I have always thought of myself as a very adventurous cook/baker. Before culinary school, there wasn’t much that I wouldn’t attempt, but at the top of that very short list of daunting recipes was croissants. The thought of rolling and folding and rolling and folding all those layers of butter and dough seemed like a disaster just waiting to happen. For those of you who don’t know how croissants are made, you make a yeast dough, roll it out, place a slab of butter* on the dough, fold the dough over the butter like an envelope, roll out again, fold in thirds (like you would a letter), turn 90 degrees, roll out again, fold in thirds again and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat. I know it doesn’t sound that intimidating, but there are also a lot of factors that need to be controlled along the way. The dough and butter have to be the same temperature in the beginning to insure that they meld properly; the room and rolling surface have to be cool to insure that the butter and dough don’t warm all the rolling and folding will be nearly impossible; and you can’t overwork the dough or it will be become elastic and you will roll it out and it will bounce right back to the shape it was before. Oh no, now I have probably scared all of you too. But despite the validity of my initial fears, it turned out to be fairly simple.
Like most overwhelming tasks the best way to tackle it is to break it all down into manageable steps and attack the steps one at a time. Making the dough isn’t hard. And the folding and turning part isn’t that bad because you only do two turns (one turn=one phase of rolling out, folding and turning) and then put it back in the fridge to 1) cool, which eliminates the fear of the dough getting too warm, and 2) rest, which allows the dough to relax and therefore not become elastic and therefore easier to roll out. And the rest is a piece of cake, anyone who has made Pillsbury crescent rolls can shape them, well it might take a little more finesse than that, but it’s pretty much the same thing. Then you just egg wash allow to rise and egg wash again. I will not lie and say that it is a quick recipe by any means, but by breaking it all down is was fairly easy.
Croissant dough is used for pain aux chocolats, which we also made (below in the right side of my box). You simply cut the dough into rectangles instead of triangles and roll up two chocolate batons and make sure to bake them seem side down.
An interesting tidbit I learned, in France the shape of a croissant is very significant. A straight shape signifies that the croissant is made entirely of butter and it is a French law that if your croissants contain anything less than 100% butter, such as margarine or vegetable shortening, you have to make your croissants in a crescent shape. I’m not sure if the shape of a croissant has the same significance in the US, but anyone who has had a proper French croissant (pronounced by the French as kwah-sohn) knows that the majority of croissants you get in the states really shouldn’t be called croissants anyways. They simply cannot compare. I actually grew up thinking I didn’t like croissants, until I came to France for the first time and had an authentic croissant and realized that I love croissants; I just don’t care for the flakeless and flavorless faux-croissants sold in the states.
* At school and in most patisseries, croissants are turned using dry butter. Dry butter has a higher percentage of fat, more than 85%, where as regular butter has a fat content between 80-82%. The increase in fat makes the butter feel strangely like play-doh, in that you can manipulate it and mold and it doesn’t really melt, therefore making it better for croissants. I think regular butter wouldn’t make much of a difference as long as you chill the dough properly between turns. I know I will be using regular butter in future croissant making. The feel of dry butter kind of creeps me out and it’s almost impossible to find in stores.