Homemade Croissants and Pain au Chocolat

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So, I’ve been thinking about making my own croissants from scratch, for quite sometime now. The thought alone always frightened me and I was sure that my first attempt at them would be a disaster! But to my surprise, my first attempt didn’t turn out too bad! While I was researching recipes and reading COUNTLESS forums, it seemed that the recipe for the dough was pretty much similar to a basic white bread recipe. With that in mind, I decided to try and use my very own homemade bread recipe(which I worked VERY hard on, thank you very much), for the dough. It’s the actual process of lamination, that would prove itself to be more difficult! Lamination is the term for the process of alternating layers of dough and butter when making pastry. Things like keeping your work area and butter cold, using butter with a high fat content(i.e. European style), and extreme PATIENCE, would all be major factors in the overall result. Get ready ya’ll, cause this is about to be an extremely LONG post, so sit your happy ass DOWN…put your reading glasses ON…and accept this croissant, baking challenge!! :)

Ingredients for the dough:

1 cup of warm water
7 grams of active dry yeast
29 grams of sugar
319 grams of all purpose flour(recommended by King Arthur)
12 grams of potato flour
22 grams of Bakers Special Dry Milk
11 grams of vital wheat gluten
3 grams of diastatic malt powder
29 grams of softened, unsalted butter
284 grams of cold, unsalted European style butter(recommended Plugra)for laminating.

For the egg wash(optional):

an egg yolk mixed with some milk
pinch of salt

Start off by sprinkling your yeast into your warm water. Make sure it isn’t too hot-you don’t want to kill your yeast. Give it a little stir and then add in your sugar and stir one more time. Allow to sit until mixture becomes creamy or when you can see the yeast kind of “sprouting” on the top of the surface(at least 5 min or so). Now, you know that your yeast is “alive”.

While you’re waiting for your yeast to wake up, add your all purpose flour, diastatic malt powder, potato flour, and vital wheat gluten into a large mixing bowl. Mix to combine.

When your dough is activated, give it a quick stir to loosen up the sugar that has fallen to the bottom of the bowl, and pour it into your dry mixture. Using a wooden spoon, mix until well combined. Add in your salt last(yeast doesn’t like salt but adds flavor)give it a another quick mix, and then add your dough into the food processor.

Pulse for 1 minute. Turn off food processor and slightly flatten out the dough and then slather on your softened butter. Take your hand or butter knife and bring some dough over the butter. Pulse for 30 more seconds. It’s easy to over knead dough in the food processor so stay close.

Place a little bit of flour onto a clean work surface and shape your dough into a smooth ball. Your dough should be slightly tacky. Place dough in the fridge, and allow to chill for about 30 minutes.

Next, take a large piece of parchment paper, and using a ruler, measure out a perfect 8×8 inch square, right smack in the middle of the parchment. Make sure you have enough to fold over all four sides…you’ll need it to trap in your butter as you’re rolling it out flat. Set it aside.

Next, lightly flour your work surface. Remove your chilled butter from the fridge, and with a lightly floured rolling pin, gently pound it until it is relatively flat and slightly squared. Place your butter into middle of your parchment(8×8 inch)square, and fold over all four sides of the parchment paper, to fully encase the butter. Flip it over and begin to use your rolling pin to flatten out the butter into a thin, perfect 8×8 inch block of butter. Once complete, place your butter back into the fridge to chill.

On a lightly floured surface, remove your dough from the fridge and gently roll it out into an 8×16 inch rectangle. Use a pastry brush to brush off any excess flour. Transfer the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet, cover completely with another piece of parchment paper, and place it into the freezer for 30 minutes.

Fill two gallon sized freezer bags with ice, and place them on your work surface for 15 minutes. Remove the ice bags and wipe your work surface, making sure that the surface remains dry. Also don’t forget to place your rolling pin(and ice bags)back into the freezer when not in use.

Take your chilled dough out of the freezer and place it on a lightly floured surface. Remove your thin sheet of butter from the fridge and using your finger, touch it and then touch the dough to make sure they are of the same consistency. If your butter is harder than your dough, then wait a few minutes before proceeding with the next step. If your butter is a lot colder than your dough, then you risk tearing your dough while rolling and that’ll result in less, flakey layers.

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When ready, place your butter in the middle of the dough and then fold the bottom half up, toward the middle, and then repeat with the top half, making sure that they perfectly meet in the middle. If you need to, trim off any excess dough to make it even. Take your chilled rolling pin, and give it a few gentle whacks. Then turn your dough, 90 degrees and give it a few whacks again. Measure it…does it come out to 8 inches across? If so, proceed by rolling your dough(starting from the middle), and using long single strokes, roll it out to an 8×20 inch rectangle. Don’t forget to turn your dough 180 degrees, and repeat rolling it out.

Next, bring the bottom half 2/3 of the way up and then fold the top 1/3 down. Brush off any excess flour BEFORE you continue folding. Then, fold the whole thing in half, turn the dough 90 degrees again, making sure that the “spine” of the book is to your left. Give it a few gently whacks again to stretch out the dough and then tightly wrap with saran wrap. Place it into the fridge for 1 hour. You’ve now completed your first, DOUBLE BOOK FOLD.

