A croissant 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 an open honeycombed interior structure with a buttery flavour and a lovely, almost nutty aroma. A joy!
Sections in this post
- About the recipe
- The flour and the butter
- A recipe for croissant dough
- How to shape the dough for croissants and pains au chocolat
- Freezing the shaped dough
- Top tips
- 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 will always something to improve upon!), is in another league entirely.
I have been fascinated by laminated doughs since I was a young boy and 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. I am not claiming these to be perfect, but in terms of flavour, flakiness and lightness, I am very happy with these!
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 in the fridge.
The recipe below
I have tried literally 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 many recipes I have worked through and gives the best results for me in terms of the proportions of ingredients and the stages.
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. 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:
When I was getting used to the technique for croissants, I would use 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.
Increasing the gluten content by using a strong plain flour gives a dough that is more stable while baking: the layers are less likely to collapse in the oven, so you get a more open interior.
Shipton Mill T55 flour is my flour of choice, but I have had great results with supermarket strong plain flours that are between 11 and 12% protein.
A good quality butter with a high fat content is best for croissants. Quite a few of the higher-end butters have about 82% fat content and these are ideal. I find I get great results using Lurpak. If you can find one with higher than 82%, grab it!
Most of the butter gets rolled into the dough through a series of turns, described 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 and time for the shaped dough to rise, expand to give a very light, airy pastry.
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: 3 or 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 before making up the dough.
Recipe for croissant dough (makes approx. 11 large croissants or 18 pains au chocolat)
- 500g strong white plain flour (not “very strong” flour!)
- 250-270ml cold water
- 50g caster sugar
- 9g fine sea salt
- 12g easy-blend (“instant“) yeast
- 60g very soft unsalted butter
To laminate the dough:
- 250g cool unsalted butter
- 1 small egg, beaten with a little water
(1) Mix the dough ingredients together to make a fairly firm dough, adding a little more water if needed to help it all come together. I find it easier using my hands and scrunching the mixture with my fingers to incorporate everything: add 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 or paddle 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 into a rough rectangle. Pop the dough on a flat surface such as a small baking tray, wrap well in clingfilm and pop this inside a plastic bag. Refrigerate overnight.
NB: the overnight chilling not only chills the dough right down, it allows the yeast to activate just enough to allow very slow fermentation – and this is where a lot of great flavour comes from. As it is working very slowly in the cold, the yeast will not exhaust itself, so when the shaped dough has its proofing/rising, there is enough life in the yeast to do that successfully.
(3) Shape the butter into a thin square that is about 20cm by 20cm by bashing it lightly with a rolling pin between two sheets of baking parchment. Chill the butter until you are ready to encase it in the dough – this can all be done in advance.
(4) Pat down the chilled dough to deflate it as it will have risen a little overnight and wrap it back up and put it in the freezer for about 15 minutes to cool even further. Meanwhile, remove the butter from the fridge to soften up just enough to be flexible and not at all brittle.
NB: the dough needs to be very cold to stop it fermenting any further until you have shaped the dough later. I do this while the chilled butter softens slightly at room temperature. To test the butter is at the right texture, bend a corner over: if it snaps, it is too firm, in which case leave it at room temperature just until it can bend easily without snapping. The trick is to keep the butter cool but pliable throughout; if the butter is too firm or brittle, it will shatter as you roll the dough, ruining some of the layers you will have built up.
(5) Roll out the very cold dough on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle that is just wider than the butter square and just over twice as long. It should roll out very easily given the coldness of the dough.
(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.
(7) Roll out the dough to a long, narrow rectangle – about 20cm wide and 60-65cm long. The key thing is the thickness, which should be much much more than 5mm thick.
NB: try to keep the dough as rectangular as possible. If at any stage you end up with a shape that is not quite rectangular, for example more curved at the bottom or top edges, simply trim with a sharp knife! Seriously, you won’t miss them. Although I sometimes like to let these prove and then bake them for buttery tasters!
The envelope turns (creating the layers)
(8) Use a sharp knife to trim the short edge nearest to you, so you can see the butter inside. Fold the bottom third of the dough up:
Now bring the top third of the dough over this, still keeping the edges as straight as possible.
This is one envelope turn completed. You will have three layers of dough (with the butter sheet very thinly in between each layer):
NB: the trimming of the edge of the dough nearest to you ensures there are no closed dough bits inside. This helps achieve the lightest interiors when baked.
(9) Wrap the dough in cling film and put in the fridge for an hour to rest.
NB: as well as chilling the dough, this relaxes the gluten, making the subsequent rolling out easier.
(10) Remove the dough from the fridge and leave the dough out of the fridge for 5-10 minutes or so: just enough to allow the butter in the dough to soften up a little so that when you roll it again it will roll out without the butter breaking.
(11) Rotate the dough 90° so the visible three layers are on the left and the right and repeat steps 7 to 10 twice more to give two more turns. Make 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 a few hours: I find about 4 hours is ideal. It won’t rise too much as the dough will be very cold. Alternatively, once it has had this final, wrap it in clingfilm, place inside a plastic bag and freeze it (on a flat tray) for later use.
NB: the dough benefits hugely from this final resting as you get a dough that rolls out more easily for the final time for the cutting and shaping.
(13) Remove the dough from the fridge and leave it on the lightly floured work surface for about 5 minutes to allow the butter in the dough to soften slightly, ensuring it won’t break apart when you roll it. Have the dough with the closed/rounded edge away from you, so the edges nearest to you and on the left and the right show the 3 layers of dough when you last folded it.
