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Croissants


porcupine
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As regular readers have probably figured out, I've been on a croissant kick the past couple months. At this point my finished products are pretty good, but don't have as flaky a texture as I want. I've read so much on the internet (including the egullet thread) that my head hurts, and of course there's contradictory information: dough should be firm or soft and sticky. Use the highest protein wheat you can find or the lowest. Mix and knead for several minutes until you get a smooth dough or work it as little as possible.

So, I'm turning to the dr.com community for a little discussion. What have you discovered while making croissants? What works for you and what doesn't?

I've discovered a few things:

No matter what I do, I get some butter leakage during baking. No, it's not from broken dough, and it's not from proofing at too high a temperature (I don't let it proof above 80 degrees F).

Though I work the dough absolutely as little as possible, when it's rolled out for the final time it's springy; the resulting pastries are a little bready. Yes, I let the dough rest in the fridge for at least an hour after every time it's handled. I go to great lengths to keep it cold while working it (eg, I place a tray of ice water on the stone counter to keep it cold while the dough is in the fridge).

The best croissants I've made used Red Star active dry yeast. They did not rise well (not quite double after 3 hrs at 80 F), but held their shape beautifully. On the recommendation of the best baker I know, I got some SAF Gold instant yeast - specially formulated for rich doughs. The resulting dough is so springy it's almost impossible to work, and my nicely shaped pastries become misshapen as they rise, and look totally goofy after baking. (Two attempts w/ SAF; the third is resting in the fridge now.)

Almost every recipe I've found uses essentially the same technique, except for the one in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which has the dough rising twice before it's laminated with butter. Has anyone tried that method yet? I think I'll try it on Friday...

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I’ve made croissants a number of times, and although they usually taste good, for various reasons I have never been completely happy with them. The New Cooks Illustrated (Jan & Feb 2012) has a “new” recipe in it, with several new suggestions (at least new to me). First, they highly recommend European style butter, like Plugra, and a high protein all-purpose flour. They make several other suggestions in the article, some of which are new to me. I have purchased the butter and flour, and intend to try the recipe this coming weekend. I will report back if it seems an improvement over the usual ones.

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I have nothing to contribute in the way of advice, but I will observe that in France you can get really wonderful croissants almost anywhere. Here's a picture of one I enjoyed in Sainte-Maxime on the French Riviera last spring.

I was thinking that the croissant I bought this morning fell into the "average" category until I saw that photo. I now realize that my standards have fallen to an indefensibly low level.

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I tried the recipe in Cooks Illustrated, and the croissants turned out well. I think their recommendations concerning butter, flour, and occasional freezing of the dough make it easier to fold the dough, roll it out and shape the croissants. There is an on-line video of the entire process if you are interested: http://www.cooksillustrated.com/byissue/default.asp?docId=36108&selDate=166&currentVideo=y

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^Thanks for the link. I enjoyed watching the video, and I might pick up the current copy of CI, but unless there's something I'm completely failing to understand I don't know why I should try high protein flour and a one minute mix on the dough hook when over-activating the gluten is a big problem. Did yours not come out bready?

I've made a few more batches since my initial post. Interestingly the Mastering the Art method did not produce a discernibly different pastry from the other method. No further problems with SAF Gold yeast; the previous problem was likely technique-related.

Next batch is resting in the fridge now. It's a hybrid method with one ingredient change. The dough has been behaving so far so I have hope... It had better work because Saturday I'm contributing breakfast pastries for 35 people. oy.

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I made dozens of croissants once upon a time when I worked in a bakery (and boy oh boy does using a pro sheeter make it so much easier...). Here's what I remember about the process: use bread flour and don't overmix the dough. First rise about 1 1/2 hours in a warm place, until doubled. Let rest 1/2 hour after each turn (3 or 4 turns in all), refrigerate overnight. The next day, pull it out and let it get just warm enough to handle, form your rolls. Proof in a warm & humid environment 30-45 minutes, then bake in a fairly hot oven. Butter leakage is the price of a rich dough. The are best with european-style butter - less water content.

