A croissant is a food of utter joy and for me it is one of the greatest things both to bake and to eat. A crisp outer shell that rains flakes as you bite into it, revealing a honeycombed interior structure with a buttery flavour and a lovely, almost nutty aroma. In this post I offer top tips and a recipe I have fine-tuned during my quest to master croissants.
Sections in this post
- About the recipe
- The flour and the butter
- Recipe for croissant dough
- How to shape the dough for croissants and pains au chocolat
- A few top tips
- Proving: a cooler environment
- A rough timescale for making croissants
- Sourdough croissants
- Quicker croissants
I know you can buy decent croissants at good bakeries but the flavour of a home-made one, even if not they do not turn out perfectly (and there is always something to improve upon!), is in another league entirely.
I have been fascinated by laminated doughs since I was a young boy: making croissants is right up there in my top baking joys. There really is something quite magical when you eat a freshly made croissant, pain au chocolat or savoury variation.
The photos in this tutorial are of different batches I have made.
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. And there is a lot of chilling that needs to be done to give excellent croissants.
The great news is there is no urgency with the timings and you can get on with other things while the dough rests.
The recipe below
I have tried dozens of recipes over the years in my quest to make what for me is an excellent croissant, with a variety of slightly differing approaches across those recipes.
The recipe below takes ideas from the recipes I have worked through and gives the best results for me in terms of the stages and the proportions of ingredients.
I still love trying other recipes if I come across an intriguing approach, because I am naturally curious and I love to learn (it’s the teacher in me). While I like to make slight changes from time to time, the version below for croissants is always the most up-to-date version and will gives croissants that work very well indeed.
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. This recipe is at the bottom of this post.
The flour and the butter
Using the right flour and butter is an important part of making good croissants:
Years ago, when I was getting to grips with making croissants, I used standard plain flour. Being lower in gluten (protein), it gave a dough that was much easier to roll out. The downside was it was harder to get as open an interior to the baked croissants as I would have liked. The croissants were still very flaky on the outside, just not as light inside.
Increasing the gluten content by using a strong plain flour (or even a mixture of plain and strong plain) gives a more stable dough while baking, resulting in a more open interior, as the layers are less likely to collapse in the oven.
The one challenge of using strong plain flour is that with its higher gluten content, the dough can be harder to roll out: when you roll out the dough, you can feel it resisting. But this is why there is a lot of resting and chilling, as they help to relax the gluten in the dough, making the rolling out easier as you don’t feel as though you are fighting it!
I now use strong plain flours that are about 12% protein and I stick with that percentage for the most reliable results.
A good quality butter with a high fat content and low water content is best for croissants. Too much water in the butter can lead to soggy, dense interiors. Quite a few of the high-end butters have about 82% fat content and these are ideal.
Most of the butter gets rolled into the dough through a series of turns, shown in the recipe, so you end up with many very thin layers alternating between dough and butter. As the croissants bake, you get clearly defined, crisp layers which, thanks to the yeast, expand to give a very light, airy pastry.
I now mix some very soft butter into the dough at the start. One of the advantages of adding butter to the initial dough is it helps the dough firm up enough during the chills so that it helps it gets closer in texture to the butter: so important to preserve clear layers of dough and the rolled in butter during the turns.
Spices and other flavours
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 when it comes to making up the dough and its shaping.
Recipe for croissant dough (makes approx. 14 croissants or 20 pains au chocolat)
- 500g strong white plain flour (not “very strong” flour!)
- 250ml-270ml cold water
- 50g caster sugar
- 10g fine sea salt
- 14g easy-blend dried yeast (sometimes called instant yeast)
- 60g very soft unsalted butter
To laminate the dough:
- 270g cool, but slightly softened unsalted butter
- 1 small egg, beaten well
(1) Mix the dough ingredients together, starting with 250ml water, to make a fairly firm dough. I find it easier using my hands and scrunching the mixture with my fingers to incorporate everything, adding a little more water if needed. Knead gently for couple of minutes or so on a lightly floured surface: just enough to bring it together to form a smooth ball. Alternatively, do all this stage in a food mixer with the dough hook attachment using a medium-low speed.
NB: you don’t want 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
(2) Flatten the dough to a rough rectangle. Pop the dough on a flat surface such as a small baking tray and cover with clingfilm. Leave at room temperature for about an hour and then refrigerate overnight.
NB (i): the overnight chilling not only makes it easier to roll out the dough, it allows the flavour to develop as the dough slowly ferments. I also find you get the best structure of the croissants with this overnight chilling.
NB (ii): this baking tray will prove useful throughout the making of the dough dough when it comes to chilling it or even freezing it with later rollings out.
(3) Shape the butter into a thin square that is about 8″ by 8″. Go for either a gentle bashing with the rolling pin or patting it down and spreading it out with a knife. If the butter is too firm, slice off pieces and arrange on a sheet of greaseproof in a rough square.
