croissants, step by step
You guys. I’ve been watching the Olympics, like, every single moment of my life the past few days. I wake up in the morning and watch Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer ham it up with athletes on the “Today” show. I scarf down lunch while cheering on the water polo and road cycling teams. At night, I scream at the television and jump on the couch like I’ve been coaching the U.S. swim team for the last decade or something… then I do a couple back flips and vault myself into bed. That’s a mostly true story.
So it’s hardly a surprise to me that, what with all this competition and winning and Olympic glory and whatnot, it’s all gone to my head and I thought I’d tackle a rather more complicated recipe that’s been on the books for a while now: Croissants. If I sat here and told you they are the easiest thing in the world to make? I’d be lying. But if I sat here and told you they take a lot of time, patience, dedication, hard work, training, coaching and endurance… but it is SO. WORTH. IT? Well, that’s a completely true story.
After a long period of having the baking fail cloud follow me around the kitchen, it finally lifted. The result? Buttery, flaky, soft, beautiful croissants. Some of them with chocolate inside. All of them with magic inside. So let’s stop talking about it already and get to baking!
We start with warm milk, some brown sugar and yeast. Whisk it all together in the bottom of a stand mixer bowl and let it sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. If it doesn’t foam up, try again. And if it doesn’t foam up again, go out and buy some fresh yeast. Maybe buy some Starbucks on the way home to re-boost your energy for the journey ahead.
Add some flour and salt and, using the dough hook, knead the dough on low speed until it comes together, about 5-7 minutes.
Now transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead by hand for just a couple minutes, adding as much remaining flour as needed until the dough is soft, smooth and elastic. You might not use all the measured flour, and that’s OK. Shape the dough into a rectangle, cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for 1 hour (make sure there is an ever-so-light coating of flour around the outside of the dough so it doesn’t stick to the plastic wrap).
When the dough is just about done chilling, make the butter packet. Place 3 sticks of butter together in the center of a sheet of plastic wrap. Cover with more plastic wrap and beat the heck out of them with a rolling pin. Using the rolling pin or your hands, shape the butter into an 8-by-5-inch rectangle (I found the rolling pin did a great job of flattening the butter, and the heat from my hands did a great job of shaping the butter). Try to make your butter packet a lot more even and nicer-looking than mine or you might encounter some of the roadblocks I did ahead; but if you can’t, it’s OK, too. We’ll make it through, no worries. Place the butter packet in the fridge.
Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and place it on a lightly floured surface. Using your hands, press the dough into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle, then place the butter packet in the center of the dough, short ends of the butter packet parallel to the long ends of the dough.
Fold the dough like a business letter over the butter: Top half down, then bottom half up.
Now turn the dough so the short end is facing you.
Use the rolling pin to flatten the dough evenly (try not to roll it out right away, like I accidentally did, or the butter might break apart a bit instead of roll out smoothly with the dough. But again, if you do, it’s not catastrophic). Now roll out the dough to a 15-by-10-inch rectangle. Again, fold the dough like a letter into a 10-by-5-inch rectangle. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for 1 hour.
That’s the first fold. You’ll need to fold the dough three more times, for a total of four folds with a 1-hour chill in the fridge between each one (as in, remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap it on a lightly floured surface, place the short end toward you and roll out the dough to a 15-by-10-inch rectangle. Fold it like a business letter, re-wrap it in plastic wrap and put it back in the fridge). Once you’ve completed the fourth and final fold, cover the dough very tightly with clean plastic wrap and let it sit overnight in the fridge, or for 8-12 hours.
The next morning, your dough should look like this. Well, mostly like this. Those little pieces of butter should not be there, really (read: Do a better job with the butter packet). But we’re going to pretend that’s not a big deal and press forward. Because guess what? It all works out in the end.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a very, very, VERY large rectangle, about 20-by-32 inches. Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, divide the dough into 20-24 triangles — or as I did, because I am THE WORST at math, into 32 triangles (which renders more, but slightly smaller, croissants. Duh.).
