Finally, I have found something on the list of top ten difficult dishes to make which I do regard to be a challenge. A good croissant is a light and buttery crescent shaped puff pastry which goes wonderfully with freshly brewed coffee. There are many poor imitations. Walk into any high street coffee chain and you will find their oversized flabby impostors. But there is no substitute for the real calorie laden deal.
In the Oxford Companion to Food Alan Davidson notes there is a lot of culinary mythology surrounding the origins of the croissant. Some believe they were first baked to commemorate the thwarting of the Turks efforts to invade either Vienna or Budapest in the 17th century. Others believe Marie Antoinette’s German cook introduced them to France. However, there is no mention of croissants in cookbooks until the latter part of the 19th century (although recipes for the modern varieties first appeared around 1906).
Croissants are best served soon after they have been cooked, preferably still warm. Elizabeth David is quick to point out that most French housewives buy their croissants from a baker or pastry shop rather than making their own.
“I have only limited tolerance towards all the rolling and folding and turning involved in puff pastry,” she says in English Bread and Yeast Cookery. “It is a process which gives me no pleasure.”
I share David’s sentiments. They are extremely time consuming and quite fiddly to make. You need to dedicate a number of hours to the process so in order to make them fresh for breakfast you would need to rise very early in the morning indeed. My solution was to freeze them as soon as they were cool enough and then reheat them in a moderate oven from frozen the next morning. Undoubtedly, they were not quite as good as those freshly baked but at least I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night to make them!
Luckily, we have a French style patisserie in our town so there I feel no need to make croissants on a regular basis. But it was fun to take on the challenge and it’s another one crossed off the list!
Don’t forget to check out what Jill and Margo are cooking over at http://saucycooks.com/!
Makes 6 plain and 6 pain au chocolat
- 150g block of cold unsalted butter
- 250g strong plain bread flour
- 30g caster sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 30g softened unsalted butter
- 7g sachet dried active yeast
- 65ml whole milk at room temperature
- 60ml luke warm water
- 24 large dark chocolate buttons or 12 dark chocolate batons
- 1 egg, beaten (for glazing)
- Place the 150g butter between two sheets of cling film (which should be much larger than the butter). Using a rolling pin bash it until you have flattened it into a rough rectangle approximately 16 x 14cm and 5mm thick.
- Put the flour, sugar, salt and softened butter into a food mixer with a dough hook attached. Mix briefly to combine.
- Put the milk and water into a jug. Stir int he dried yeast and whisk just to combine. Pour this onto the dry ingredients and mix for 2-3 minutes until you have a soft dough (you may need to add slightly more water if the dough appears a little dry).Wrap the dough in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Roll the dough into a rectangle about 15 x 23cm and 1cm thick. Place you flattened butter rectangle on top of the dough leaving the top third uncovered.
- Fold the uncovered dough over the middle third. Fold the bottom third of the butter covered dough over the two sections of folded dough to create a parcel (rather like a business letter). Gently roll the dough to flatten the parcel to around 1.5cm thick. Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Don’t leave it any longer or the butter will become too hard and brittle to fold. Repeat this process three more times. After the last 30 minute rest you are ready to make your croissants! The Institute advises that at this point the dough will keep in the fridge for up to three days or can be frozen.
- Make a template triangle from cardboard 7.5cm at the base and 25cm long for the plain croissant. Cut the chilled dough in half. Roll one half of the dough into a square about 26 x 26cm (you will have more dough than you need but this will allow you to tidy up the edges).
- Plain croissants: Using the template cut six triangles from the dough. Make a small cut in the middle of the base of the triangle (the shortest side). Fold the two tabs that are formed by the slit up and out towards the outside edges. Gradually roll the dough up towards the apex of the triangle gently pressing towards the outside edges as you go. This will stretch the finished croissant. It should be longer than the original base. Place on a lined baking tray (I use a silicone liner but grease proof paper would work too).
- Pain au Chocolat: Roll the other half of the dough into a rectangle 22 x 33cm. Cut into six squares 11 x 11cm. Place four chocolate buttons or two batons down the centre of each square. Fold one side over the buttons. Brush the other side with beaten egg then fold this over to enclose the first side. Press down lightly to seal. Place seam side down on a lined baking tray.
- Cover the croissants/pain au chocolate and put in a warm place to prove for 1- 1½ hours until they have doubled in size. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Brush the croissants/pain au chocolat with beaten egg bake for 15-20 minutes until puffy and golden. If you want to freeze and reheat them another day I would only cook them for 15 minutes at this stage. To reheat, pre-heat the oven to 160°C and bake for 5-8 minutes (plain croissants usually take less time than the pain au chocolat).
If in doubt just google how to make croissants. There are loads of videos on YouTube such as this one.