Ohhhkay. So maybe Everest is an exaggeration. Croissants are not especially hard to make. They are a pain, and they can take a very long time, but if you have had any experience with yeasted doughs and you know simple things like, I dunno, when butter melts, you’re fine. Patience is all you really need. That and things like these:
Two rolling pins? I have this auto-immune thing that causes lots of things that are irritating, and one of them is arthritis. My hips, my knees, and worst of all my hands are effected. I’ve had to give up a lot of super fun things like riding my bike for hours on end and running everyday and going to intensive hot yoga classes and writing with pencils or pens and weight lifting and painting and sculpting because my hands turn into claws with minor use and hands are pretty important for my job, most jobs really, so I try to use them as little as possible outside work. I have to use rolling pins with handles for heartier jobs and the long pin for larger jobs that require almost no pressure. If I put any pressure on my palms while using the straight pin (or a French pin), I get all kinds of crazy pain and then my fingers go numb. If you are not like me, use which ever pin feels comfortable.
Oh wait, why are Croissants are so important to me? I don’t care much for sugar. I’m definitely a salt-craving person, but I didn’t grow up with junk around the house, or salty things at all, so I don’t buy that kind of thing. I eat olives when I get a martini (you can make it a meal if you get five per cocktail, and then drink four), chips at parties, steak in restaurants, bacon at work. At home…apples. Yogurt. Coffee.
People often ask me what my favourite dessert is. Well, that’s not specific enough for me. I mean, I don’t really like desserts. Especially ones I haven’t made (restaurant desserts I mean — often they are too expensive and taste like corn syrup, barf). I love making ice cream more then most other things, but I don’t love eating it. I prefer the satisfaction of making something I think tastes great, and then feeding it to others.
I do, however, love a perfectly made croissant for breakfast with a cup of strong, black coffee. It’s a French cliché for a reason; I honestly don’t think I could ever need anything more then that, which is why I both love an hate brunch. Love love love to serve brunch, hate to eat it. Croissant. Coffee. Maybe crispy bacon. Heaven.
Which is why I don’t make Croissants. Ever. Out of fear that I will disappoint myself. I know there are only two places in this city, of all the bakeries and coffee shops, that make croissants that will meet my standards. I don’t eat them. Never have. I want to be that good. So instead I eat apples and mope about not having croissant.
I tried to put this off. But I kept thinking about it. I go through phases where I can’t bear to leave my apartment. This week was hard, and I kept thinking about croissant, maybe because I was just hungry and had no food, so when I realized that the only things I had left in my cupboards in any quantity necessary to make more than one serving of something just happened to be the very ingredients needed to make croissants, I stuffed my crippling anxiety into the closet.
I made this recipe, which is almost identical to the one we were given in school (the last time I made near-perfect croissants — I unearthed this photo to give myself courage. Yes, a little too European Brown, but an excellent go all round) last Christmas when I received The Modern Café. I followed the instructions dutifully. Epic Fail. But I know why.
I used Traditional Active Yeast, the Fleischmann variety. I did some interweb poking (I am obsessively thorough with my research before I do anything, sometimes I don’t get anything done at all because I ruined it with reading) and apparently all the yeasts they produce are essentially the same, so getting it spot on isn’t especially important. All in all, the yeast research led me to believe that yeast lacks a lot of precise science, which makes sense I guess but doesn’t instill a lot of faith in me. Blahblahblah…what I mean is that I used 14g Active instead of 10g Instant. And I proofed the yeast in warm water first. I didn’t trust just throwing it in to a bowl with 21 degree water and a bunch of bread flour.
Mix these things with a hook till shaggy, add softened butter, knead until homogenous and soft. Score the top to help it relax cause that’s what the French think it does (I just think it looks…authentic). I left my dough on the counter. My apartment was 19 degrees, perfect for Croissant making. I made my butter block from 21 degree butter, but I found it was too soft. The butter and the dough should be the same pliability, if that makes sense. I chilled the butter until it felt pliable enough to laminate with but not on the verge of melting or squishing. This happened to be 19 degrees.
After the dough ferments 45 minutes, roll it to a rectangle double the size of your butter block (which is also rectangular and 1/4” thick). Migoya’s instructions say to “roll the dough” over the butter block instead of folding it over. Maybe it’s just me, but conceptualizing this action just doesn’t make sense, so I just folded it. Tuck the edges of your envelope and start rolling gently.
The nice thing about laminating dough is that getting confused about which way you roll is easy, but if you try to roll the dough in the direction you previously rolled it, the dough will fight you. It doesn’t want that shit, so if the dough fights, back off. This’ll happen when you roll in the wrong direction and when the dough needs to rest, so back off and give it some space.
Generally when laminating roll the dough out slowly, carefully, with little pressure until it has tripled in length, rotate if necessary (so it is horizontal to you), mentally divide in 3 and fold the third on your left over the centre, then the right third over so your dough is stacked. Let it rest minimum fifteen minutes, though I like 30. If it is warm, over 20 degrees, chill it a couple of minutes, but not enough to set the butter or it will crack (that’s bad!). Roll to triple the length, rotate 90 degrees, fold, rest. Do this 3 or 4 times, whichever you prefer as either are common for croissants. This is the exact same process as puff pastry, except 6 folds are completed and there is no yeast in the base dough (détrempe). I only did 3 folds because it was getting on to 10:30pm and I had to get up early enough to rise and bake these guys before work*
Migoya also says to freeze the dough for an hour before the final rolling and cutting, so the dough is “partially frozen”. This stage destroyed the whole process last time. The butter froze (obviously) and broke through the layers, ruining hours of careful work and any chance of having a proper honeycomb centre. I could have set the book on fire. My head also may have exploded, I was so mad at myself for not listening to my gut.
This time it was in the freezer max. 30 minutes. When it came out, it was 6 degrees and too stiff. I waited.
And finally, when it rose to 13 degrees, I was able to roll and shape it.
I left a trimming out over night and did an overnight rise in the fridge, but as I’ve mentioned before, my fridge is too cold and my freezer too cool, so nothing rose. I brought them to work and they took 5 hours to rise in a 22 degree kitchen.
Amazingly, I baked some at work and they were great. I was relieved. Don’t let my lack of bangs fool you, I was really, really relieved. But what I thought was neat was I had forgotten one lone croissant on my counter (I think I photographed it and then ran out the door) and when I got home, there he was, looking over proofed and dry. I threw him in the oven (oops, no egg wash, I always forget) on a lark, not expecting the lack of convection and fancy steam system to do much for him, but sure enough he was really quite spectacular.
*this did not happen.