Post updated January 2016: a few pictures of recent batches of croissants added
Sections in this post:
- Recipe for a croissant dough
- Shaping the dough for croissants and pains au chocolat
- A few tips
- Proving: a cooler environment
- A rough timescale for making croissants
- Quicker croissants
- A slightly different/reverse approach
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 bread and cakes). There really is something quite magical when you eat a proper croissant, pain au chocolat or savoury variation.
Rather than just a light, cresent-shaped, bready concoction with not much flavour (most of the mass-produced commercial ones), 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 sweet, almost nutty, aroma.
The recipe below
There are so many recipes for croissants involving different approaches and I have tried dozens of different recipes over the years in my quest to make what for me is the perfect croissant.
This is an amalgam of the many recipes I have tried over the years, taking bits that give the best results for me. Despite having tweaked a few things with the recipe with it at times, the version below is always the most up-to-date version, working perfectly. Although if I find other tricks that give great results I may well incorporate them!
Little tweaks here and there
Even with this recipe, I love to ring the changes. 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
- occasionally use a mixture of milk and water in the dough, but I usually go for all water which gives crispier, lighter flakes
- the addition of ground ginger and/or cocoa powder to the flour for a twist on pains au chocolat works well
- if going for savoury bakes, I might mix some ground spices such as turmeric or mustard powder with the flour, depending on the filling
However, my general approach with 3 standard “turns”, remains constant.
Variations on the approach!
In this post I have also given a recipe for quicker croissants, and at the bottom of this post is a version of the main recipe in which the dough is rested overnight before the lamination (layering in the butter), rather than after the lamination. Each gives excellent results and it is really down to personal choice as to the approach that works best for you.
For the very best results, however, you need to set aside just over a day from start to finish. Mind you, there is not much actual hands-on work as most of the time is just waiting around while the dough chills. But there is no urgency with the timings and you can always get on with other things as normal!
The troubleshooting section below the recipe covers some of the key issues that could occur.
Recipe for croissant dough (makes approx. 14 large croissants or 20 pains au chocolat)
- 600g strong plain white flour (or a 50-50 mixture of plain flour and strong plain flour for a softer croissant)
- about 350g cold water
- 70g caster sugar
- 16g fine sea salt
- 12g easy-blend dried yeast
- 90g unsalted butter, melted
To laminate the dough:
- 300g softened unsalted butter
- 20g strong plain flour
(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 soft but not sticky dough, adding more water if needed. Knead lightly for a few moments – just enough to bring it together to form a smooth ball. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise at room temperature for an hour or two, until the dough has increased in size, but not necessarily doubled in volume.
NB: the dough does not need anywhere like the amount of kneading at the start as you would with a typical bread dough. Too much kneading at this stage can make it harder to roll out. This initial short burst of proving will allow the yeast to activate and help the flavour develop but the overnight resting in the fridge once the turns have been made will develop the flavour even further. The chilling firms the dough more and cools it right down so that is will be closer to the temperature of the butter.
(2) Meanwhile prepare the butter: mix it well with the flour and shape it into a square that is just under 20cm in length. It should be cool but malleable: not too soft and not at all solid.
NB: if the butter square is too firm when encased in the dough, it will splinter during the rolling and folding and is likely to tear into the dough, in which case leave it at room temperature for a while until slightly softer.
(3) Knock back the dough and roll out to a rectangle that is just over 45cm by 20cm, with the shortest edge facing you. 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). Dust off the excess flour, cover with cling film and put in the fridge for about 30 minutes to let the dough relax and to get both the dough and the butter to the same
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 smooth.
(4) For the first turn, roll out the dough to a rectangle that is about 60cm by 20cm, with the shortest edge facing you, getting the edges as straight as possible. Bring 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 in the photos below.
NB: don’t get too obsessed about getting exactly the dimensions I have given for the rolling out. A longish rectangle, with a thin dough (about half a centimetre thickness) is what you are aiming for.
(5) Cover with cling film and put in the fridge for about half an hour to rest. After this rest, if the butter seems too hard, remove the dough from the fridge for about 15 minutes or so the butter slightly softens up.