NB: this is the same way round the dough was when you finished the last turn.
NB: If you had frozen the dough after its final turn, place it in the fridge overnight until it has fully defrosted.
(14) Roll out the dough a little until the rectangle is about 25cm long. Now rotate the dough 90° so the closed/rounded edge is on the left. Roll out to a long rectangle about 75cm long and no more than 4mm thick. Leave for a minute or so before cutting so that it relaxes a bit and doesn’t shrink too much when you cut.
NB: go gently here when rolling out, being patient until you have rolled it out enough. You can rotate the dough 180° every now and turn the dough over so what was the top surface is now on the bottom. Fold up and chill for about 15 minutes if it resists, before upfolding and carrying on.
(15) Trim the edges with a sharp knife and shape: see the “shaping the dough” section below, but for large croissants cut out triangles with base 12cm and height 24cm; for pains au chocolate cut out rectangles about 8cm by 12cm (or larger).
NB: if you have any strips of dough left over after cutting out the triangles or rectangle, let these prove and use them as testers!
(16) Put the shaped dough well spaced out on baking trays lined with a double layer of greaseproof paper. Brush the egg-wash lightly over the shaped dough, trying not to get too much of the egg-wash over the cuts.
NB: too much egg on the cuts will prevent the edges from rising up and flaking beautifully in the way that you want.
(17) 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 of butter in the dough once proved.
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.
(18) Brush the risen dough again with egg-wash, going gently as the dough will be quite delicate now it has risen, and put the trays in an oven pre-heated to 220°C (fan). As soon as they go in, immediately turn the temperature down to 180C. Bake for about 20 minutes: they should be a golden brown and feel light when you lift one up. Bake for a further 5 minutes or so if they do not feel light.
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 14 of the recipe above. I often then cut this in half to use some now and freeze the rest to use at a later stage.
Don’t be heavy-handed with the rolling out – it will get there with a little patience. Be prepared to chill it for about 20-30 minutes before continuing.
- Cut out triangles from the dough, each with 12cm base and 24cm 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.
- Stack these triangles and put in the fridge, covered, to keep cool.
- Take a triangle and use cool hands to elongate it a little. You can use a rolling pin lightly on the triangle to do this: I sometimes roll out the base corners to give wider triangles.
- 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. They always remind me of little Eiffel Towers!
- Roll up the triangles, ending with the tip underneath: you can gently pull the tip to stretch it further if needed. Place onto baking sheets and lightly pat down.
- Repeat for the other triangles.
NB: as an alternative shaping, I sometimes fold the base of the triangles inwards to the centre of the base and roll up, Buchon-bakery-style, as in the image below:
shaping pains au chocolat
- Cut the rolled out dough into small rectangles (each about 8cm by 12cm). Alternatively, you can cut out larger rectangles, with or without measuring them.
- Stack these rectangles and pop in the fridge to keep cool.
- 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.
Freezing the shaped dough
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 prove/rise overnight at room temperature.
You then brush them with beaten egg and bake them for delicious morning pastries!
From time to time I make a batch that is not quite right, often when not focusing enough or if I am being a touch heavy-handed.
While it might take a few goes at making croissants to get a real feel for 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 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 out.
Dough & butter: temperature is crucial!
The dough and the butter should be as close as possible to each other in texture to help with the rolling out and to keep the clear layers you need, so aim for a very cold dough and cool, but pliable butter for the lamination. The overnight chilling of the dough before incorporating the butter gets the dough to the right temperature and texture.
However, you don’t want the butter inside to be too cold: otherwise it can splinter as you roll out which can rip through some of the layers.
- If the dough feels too soft at any stage during the turns, freeze it for 10 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 I find the short colder blast from the freezer 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 15-20 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.
Chill the dough to help it rolling it out if needed
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 and as you fold up the dough for the turns.
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 after every turn. I have also had great results freezing the dough for 15-20 minutes between turns.
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 photos below), and then go for two envelope turns – as in the photos below taken before I had my new worktops installed:
Line the baking trays well
I always go for a double thickness of greaseproof paper, as these pastries can be prone to getting overly dark on their bases if baked straight on the tray.
Don’t under-prove or over-prove
Leave the shaped dough at coolish room temperature to prove. If it is too warm, the butter can melt. Check them after a couple of hours: you want them puffy and with a slight wobble, and you should be able to see the layers of butter in there: this is always an exciting thing to see.
Don’t over-prove as the croissants could collapse in the oven. After a few hours keep an eye on them: if you see any tearing then it’s a signal the dough is over-proving, so get them in the oven.
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 220C(fan) and as soon as they go into the oven turn the temperature down to 180C 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 very light.
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, as there is no great urgency.
- Day one – late evening: make up the initial dough (it takes moments!) and refrigerate overnight. Make the butter block and refrigerate overnight.
- Day two – 8am: encase the butter block in the dough, 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 laminated dough for about 4 hours*.
- Day two – 3pm: roll out the dough, shape* and leave to prove/rise for 2-3 hours.
- Day two – 6pm: bake!
* or freeze the dough at either of these stages for using at a later stage. If freezing immediately after shaping, remove from the freezer the night before, place the frozen dough on baking trays, cover and leave to defrost and then prove overnight ready for baking the next morning.
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.