Remove your chilled dough from the fridge and place it on your lightly floured, well chilled counter. Let it rest for 5 minutes to relax the gluten a little bit. Using a cold rolling pin, repeat the same process and roll out your dough again, into an 8×20 inch rectangle. This time, you’re going to fold the dough “letter style”, by bringing the bottom third up and then fold your top third down. Turn your dough 90 degrees, give the dough a few good whacks, and then tightly wrap with saran wrap and place into the fridge for another hour. Now, you’ve just completed your SINGLE BOOK FOLD(or simple turn).

Remove your dough from the fridge and let it rest for 5 minutes before proceeding. Roll out your dough again(is your counter and rolling pin cold?), to make another 8×20 inch rectangle and then repeat the process for another, DOUBLE BOOK FOLD. Place your dough back into the fridge, put something heavy on top of it to prevent it from rising any further, and then let it rest overnight(or for 12-18 hours).

The next day, remove your dough from the fridge and then place it into you freezer for about 15 minutes. Then, cut the dough in half, rewrap it tightly with saran wrap, and place half of it back into the fridge. With the other half, on a lightly floured and chilled counter, roll out your dough into a rectangle about 1/8-1/4 inch thick. I always forget to measure this part but it’s about a 14×6 inch rectangle. If your dough is too elastic, place it into the freezer for about 15 minutes(or until firm). Using a ruler cut out even triangles with a 4″ base and a 6″ height. Your triangle should feel cold and firm. Make a tiny slit at the base of your dough and begin to roll it up. Place your rolled croissant on a good thick baking sheet, lined with Silpat. Also, you’ll need to bake these off in two separate batches. Make sure you space them evenly apart because they will rise during baking. If you’re using a cheap baking sheet and don’t have Silpat, then double pan your baking sheet and just use parchment paper. Doing so, will prevent the bottoms of your croissants from burning. Once you’re done rolling them all, cover lightly with saran wrap(I prefer to use a clear waste basket liner), and allow them to proof in a cool area(my ideal temperature is 70 degrees), for about 3 hours. Sometimes it takes longer. You can tell when they’re ready because they will look visibly puffier. Once they’re done proofing, put your croissants in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes to firm up your butter. This step will make sure your butter doesn’t leak out during baking. Give your croissants a good egg yolk wash before baking(if using).

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees(or the hottest that it will go). Place your croissants on the middle oven rack and turn down the heat to 475 degrees. Bake for 5 minutes and then turn down again to 400 degrees for about 8 minutes. Finally, turn down the heat to 350 degrees and bake until a deep golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Remove and immediately transfer onto a wire rack to cool. Wait 30 minutes to allow the butter in the croissants to finish it’s final setting. Croissants should be eaten barely warm.

photoIf any of your layers tear during lamination, then you’re pretty much screwed! Haha. You need even layers of butter and dough to create those flaky layers that everyone loves so much. You want to aim for a “honeycomb” texture inside your croissants. I must admit, I would like my croissants to have a much more open crumb but I figured as a home baker…that might be a little bit too ambitious, perhaps?? :)

Croissants HATE warmth! Work in a cool room, preferably 68-72 degrees. If it’s too warm where you live, then you might want to rethink making croissants. What will happen is your butter might melt into your dough during lamination and that’s a big no-no! Your butter should only melt into the dough during baking! That’s what gives your croissants those flaky layers!

When my house is 70 degrees, it takes about 3 hours sometimes 3 1/2 hours to double in size(proofing). They should be visibly puffier, then before. When you brush your egg wash on, your croissant will seem to “jiggle”.

Two reasons why you could have a pool of butter coming out of your croissants during baking: 1) you’ve UNDERPROOFED your croissants(i.e. you baked them too soon). 2) Before shaping into croissants, you didn’t roll out your dough thin enough. About 1/8 inch thickness is best to ensure thin layers of dough and fat. If your layers are too thick, the butter will not be able to fully penetrate the dough, your croissants will be tough, and the butter may leak out during the bake.

More often then not, I actually prefer to NOT add an egg wash on top of the croissants. I think w/o it, the croissants puff up better and rise higher. A lot of home bakers tend to undercook their croissants(maybe because the egg wash browns them too quickly?)…that might also be a reason why your croissants end up flat.

If at anytime during lamination, your butter seems too soft or seems like it’s going to leak, wrap it up tightly and place it into the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes or so, or until firm.

To make chocolate croissants, you can purchase chocolate batons online or just do what I did…I used some Bakers chocolate that come in 1 ounce squares. Don’t used chocolate chips or chopped chocolate cause they will just ooze out and make a complete mess!

Make sure that your dough and butter are the same temperature before lamination.

Use REAL butter with a high fat content. A European style butter is best or something with at least 80% or higher butter content.

Most importantly, work quickly and HAVE FUN!!