(4) Chill the butter until needed but take it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to use it so that it softens a little: it needs to be cool but malleable. If it is too firm, it will tear through the dough later and ruin the layers you will have built up, so it is better to go on the softer side now rather than being too firm.
NB: to test the butter is at the right texture, bend it over: if it snaps, it is too firm, so leave it at room temperature until it can bend easily without snapping.
(5) Pat the chilled dough gently to deflate it as it will have risen a little, and roll out to a rectangle that is just over 16″ by 8″, with the shortest edge facing you. Basically, you want the dough just wider than the butter square and about twice as long.
(6) Place the butter in the centre or near the bottom of the dough and bring the rest of the dough over the butter, sealing gently and trying not to trap air bubbles. Straighten the edges – I find pressing 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 cooler: the closer in temperature and texture the butter and dough are to each other, the better.
NB: there are many ways to encase the butter in the dough, but this is how I prefer to do it. Precise measurements are not essential: just ensure the butter is fully encased.
(7) Roll out the dough to a long, thin rectangle – about 24″ by 8″. The measurements are not precise, just go for a length that is about three times the width.
NB (i): if the butter seems to have firmed up too much and seems like it is breaking apart in the dough, leave the dough on the work top for about 15 minutes or just until the butter is softer and no longer breaks up.
NB (ii): get as close to a rectangle as you can. You normally try to roll out in one direction, but to make the corners square you can roll diagonally at the corners ie) in a north-east, south-east etc… direction, depending on the corner you are on. If it is at good rectangle now, for subsequent rollings out, it will be easier to keep the shape.
NB (iii): if you end up with a shape that is not quite rectangular, for example more curved at the top and bottom edges, simply trim those edges with a sharp knife! Seriously, you won’t miss them. Although I sometimes like to bake these as they are for buttery and slightly flaky bread tasters!
The turns (creating the layers)
(8) Fold the bottom third of the dough up past the middle of the dough 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 (an envelope turn).
NB: if the dough is not rolling out easily, fold it in half loosely, cover it in clingfilm or place in a plastic bag, place on a flat surface such as a small baking tray and freeze for 20 minutes before continuing. This amount of freezing will get the dough colder and firmer which makes it easier to roll out, but this will not be enough to make the butter brittle.
(9) Wrap the dough in cling film and put in the fridge for about an hour to rest. You can leave the dough out of the fridge for a short time (15 minutes or so) to allow the butter in the dough to soften up just a little if needed when it comes to rolling out next.
(10) Rotate the dough 90° (as in the photo below).
(11) Repeat steps 7 to 10 twice more to give two more turns, making sure you rest the dough in the fridge 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 several hours: I find about 4 hours is ideal. Alternatively, once it has had this final turn, wrap it in clingfilm, place inside a plastic bag and freeze it (on a flat tray or plate) for later use: whether this is a day, a week or a month or so…..
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 about 30″ long by 8″ wide.
NB (i): you really do need to go gently here, being patient until you have rolled it out enough. Rotate the dough 180° from time to time before continuing to roll out. If the dough is not rolling out easily, stop and leave it alone for about 15 minutes on the work surface if the kitchen is cool before carrying on. Alternatively, fold it in half loosely, place on a flat surface such as a small baking tray, pop it in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer for about 20 minutes before unfolding and continuing to roll.
NB (ii): if you prefer, or find it easier, roll out to a rectangle about 16″ by 12″.
(14) Trim the edges with a sharp knife and shape: see the “shaping the dough” section below, but for croissants cut out triangles with base 4″ and height 8″; for pains au chocolate cut out rectangles about 3″ by 4″ (or larger). I often do a mixture of both.
NB: if you have any strips of dough left over after cutting out the triangles or rectangle, use these as testers or make mini pastries!
(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 increase by about half their original size – this can several hours depending on the room temperature, just let the yeast wake up fully and work its magic. 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: 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 already 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
While the dough is easy to shape, it is worth doing a quick trial go using some left-over pastry or even a quick dough made up of just of fkour and water, so that when you do it for real, there is a familiarity about it.
Roll out the rested dough as in Step 13 of the recipe above. I usually go for a long, thin rectangle (about 30″ by 8″), but I sometimes roll it out almost to a square. It actually does not matter: just go for whatever is easiest to give a thin sheet of dough that requires the least effort, as you do not want to force the dough and ruin your layers.
Don’t rush the rolling out – it will get there with a little patience. Remember you can leave the dough on the work surface for about 15 minutes if the room is cool, or fold it in half loosely and freeze it for about 20 minutes before continuing.
- Cut out triangles from the dough, each with 4″ base and 8″ height. Brush off any excess flour off the top and underneath. You can cut out wider/longer triangles if you prefer, which will give you more ridges on top.
- Take a triangle and use cool hands or the rolling pin gently over the top third or so of the triangle (closest to the point) to elongate it a little.
