for a softer croissant, but strong flour gives the best structure, with a crisper flake
- I used to go for a 50-50 mixture of milk and water in the dough, but I now prefer using all water
- the addition of ground ginger and/or cocoa powder to the flour for a twist on pains au chocolat works well – 4 teaspoons of ginger gives a subtle flavour throughout the dough; 50g cocoa powder will give enough chocolate flavour while not adversely affecting the dough’s texture
- if going for savoury bakes, I might mix some ground spices such as turmeric or mustard powder with the flour, depending on the filling
I strongly recommend reading the tips section below the recipe to pre-empt any potential issues.
Recipe for croissant dough (makes approx. 15 croissants or 20 pains au chocolat)
- 600g strong white plain flour (or a 50-50 mixture of plain flour and strong plain flour for a softer croissant)
- about 350ml cold water
- 70g caster sugar
- 12g fine sea salt
- 16g easy-blend dried yeast (sometimes called instant yeast)
- 60g unsalted butter, melted
To laminate the dough:
- 320g chilled unsalted butter (I use Lurpak)
- 1 small free-range egg, beaten with a little water
(1) Mix the flour and the yeast together. Add the sugar and the salt and mix in. Add the melted butter and most of the water to the dry ingredients and bring together to make a fairly soft but not sticky dough, adding more water if needed.
(2) Knead lightly for a minute or so – just enough to bring it together to form a fairly smooth ball, but without over-working it: you don’t need to develop the gluten too much here; the rolling out of the dough later will develop the gluten and give structure to the final croissants.
(3) Flatten the dough somewhat with your hands, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.
NB: the chilling makes it easier to roll out the dough and also allows the flavour to develop as the yeast activates slowly in the fridge.
(4) While the dough chills, shape the butter into a square that is about 20cm by 20cm: I slice off pieces and arrange on a sheet of greaseproof in a rough square. I then lay another sheets of greaseproof on top and lightly bashing the butter with the rolling pin to soften it up a little and to make sure it is a continuous thin slab. Chill until needed: the butter should be cool but malleable: ie) on the softer side rather than being too firm: remove it from the fridge for a short while if needed.
(5) Pat the dough gently to deflate it and roll out to a rectangle that is just over 40cm by 20cm, with the shortest edge facing you.
(6) Place the butter in the centre of the dough and bring the top and bottom 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. Brush off the excess flour. Chill for about 30 minutes, so that the dough and butter are at similar levels of firmness.
NB: there are many ways to encase the butter in the dough, but this is how I prefer to do it. Don’t worry about the roughness of the seals as once the dough gets rolled out it will become smooth. Precise measurements are not essential: just ensure the butter is fully encased.
(7) Roll out the dough to a long, thin rectangle – about 60cm by 20cm*. When rolling out, start from the centre and roll out the top half, before turning the dough 180 degrees and repeating the rolling out from the top half. This helps distribute even pressure across the dough.
*NB: don’t get too obsessed about getting exactly these dimensions; a longish rectangle, almost to the width of the worktop, is what you are aiming for.
(8) Fold the bottom third of the dough into the middle and then bring the top third of the dough over this, still keeping the edges as straight as possible: as in the photos below. This is one turn.
NB: this is an envelope turn, with 3 layers of dough. Some recipes go for a book turn by folding the bottom and top of dough to the centre and folding this in half to give 4 layers, but I usually stick to envelope turns: it is easier to work with.
(9) Cover with cling film and put in the fridge for about an hour or so to rest. You can leave the dough for about 15 minutes to allow the butter in the dough to soften up just a little if needed, so that the butter doesn’t splinter when you try to roll it.
(10) Rotate the dough 90 degrees (as in the photo below).
(11) Repeat steps 7 to 10 twice more to give two more turns, making sure you rest the dough for about an hour each time. You have now done the three turns.
(12) After the third and final turn, wrap the dough with clingfilm and leave the dough to rest in the fridge for 4-5 hours. Alternatively, if you want to use the dough at a later stage, once it has had its final turn freeze it wrapped well in clingfilm.
NB: The dough benefits hugely from this final resting (or freezing) as you get a dough that rolls out more easily for the final time.
(13) Remove the dough from the fridge and gently pat it down to deflate it. If you froze the dough after its final turn, place it in the fridge overnight until it has fully defrosted. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle that is just over 80cm by 20cm. Or, it is is easier, to a 40cm by 40cm square.
NB: you need to go gently here and be patient until you have rolled it out enough. Give the dough a half turn from time to time before continuing to roll out. If the dough is not rolling out easily, fold it up loosely, wrap in clingfilm or a plastic bag and pop it in the freezer for about 20 minutes before unfolding and continuing to roll.