I hope your latest batch behaves itself. :)

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Hate to post an incomplete post from work since I can't link to the site I want but the time I was super-really-successful in croissant making was from a Julia child YouTube video of an episode with a female baker. I used only all purpose flour, active dry yeast and regular store butter. No leakage, very buttery and had my mom's seal of approval (very rare). Will have to follow up...

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Hate to post an incomplete post from work since I can't link to the site I want but the time I was super-really-successful in croissant making was from a Julia child YouTube video of an episode with a female baker.

I had thought of linking this, but the video quality is atrocious. The female baker is Esther McManus, who is very French in spite of her surname. On YouTube, the video was posted in two low-quality segments, which I will now link to after all:

This was from Baking with Julia, which they run on Weta Create these days. I saw it a week or two ago. If you have Comcast Digital, it's on channel 265. I see from the WETA website that this episode is scheduled to be on again on Monday, January 16, at 9 pm. That would be far less frustrating than watching the more or less unwatchable YouTube videos.

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I assume you also used salt, sugar, and milk, as called for by Ms McManus.

Oh, yes sir!

Thanks The Hersch! I can always count on you!! :-)

I finally realized I did a hybrid myself: watch the above videos with Esther McManus & Julia Child for the technique, but use Dorie Greenspan's recipe, after I came across it on this blog: http://cafefernando....sant-challenge/

It was a perfect match in my case. Hope it'll help you, porcupine!!

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Thanks for the posts and video links. I think I might be starting to get the hang of this. There are one or two more experiments to run (sometimes I miss working in a lab), but I'm on the right track now. Heather, that batch behaved itself. Next step is to buy croissants from St Michel, Tout de Sweet, and Praline for comparison sake.

photo.JPG.pdf

croissant.pdf

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After many pounds of butter and flour, hours of reading and watching videos, I think I've got it. The last two batches were great. There's another one resting in the fridge now - one more variation to try. I've learned that the single most important thing is technique, by which I mean handling the dough. Different formulas, number of rises and resting periods, and so on give surprisingly similar results. What works for others didn't necessarily work for me, and what worked for me might not work for others, but here's the recipe resulting from my research and practice. My goal was to produce a croissant that was on the pastry end of the spectrum, therefore I avoided techniques and ingredients that would contribute to gluten formation. I'm not going to write pages of detail here; if anyone wants that depth of info, send a pm.

In a large bowl combine

5 oz cake flour

15 oz all purpose flour

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sugar

2 1/4 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons SAF Gold instant yeast.

In a measuring cup whisk together 1 1/2 c cold whole milk and 2 oz canola oil, then slowly pour into the flour mixture, using a rubber scraper to cut everything in together. Gather it all up and knead it very lightly just a few times - just enough to hold it together. Form it into a rectangle, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for one hour. [the current batch is doing an overnight slow rise in the fridge at this stage].

While it's resting, take 14 oz of cold unsalted butter and form it into a 9 1/2"x11" rectangle. There are many ways to do this; what I've done is to draw the rectangle on the backside of a piece of parchment paper, then place the butter blocks/sticks side by side on it, cover loosely with plastic, and starting whacking it with the rolling pin. You need to adjust the plastic every so often. When it's close to the edges, start rolling it to get it evenly thick. Place this in the fridge.

After the dough has rested, roll it into a 12"x15" rectangle. Use enough flour to keep it from sticking, but don't overdo it, and brush off any excess rather than working it into the dough. Position the butter so that it covers 2/3rds of the dough, with a border all round. Fold the one third of dough that's uncovered over onto the butter, then fold the other end over. Pinch the edges together to seal. (The trick here is to have the butter cold but not so cold that it's hard and inflexible. It might be necessary to let the butter warm up for a few minutes.) Roll the dough out into a 12"x20" rectangle, then do a double turn (aka book fold); wrap it loosely in plastic, and rest it in the fridge another hour. Then roll it out again 12 by 20 and do a single turn. Let this rest for at least two hours or overnight in the fridge.