(6) Rotate the dough 90 degrees (as in the picture above) and then give the dough two more turns as is step (4), making sure you rest the dough for up to an hour each time and giving it 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: The dough benefits hugely from resting overnight, in terms of rolling out the dough prior to shaping, as you get a dough that rolls out with less resistance. Just gently pat down the dough to de-gas it as it will have risen overnight. The overnight rest also allows the dough to develop a much better flavour.
(7) Remove the dough from the fridge and leave it at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Roll out the dough to a rectangle that is just over 80cm by 20cm, and trim the edges. If for some reason the dough is not rolling out easily, fold it loosely and pop it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Cut out triangles with base 10cm and height 20cm for croissants or 8cm by 10cm rectangles for pains au chocolat: see the “shaping the dough” section below.
NB: I tend to make half of the dough into croissants and the other half into pains au chocolat. I often 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 the trays loosely with clingfilm and bake them the next morning.
(8) Put the shaped dough onto baking trays lined with a double layer of greaseproof paper. Brush the shaped dough with egg wash, 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 will start to tear.
NB: When egg-washing, I brush the tops of each ridge, trying not to coat the cut: to give more flaky height to the baked croissant. However, you can just brush the egg wash over liberally.
(9) Put the croissants into the fridge for about 20 minutes to allow the thin butter layers to firm up, which results in even flakier croissants, before brushing lightly again with egg-wash. Bake them in a pre-heated oven at 200°C (fan) for 10 minutes before turning the temperature down to 175C for a further 10-15 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 10 minutes you might want to rotate the pans. 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.
Shaping the dough for croissants or pains au chocolat
When making a laminated dough I have often started out with the intention of making croissants only to change my mind near the end and opt for pains au chocolat or savoury variations!
Roll the rested dough to just over 80cm by 20cm, and trim the edges to give a rectangle that is 80cm by 20cm.
Cut out triangles from the dough, each with 10cm base and 20cm height. At the base of each triangle make a cut going about 2cm inwards, and gently pull apart the dough either side of the cut to widen the base a little.
Pull the point of the triangle gently to stretch it a little and roll up the triangles, with the tip underneath. Leave straight or bring in the tips to form a crescent.
Shaping pains au chocolat
Roll the dough to a rectangle just over 80cm by 20cm and trim the edges. Cut the dough in half lengthways to give two 80cm by 10cm rectangles.
Cut each strip into 8cm by 10cm rectangles, giving 20 rectangles in total. Alternatively, cut into smaller or larger rectangles. You can gently elongate the rectangles if you wish.
Place a chocolate baton or a strip of chocolate chips width-ways about 1cm from the bottom of each rectangle and roll 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.
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.
A few tips
– Try to avoid making a laminated dough on a hot day if the kitchen is not cool. Not least for your sanity! 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: this is essential! 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 must be of a good quality: cheaper butters often have a higher proportion of water in them and the butter tends to ooze out during the baking.
– 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.
– 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.
– If the dough resists while you are rolling it out or starts to shrink back on itself. Leave the dough where it is to relax a bit more before continuing with the rolling out. Alternatively, particularly if the kitchen is warm, place the dough on a sheet of greaseproof or cling film, gently roll it up like a swiss roll and put in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Then unroll, set aside the greaseproof and continue: 30 minutes in the freezer, until the dough just firms up, works a treat and allows you to roll out the dough to the size and thickness required.
– Don’t roll out the dough to a rectangle that is too large during the turns: I go for a rectangle that is to about 50cm by 22cm for each of the 3 turns, which laminates the dough perfectly well and 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. Between 30 minutes to an hour.
– 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 enough results for my tastes!
– If you are struggling to get the dough thin enough just prior to shaping, a slightly thicker dough is fine. The resting of the dough should make it easy to roll the dough out thin enough and you certainly don’t want to force the dough to become thinner and risk ruining the layers, so go thicker if need be. But leaving the dough for 10 minutes or so to relax a little more (chilling it if it is a very warm kitchen) before continuing to roll it out should help. You will get fewer croissants/pains au chocolat with a thicker dough, but you will still get great results and a lovely flake.