(14) Trim the edges with a sharp knife and shape: see the “shaping the dough” section below. You will get 15 triangles for croissants (plus 2 off-cut triangles) or 20 rectangles for pains au chocolat.
(15) Put the shaped dough well spaced out on baking trays lined with a double layer of greaseproof paper. Whisk the egg with the water and brush lightly over the shaped dough. Cover and leave at cool-ish room temperature until puffy and almost doubled in size – this can several hours depending on the room temperature. You should be able to see the very thin layers in the dough.
NB: I pop the trays into a large bin liner, with a tin or mug inside to keep the plastic from touching the dough. You can prove them in a slightly warm room, just make sure it is not too warm – otherwise the butter can melt.
(16) Brush the risen dough again with beaten egg and put the trays in an oven pre-heated to 200°C (fan). As soon as they go in, immediately turn the temperature down to 175C. Bake for 20-25 minutes depending on the size: they should be a deep golden brown and feel light when you lift them.
NB: keep an eye on them as they bake: after about 15 minutes you might want to rotate the pans depending on your oven. The pastries will show flaky layers, giving a teaser as to what is to come: arguably the most exciting part of the entire process!
Shaping the dough for croissants or pains au chocolat
After the final resting, the dough is ready for shaping.
I usually roll it out to a longer, thin rectangle (about 80cm by 20cm) but I sometimes go for a square about 40cm by 40cm. Just go for whatever is easiest and requires the least effort. Just don’t rush the rolling out: it will get there with a little patience.
If the dough resists while rolling it out, don’t put excess pressure on it to force it: simply leave it alone on the work surface for 10 minutes or so, loosen it gently off the work surface and continue. If the kitchen is not cool enough, fold the dough loosely, pop it in a plastic bag and place in the freezer for 20 minutes before continuing.
- Cut out triangles from the dough, each with 10cm base and 20cm height. Brush off any excess flour off the top and underneath.
- Take a triangle and use the rolling pin gently over the top third or so of the triangle (closest to the point) to elongate it a little. Repeat for the other triangles.
- At the base of each triangle make a cut going just over 1cm inwards, and gently pull apart the dough either side of the cut to widen the base a little. They always remind me of little Eiffel Towers!!
- Roll up the triangles, starting fairly tightly and using both hands to gently widen the croissant as you start to roll, easing up as you work towards the point: you don’t want to put too much pressure on the dough as you risk squashing the layers. End with the tip underneath: you can gently pull the tip to stretch it if needed. Leave them straight or bring in the side tips to form a crescent.
Shaping pains au chocolat
- Cut the dough into small rectangles (each about 8cm by 10cm), giving 20 rectangles in total. Alternatively, cut different sized rectangles, with or without measuring them. You can gently elongate the rectangles if you wish.
- Place a chocolate baton or a strip of chocolate chips width-ways close to the bottom of each rectangle and roll the bottom of the dough up over it. Place another chocolate baton at the “join” and roll all the way to the end.
- Place on baking trays with the seam face down and gently pat down each one.
NB: you can add cherries that have been soaked in kirsch or rum if you want: just pop a couple alongside the chocolate and lightly press down so they are not too bulky
If you want to freeze some of the shaped, but unrisen dough, simply place them on a baking tray and pop them in the freezer until they are firm.
Then wrap them in greaseproof paper and take what you want out of the freezer the night before – the greaseproof helps you separate them. Place them onto baking trays, place the tray inside a large plastic bag or bin liner and leave to defrost and rise overnight. You then egg-wash and bake the next morning.
A few tips
From time to time I make a batch that is not quite right (often when not focusing enough or being a touch heavy-handed), as happened to me when I prepared a batch to take to a baking competition: now that would have be the time for my carelessness, wouldn’t it?!
While it might take a few goes at making croissants to feel you have nailed them, these tips should help achieve results you can be proud of:
- Try to avoid making a laminated dough on a hot day in a warm kitchen: a warm kitchen makes this croissant making even more of a challenge. If you are going to, though, you need to work quickly, with more frequent chilling, to prevent butter oozing out as the dough gets rolled.
- The butter needs to be cold but malleable: don’t work with a rock-solid slab or it will tear through the dough and ruin some of the lamination. It should be at the same temperature as the dough.
- The butter should be of a good quality: cheaper butters, with a lower fat content, often have a higher proportion of water in them, which in turn can cause the butter to shatter while you roll the dough. The cheaper butters are also prone to leaking out while the dough bakes.