Now comes the fun part: Cut a very small slit in the bottom of each triangle, then roll them up like… well, like croissants. Place a little bit of dark chocolate in the center of each piece of dough before rolling up if you want to GET CRAZY. Which you do. Trust me. You do.
Place the rolled up croissants about two inches apart on parchment paper or silicone mat-lined baking sheets, cover them with tea towels and let them rise until puffy (not doubled, just puffy), about 1-2 hours.
When the croissants are just about ready to roll, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Brush the croissants with egg wash so they bake up all nice and golden brown-like.
Bake the croissants for 12-14 minutes, then remove them from the oven and let them cool completely on the baking sheets. This is the point where all that coaching and training to have restraint will pay off… lest you want to burn your tongue (which might be worth it anyway).
Now gaze at your glorious creation…
Take a closer look at those beautimous, buttery layers…
And then devour.
And then have another one.
And maybe another.
And give yourself a gold medal (or a pat on the back). You just made croissants.
P.S. Can we just pause for a moment and realize that the last Olympics felt like it was about 6 months ago, but was actually FOUR YEARS AGO? And that the last time the U.S. gymnastics team won gold was 16 years ago? And I remember watching it, like, last month? I feel so old.
Adapted from How Sweet It Is
Yields: 20-24 croissants (or 32, if you suck at math or want to spread the love a little bit more)
1 1/2 cups warm whole or 2 percent milk (about 105-110 degrees F)
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
3 3/4 to 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled in the fridge
1 egg plus 1 teaspoon milk, beaten (egg wash)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together warm milk, brown sugar and yeast until yeast is dissolved. Let mixture stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Add 3 3/4 cups flour and salt and, using dough hook attachment, stir to combine. Continue to mix dough on low speed until it comes together and is smooth and soft, about 5-7 minutes.
Remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Knead by hand for 2-3 minutes, adding more of the remaining flour as needed just until the dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticky. Shape dough into a 1 1/2-inch thick rectangle, coat ever-so-lightly with flour and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in fridge 1 hour to chill.
Meanwhile, make the butter packet: Place sticks of butter together on a sheet of plastic wrap (or a clean towel). Top with another sheet of plastic wrap (or another clean towel) and, using a rolling pin and your hands, thwack, beat, roll out and press the butter into an even, flat, 8-by-5-inch rectangle (be as precise as possible). Wrap the butter up in the plastic wrap and place it in the fridge to chill.
Remove dough from fridge and from plastic wrap. Place on a lightly floured surface and, using your hands, press the dough into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle (be sure the edges and the corners are as well-shaped as possible). Remove butter packet from fridge and from plastic wrap and place in center of dough, short ends of butter packet parallel to long ends of dough. Fold top half of dough over butter packet, then fold bottom half of dough over — like a business letter. Rotate dough so the short end faces you.
With the short end facing you, flatten the dough evenly by pressing the rolling pin onto the surface (try not to roll it out right away). When the dough has flattened, roll it out to a precise 15-by-10-inch rectangle. Fold the dough again like a business letter, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to chill for 1 hour.
Repeat the previous step (“With the short end facing you… chill for 1 hour”) three more times, chilling the dough for 1 hour between each fold, for a total of four folds. After the fourth fold, cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge overnight, or 8-12 hours.
The next morning, unwrap the dough and place it on a floured surface. Roll out the dough into a large rectangle about 20-by-32-inches. Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, divide the dough into 20-32 triangles. Cut a small slit at the bottom of each triangle and roll up like a crescent roll. For chocolate croissants, place 1/2 to 1 ounce of dark chocolate in the bottom center of the triangle before rolling up.
Place croissants about 2 inches apart on parchment paper or silicone mat-lined baking sheets. Cover with tea towels and let rise until puffy, about 1-2 hours.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Brush each croissant with egg wash and bake 12-14 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely on baking sheets before consuming.
Note: Croissants will keep fresh in a plastic bag or airtight container at room temperature for 3 days. For longer life, keep them in a plastic bag or airtight container in the fridge for 5 days, and in the freezer for up to 1 month.