– Line the baking trays well. I always go for at least a double thickness of greaseproof paper, sometimes also using silicon baking parchment, as croissants and pains au chocolat can be prone to getting overly dark on their bases.
– Don’t under-prove. Once shaped, prove (covered) at fairly cool room temperature for up to a couple of hours until the croissants/pains au chocolate are visibly puffy and light. They don’t have to get to double their original volume.
– Don’t over-prove. After a couple of hours check the progress of the proving croissants. You want them puffy with a slight wobble as you gently prod one. If you over-prove the surface of the dough splits, so you need to stop the prove before it gets to this stage. I also judge it by the smell: that lovely aroma of yeast is much in evidence!
– Don’t bake at too high a temperature. You want a hot oven to help the shaped croissants rise and flake up beautifully, but not too hot so that the tops go too dark too quickly. I start off the baking at 200C(fan) for about 10 minutes and then turn the temperature down to 175C for the remainer of the cooking time. However, as with most baking, it is about getting to know your oven! You can bake one first to check.
– 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 collaped 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 right-hand picture below.
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 has fragmented or 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. The initial butter block should not be too hard.
(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
The dough will rise somewhat overnight but that is great in terms of flavour of the finished croissants as the very slow 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. Lightly pat the dough to release most of the excess air. The rolling out will get rid of the rest of the air. Because the dough 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.
The croissants might also not have been proved enough.
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: start high and reduce as necessary. It is also worth chilling the risen croissants to firm up the butter before popping them into the hot oven next time.
Make sure you prove the croissants enough before baking. They should be puffy with a very gentle wobble.
(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 was 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! Chill the shaped and risen dough for at least 30 minutes before baking and preheat the oven while the dough is chilling.
(7) The croissants are doughy inside
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 so some of the interior collapses on itself.
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
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: Croissants need to be cooked well: I wait until the surface is darker brown rather than golden brown, and then cover them with foil or greasproof to prevent them getting too much darker. A croissant is ready if when you lift it it should feel very light with a firm, crisp base, whereas an under-cooked one does feel slightly heavier. You can turn the temperaure down to 170C(fan) after about 10 minutes of baking.
Pictures of laminated doughs with issues:
The three 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 included two that were exactly what I look for.
Not quite right:
Proving: a cooler environment
For maximum flavour the initial dough (ie: before the butter has been encased within it) should prove until almost doubled in size, with a little chilling to cool down the dough. The dough is then knocked back and is ready for the butter block and the subsequent laminating process.
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 temperature on too many occasions!
I usually pop the shaped dough into the fridge for at least the final 30 minutes of its proof to allow the many layers of butter trapped between the dough to firm up. As a result, as soon as the dough gets into the hot oven it rises beautifully, always giving a better flake when baked.
I find that refrigerating the shaped and risen dough can make even an roughly-handled dough flake nicely when it is baked!
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 – 4pm: make up the initial dough and leave it to rise for a couple of hours. Chill for at least an hour of this rise
Day one – 6pm: encase the butter in the dough and chill to relax the dough
Day one – 7pm: do the first turn and chill for about an hour
Day one – 8.30pm: do the second turn and chill
Day one – 10pm: do the third turn and chill the laminated dough overnight
Day two – 8am: roll out the dough, shape and leave to rise for a couple of hours (or freeze the unrisen croissants)
Day two – 11am: 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 chilled butter, cut into tiny pieces, with the flour at the start, effectively making a rough-puff pastry dough and without the resting between the 3 turns. This is a little easier and certainly quicker to get the dough laminated. While it still benefits from overnight resting prior to shaping, it works very well with having several 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 post on these quicker croissants is here.
A slightly different/reversed approach
I have also had excellent results with a slightly different approach, using ideas from Peter Reinhart:
- the initial dough (without the butter) is covered and left in the fridge overnight to prove and develop its flavour – as opposed to the overnight prove once the butter had been incorporated
- the butter block is then incorporated as in the main recipe above, with about 30 minutes chilling between each turn and after the final turn
- the laminated dough is rolled out, shaped, proved and baked as in the recipes above