- Try to keep the butter and the dough at the same cool temperature at 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 when about to start a turn, leave the dough out at room temperature for up to 30 minutes to soften just a little before rolling out.
- Brush any excess flour off the surface of the dough: too much flour trapped between the layers will affect the lamination, so use a pastry brush or clean paint brush to flick the surplus flour away, especially during the turns.
- Don’t be afraid to stop and let the dough relax: if the dough resists while you are rolling it out for the turns or starts to shrink back on itself, leave the dough where it is for 20 minutes or so if the kitchen is cool, before continuing with the rolling out. Alternatively, particularly if the kitchen is on the warm side, wrap the dough in cling film, gently fold it back up and put in the fridge for about 30 minutes or freezer for 20 minutes. Then unfold it and continue.
- Don’t roll out the dough to a rectangle that is too large during the turns: I go for a rectangle that is about 60cm by 20cm for each of the 3 turns, which laminates the dough with greatest ease: it really is quite effortless to roll it out to this size without forcing it. For the final roll, though, which will be cut for shaping, the dough will be rolled out to a larger rectangle and with the resting of the dough, this is also easy to achieve without putting much pressure onto the dough.
- Rest the dough properly in the fridge: this makes it much easier to roll out and results in a much better structure of the baked croissants. I go for an hour or so after every turn.
- Avoid the temptation to give the dough an extra turn: you might try this in the hope of creating more layers, but 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 enough results for my tastes!
- Line the baking trays well: I always go for at least a double thickness of greaseproof paper, as croissants and pains au chocolat can be prone to getting overly dark on their bases.
- Don’t under-prove: once the croissants or pains au chocolat have been shaped, leave them at a coolish room temperature to prove, checking after a couple of hours. You want them puffy with a slight wobble as you gently prod one. I also judge it by the smell: that lovely aroma of yeast is much in evidence!
- Don’t over-prove: keep an eye on them; you don’t want them to get to the point when the dough starts to tear as this ruins some of the layers.
- You want to start baking in a hotter oven: this helps the shaped croissants rise and flake up beautifully, but not too hot so that the tops go too dark too quickly. I heat the oven to 200C(fan) and as soon as they go into the oven turn the temperature down to 175C where they stay until baked. However, as with most baking, it is about getting to know your oven!
- Don’t under-bake: croissants start to brown up fairly quickly and it is easy to take them out thinking they are ready, only to find them collapsed and doughy inside! You can afford to go a darker golden brown with croissants and pains au chocolat. To test they are ready: the tops should be firm and they should lift easily off the tray, feeling quite light and revealing a firm, crisp base when you tap it – as in the picture below.
Pictures of laminated doughs with issues:
The three pictures below are of my earlier 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 included two that were more what I look for.
Not quite right:
Proving: a cooler environment
When proving a shaped laminated dough, I tend to prove it at fairly cool room temperature or the fridge so that it rises more slowly: the slower the rise, the better the flavour. When proving in a cooler environment, the butter doesn’t have a chance to melt: sadly I have mis-judged the warmth of a warm room on too many occasions!
A rough timescale for making croissants:
When I make croissants traditionally, which is more a weekend affair for me, I often stick to a timescale similar to the one given below. These timings are very loose guidelines.
I usually make these while getting on with other things such as watching TV, pausing for about 10 minutes or so just while I do each turn!
- Day one – evening: make up the initial dough and refrigerate overnight
- Day two – 8am: encase the butter block in the dough, chill, roll out and do the first turn. Refrigerate
- Day two – 9.30am: do the second turn and refrigerate
- Day two – 11am: do the third turn and refrigerate the wrapped laminated dough
- Day two – 4pm: roll out the dough, shape and leave to rise for 2-3 hours
- Day two – 7pm: bake!
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 as such, but it tastes just the same!
One of my favourite sweet variations is cherry & kirsch pains au chocolat: incredibly indulgent and divine to eat slightly warm.
For the trimmings, for either a standard croissant dough or a flavoured dough, 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!
You can incorporate the butter grated from a frozen block of butter, straight into the flour at the start, with minimal resting between the turns: although you could get away with no resting if the dough is rolling out easily.
This is certainly an easier method and it is certainly quicker to get the dough laminated, taking no more than half an hour. While the dough still benefits from overnight resting prior to shaping, it works very well with just a few hours rest in the fridge before shaping.
The result is a flaky croissant with a nice structure, although it does not have quite the same level of honeycombed interior as you get with the traditional method. But it does give a very nice croissant indeed!
My recipe for these quicker croissants is here.