- At the base of each triangle make a cut going about ½” 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, fairly tightly at first and then looser as you get towards the tip. End with the tip underneath: you can gently pull the tip to stretch it if needed. Either leave them as they are or bring in the end tips to form a crescent.
- Repeat for the other triangles.
Shaping pains au chocolat
- Cut the rolled out dough into small rectangles (each about 3″ by 4″). Alternatively, you can cut out larger rectangles, with or without measuring them.
- Place a chocolate baton/chocolate chips/chunks of chocolate width-ways close to the bottom of each rectangle and roll the bottom of the dough up over it. You can have the chocolate going right to the sides or go for the hidden chocolate effect.
- Place more chocolate at the “join” and roll all the way to the end. If the dough is on the thick side and you can’t quite get two lots of chocolate in there, pop a little more chocolate with the first lot.
- Place on baking trays with the seam face down and gently pat down each one.
NB: you can slightly elongate these rectangles with the rolling pin or your fingers if you need to.
You can freeze some of the shaped dough at this stage: simply place them on a baking tray, pop them inside a large plastic bag and put in the freezer until firm.
Once firm, wrap them in greaseproof paper and return to the freezer until you want to use them.
When you want to use them, simply take what you want out of the freezer the night before – the greaseproof helps you separate them. Place them onto baking trays lined with greaseproof, place the tray inside a large plastic bag or bin liner and leave to defrost and rise overnight at room temperature.
You then brush them with beaten egg and bake them for perfect morning pastries!
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 excellent results:
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.
Use a good quality butter
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. Go for at least 80% fat content.
The dough’s temperature & texture are crucial!
The temperature and texture of the dough at every stage are important. For best results, the dough and the butter should be as close as possible to each other in both temperature (always cool) and texture (fairly firm but able to be rolled out easily).
While the dough needs to be cool at all stages, it shouldn’t get so cold that the butter inside is solid: otherwise it is harder to roll it out the dough without splintering the butter, which in turn can rip through some of the layers.
If the dough gets too warm, the butter will soften too much or melt, merging the layers which results in a dense croissant.
Getting the balance just right is the trick to having great croissants. This might be easier said than done, but it gets much more intuitive the more you make the croissant dough:
- If the dough feels too soft or at all warm: freeze it for 20 minutes and the dough will firm up enough without freezing the butter solid, and will force the yeast into a gentle snooze. If you need to fold the dough in half to get it into the freezer that is absolutely fine. Just place it on a flat surface such as a small baking tray and cover it in clingfilm or a plastic bag. You can then continue quite happily. I used to refrigerate it if I was not able to roll it out in one go, but it took a lot longer, whereas the short colder blast from the freezer is more effective.
- If the butter in the dough feels too hard and either starts to splinter or is not rolling out easily, leave the dough on the work top for 15-30 minutes or so, depending on the temperature of the room. You want to soften it just enough to enable it to roll out but again, not too soft.
Don’t be afraid to stop & let the dough relax while rolling it out
Even in mid-roll, pop it in the freezer as in the tip above. The dough will get there!
Brush any excess flour off the surface of the dough
Too much flour trapped between the layers will affect the lamination and give a heavier, doughier interior rather than a light, open structure. Use a pastry brush or clean paint brush to flick the surplus flour away each time you have rolled out.
Rest the dough in the fridge between turns
This makes it much easier to roll out and gives a a much better structure of the baked croissants. I go for an hour or so after every turn.
While freezing the dough for short bursts if the dough is too warm or is not rolling out easily is fine, for the resting after each turn it needs to be in the fridge.
Avoid the temptation to give the dough extra turns
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, but if you are eager to get more layers, start with a book turn (see recipe above), and then two envelope turns.
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.
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. I also judge it by the smell: that lovely aroma of yeast is much in evidence!
But don’t over-prove!
Keep an eye on them after a couple of hours if the room is fairly cool, or after about an hour if the room is warm; you don’t want them to get to the point when the dough starts to tear.
Start off the 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.
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 crispy and they should lift easily off the tray, feeling quite light.
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 – late evening: make up the initial dough (it takes moments!) 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 – 3pm: roll out the dough, shape* and leave to rise for 2-3 hours
- Day two – 6pm: bake!
* or freeze the shaped dough at this stage, remove them from the freezer any evening later and let them defrost and prove at room temperature overnight for baking freshly in the morning.
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.
My favourite savoury variations are my croissant-based “pizza” (topped with slow-roasted onions, anchovies and olives) and my croissage rolls (essentially sausage rolls made using croissant dough rather than puff pastry).
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!
A sourdough croissant has an even crisper exterior and has even more depth of flavour that a croissant made with commercial yeast.
My recipe for sourdough croissants is here.
You can incorporate the butter grated from a frozen block of butter, which gives a dough that takes about 20 minutes to make up (before it needs to rest, get shaped and prove).
This is certainly an easier method and it is much 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.