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“Is there an easy way?!?”, I seem to hear you ask. Well maybe… but more of that later. I can quite understand why people might think croissants are time-consuming and fiddly to make. You certainly can’t just dash them off in a couple of hours, and some stages of the process can be quite tricky.

But when I saw that croissants were this month’s challenge on Fresh from the Oven, I was very happy to give them a go. I must admit I hardly ever buy a croissant, but I was quite prepared to believe that home made ones would be much more exciting than most you find in shops or cafés. I can definitely never resist an almond croissant so while I was about it I tried making some of those as well.

The dough for croissants is very similar to that for Danish pastries. You could also liken it to puff pastry made with yeast. In all three of these, it is the presence of very thin alternating layers of butter and dough that give rise to the flakiness of the final product. There are at least three ways of creating these layers (forgive my jokey names):

  • In the “dotty” method, dough is rolled out thinly and dotted with blobs of butter. It is then folded in three or more. The whole process is repeated a number of times.
  • In the “slabby” method, a slab of butter is wrapped in dough. This parcel is then rolled and folded a number of times.
  • In the “lumpy” method, small chunks of butter are incorporated directly into the initial dough, which is then rolled and folded a number of times.

The last of these is the “easier” method I mentioned above. It is the one used in Nigella Lawson’s Food Processor Danish Pastries recipe, which I have found works very well. It has to be said that it only cuts out some of the complication of the whole process.

As I had also used the “dotty” method to make puff pastry, I decided to use the “slabby” method for my croissants. To my surprise, it seemed to be easier than the “dotty” method, and also gives rise to more even layers.

Before You Start

I think a crucial factor for success in making croissants is the initial consistency of the butter. It should roughly match that of the dough, being neither rock hard from the fridge, nor really soft, but somewhere in between: firm but yielding to gentle pressure.

Once you get going, you need to keep everything cool. This is why the dough is returned repeatedly to the fridge. If at any stage you find it is too hard to roll, leave it to rest at room temperature for a few minutes. If the butter is getting soft or runny, then return the dough to the fridge for a while.

A little leakage of butter is not a disaster and can be remedied with a liberal dusting of flour. But large scale escapes suggest a return to the fridge is required.

When rolling the dough, lift it frequently to make sure it is not sticking, and add a little more flour to the worktop if necessary. You’ll probably find it shrinks back on itself too; better to find out now than later!

Ingredients

Makes 12

For the dough

  • 120g milk
  • 30g water
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 325g strong white flour
  • 7g fast action yeast
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 8g salt
  • 1 egg

For the butter slab

  • 175g unsalted butter (the best you can find)

For the glaze

  • 1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt about an hour before being used.
  • 2 30x30cm baking trays lined with baking parchment

Method

Bring the milk to the boil in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and add the 25g of butter. Allow it to melt, then add the water. Leave until lukewarm.

In a large bowl, stir the yeast, sugar and salt into the flour. Add the milk mixture and the egg, and mix until all the flour has been incorporated

Scrape the mixture out onto an unfloured surface and knead it very briefly, for about a minute, stopping as soon as the dough is smooth.

Form the dough into a ball, put it back in the bowl and cover with clingfilm, then leave to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Take the dough and the butter for the slab out of the fridge about half an hour before starting the next stage. The butter should be firm but not rock hard, and of a similar consistency to the dough.

Put the butter in a freezer bag and lay it flat on the work surface. Hold a rolling pin with both hands parallel to the surface of the butter, and gently beat it into a square slab that is about 1cm thick. Cut the edges off the bag and remove the top layer of plastic.

Depending on the initial shape of your butter, you may need to do some cutting and patching to get it into a square.

Cut a 3cm deep cross in the top of the dough and pull the four sections apart slightly with your hand so you can get a purchase on them with the rolling pin.

Roll each section out from the centre so that it resembles the flap of an envelope. The middle needs to be large enough to take the slab of butter with a 2cm border all round, and will be thicker than the side flaps.

Invert the slab, on its plastic sheet, onto the middle of the dough. Fold the flaps one by one into the centre, stretching them if necessary to cover the butter with no gaps.

With the topmost flaps to the left and right, roll out the dough into a rectangle about 20 x 50cm. Fold the top third of the dough towards the middle, then fold the bottom third over that. Turn so the overlapping edge is to one side, and make a small dimple in the surface to remind you that you’ve completed the first round of rolling and folding. Put the dough on a plate, cover it with cling film, and return it to the fridge for 30 minutes or so.

Repeat the rolling, folding and chilling process two more times, each time increasing the number of dimples to remind you where you are. Don’t worry too much if you lose track. An extra roll (or even two) won’t do much harm.

After the final chilling, roll the dough into a rectangle 50 x 30cm. Divide it in half lengthways and into three widthways. Then cut each resulting rectangle into two triangles. This will give you 12 right-angled triangles, which you then need to tease and stretch gently so they are more symmetrical,  like tall pyramids.

Make a small notch in the base of each triangle. Take hold of the bottom corners and pull them apart slightly, then roll up quite loosely towards the tip. Place on the baking tray, making sure the tip sits slightly underneath the body of the croissant. Turn the ends in slightly if you want the classic croissant shape.

Brush lightly with the egg glaze, working outwards from the centre of the croissants, so that the glaze doesn’t pool in between the layers and stick them together.

Leave to rise for 1-2 hours. You can cover them if you like, but make sure to do so in a way that the covering can’t stick to the croissants. I put mine uncovered in the shelter of the unheated oven.

Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F / Gas Mark 6 (adjust for fan oven).

Brush the croissants again with the egg glaze and bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.

Almond Croissants

As I love almond croissants, I decided to try incorporating some almond paste inside some of the croissants before baking. This worked quite well, although the extra weight did result in a slightly heavier texture.

Ingredients for Almond Paste

Enough for 6-9 croissants

  • 75g ground almonds
  • 20g runny honey
  • 20g icing sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon bitter almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • A few drops of lemon extract
  • 15g softened butter
  • 1 egg white

Mix all the ingredients apart from the egg white together, then add enough egg white to give a paste with the consistency of thick custard. You might need to add a little water as well.

After stretching the base of the croissants, put a teaspoon of paste about 1.5cm up from the bottom and spread it out into a little sausage. Then roll up.

After the second egg glaze, scatter some flaked almonds on top.

Give these a minute or two longer in the oven. Dust with icing sugar when cool.

Notes

This recipe is an amalgam made up from several sources. When I consulted my “library” of baking books I realised I had no fewer than nine recipes for croissants! I found something different and useful in most of them. But my main sources were the recipe which Karen of Lavender and Lovage posted for the Fresh from the Oven challenge, and Richard Bertinet’s recipe in Crust (a great book by the way, although his earlier book, Dough, is my all-time favourite bread book).

The resulting croissants smelled and tasted delicious (thanks to Karen’s perfectly judged ingredient list), and they seemed to me to have just the right combination of flaky exterior and doughy inside. I shall make them again!

You’ll find the round up for the Fresh from the Oven challenge here.

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