Croissants

Friends, it’s official. I’ve gone baking crazy. I made – actually made – croissants. You know, those delicious, light, buttery, fantastical French pastries you can buy in bakeries or even just in Tesco.

And oh my, it was worth it. All the folding, chilling, and rolling – not dance moves, but patisserie techniques – and all the time and energy were highly rewarded. Now, I realised while writing this post that I actually read the recipe wrong and ended up doing six turns instead of three, so I’m not sure what effect that would have had on my finished croissants, but I know that I ate them with the most wonderful sense of satisfaction, and that the flaky, crisp outside shells hiding soft and sweet centres were enormously superior to even Marks and Spencer’s version, though I do say so myself.

I’m not going to pretend that I will be making these frequently, or indeed ever again (though now I know I didn’t have to do three of those six turns, I might be tempted to have another go!). They are not hard to make once you know the techniques (aside from needing good upper arm strength), but the lengthy process means that they really are a special treat.

Tip: I used the offcuts to make a pain au chocolat blanc, which I think was truly inspired of me and probably the best of the lot. If only I had made more.

The recipe below is adapted from one found in Waitrose magazine to which I’ve added my own pearls of wisdom (the fruits of my own trials and errors).

Croissants

  • Servings: makes 12-14 pastries
  • Time: at least 10 hours
  • Difficulty: some technical know-how required
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Ingredients

  • 250g block of unsalted butter, chilled, plus a 30g piece, chilled and cubed
  • 500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 1/2 tsp fine salt
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 2 x 7g sachets dried fast-action yeast
  • 300ml whole milk
  • 1 egg plus a pinch of salt

Method

  1. In a food processor, place the 30g butter, with half the flour. Pulse until the chunks of butter have been incorporated and it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Then add the remaining flour, salt, and sugar, and whizz for a minute or so until everything is mixed.
  2. Tip into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Heat 100ml of the milk until warm (in the microwave is easiest). Put the yeast in the well, add the warm milk, and leave for a few minutes for the yeast to activate. Pour in the remaining 200ml cold milk, and mix together with a round-bladed knife to form a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured surface, and knead for 2-3 minutes until smooth. Shape into a flat 20cm square, wrap in clingfilm, and chill for 4+ hours (overnight is fine too).
  3. Take the 250g block of butter and place between 2 sheets of baking paper. Using a rolling pin, gently but firmly beat the butter so it forms a flat 15cm square, keeping the edges as straight as possible. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 15 minutes.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 30cm square. Place the flattened butter in the centre of the dough at a 45 degree angle, and fold the corners of the dough to the centre of the butter, pinching the edges to seal. Turn it over, and press down to firmly seal in the butter. Wrap in clingfilm and freeze for 10 minutes.
  5. Flouring the surface again, roll the dough out to a rectangle approximately 20cm x 50cm, pushing the dough away from you so the short edge is facing you, and keeping the edges as straight as possible. Then, fold the top third of the dough down, and the bottom third up, as if folding a letter. Brush off any excess flour as you go. Wrap in clingfilm and freeze for 10 minutes.
  6. Unwrap the dough and place on the floured counter with the short edge facing you, so the folded edges are on the sides. Roll out, fold and freeze as before.
  7. Repeat step 6.
  8. Line two large baking trays with baking parchment. Roll out the dough to a rectangle approximately 30cm x 45cm. It should be about 0.5-0.7cm thick. Trim the long edges so they are straight, then cut in half lengthways. Cut triangles from each strip, about 12cm wide at the base and 15cm high (from the middle of the base to the tip). You should get 6 from each strip.
  9. Make a 1cm slit in the middle of the base of each triangle. Gently pull out the bottom 2 corners to widen the base slightly, then roll up from the base towards the tip. Place on the baking sheet with the tip tucked underneath, and turn the points inwards slightly to create a crescent shape. Leave about 3-4cm space between each croissant.
  10. Cover each tray loosely with lightly oiled clingfilm. Leave to prove at room temperature. You now have two options:
    1. If you would like to bake the croissants on the same day, leave to prove for 1-4 hours until doubled in size, then brush with an egg beaten with a little salt, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
    2. If you would like to bake the croissants the next morning, leave to prove for 1 hour, then brush with an egg beaten with a little salt, recover with the oiled clingfilm, and place in the fridge overnight for up to 16 hours.
  11. Preheat the oven to 220C. Put the trays in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 200C. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden. You can roll up an offcut of dough and place it on the tray as a tester: cut it open after 15 minutes to see if the dough is thoroughly cooked in the middle. If it isn’t, return them to the oven for a few more minutes, without letting them get burnt. Remove from the oven, cool a little on a rack, and EAT!

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