For croissants I like rolling the dough out 14" wide and a quarter inch thick. That's a lot of dough to work with, so at some point I cut it in half lengthwise and refrigerate what I'm not working with. The resulting 7" wide dough is cut into rectangles 4" on the short side. There's lots of info everywhere about how to roll and form them. For pain au chocolat I roll the dough out 1/4" thick or even a little less, and cut into 2"x4" rectangles.

At this stage it's important to keep everything cold. As soon as the dough is cut all but two or three pieces go back in the fridge, and I only take two out at a time to form. That SAF Gold is so active that the dough will start getting springy as it warms to room temp, and then the pastries can't be formed correctly. At least, I think that's what's going on.

And here is the last important thing I discovered: they take a long time to rise. A long time. At least three hours, and that's proofing them in the oven with a bowl of hot water for humidity, and checking often to be sure the temp is between 75 and 80 degrees F. At room temp they will take a lot longer. And if they aren't fully risen, they will be heavy and moist in the center, no matter what tricks you play with oven temps, and no matter what the Thermapen registers. (Usually I've been freezing the pastries before baking. Frozen, they take a good four hours to proof.) If in doubt, bake a single pastry and wait ten minutes for it to cool, then tear it open. If it ain't right, well, the next ones probably will be, because they continued to rise while you conducted the test.

Egg wash the pastries once when you first set them out to rise. Then, while the oven is heating, put them in the freezer for 5-10 minutes, then egg wash again. The quick chill arrests the rising and firms up the butter, which seems to minimize butter leakage. Egg wash them a second time, then bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes. They should be deep golden brown when done, and feel very light. Be patient - like any baked flour product they need to cool to set the texture; the good news is they cool fast.

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Sounds as if you're pretty satisfied w latest efforts. So, FWIW: While looking for something to do with thawed bananas, I came across the following, first courtesy of David Lebovitz who likes the pretzel croissants at City Bakery (not as long a video as indicated; the same old footage repeats at midpoint. Cf. short, more recent videos for the affiliated Birdbath). Second, comments below get a little fawning since the author reveals her role in teaching Meryl Streep how to look like a pro when rolling out croissants onscreen, but this new article at Leite's Culinaria may be of interest.

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We recieved the Momofuko Milk bar cookbook for the holidays. It has some really creative and weird recipes in it, every recipe refers to 4 other "set-up" recipes that you need to have done before attempting the mian recipe.

Anyways, the book has a recipe for croissants and different variations. One of the variations is a blue cheese and kimchi croissant. I thought that was pretty damn interesting, can't want to make them.

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We recieved the Momofuko Milk bar cookbook for the holidays. It has some really creative and weird recipes in it, every recipe refers to 4 other "set-up" recipes that you need to have done before attempting the mian recipe.

For my birthday, a friend bought me a Momofuku Milk Bar compost cookie mix at Williams Sonoma. It was cleverly packaged in a container that echoed a Chinese take-out box with cool colors and graphics. Inside the box were separate bags of powdered graham crackers, light brown sugar, flour blend (with leavening, salt and powdered vanilla flavor) and the "compost mix" of various flavored candy chips and coffee grounds. I had to mix in my own butter, eggs, mini pretzels and potato chips. I followed the instructions closely, not knowing what the final product was supposed to be, including weighing each scoop of dough so the cookies would be completely uniform. The kit made nine cookies, admittedly large. But the verdict? Meh.
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The kit made nine cookies, admittedly large. But the verdict? Meh.

That's more than a bit ridiculous, but also in line with what I would expect from a product from Williams Sonoma. I saw the same packages there this past weekend.

I would be willing to best the recipes made from scratch come out better.

Futurewife is making the homemade confetti birthday cake for me next month. I will supply the results!

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I would be willing to best the recipes made from scratch come out better.

I've made Momofuku crack pie several times (the recipe was printed in the L.A. Times). As you say above, the recipe has two major components, which involves first making oatmeal cookies in order to use them to make an oatmeal cookie crumb crust. But the finished product is mind-boggling. I used sucanat instead of light brown sugar, and like it better than the original, which I have tasted in NYC.
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This morning I had Trader Joe's frozen mini-croissants for breakfast, and was astonished how good they were--extremely flaky and light, a nice buttery taste. They may not beat homemade, but they're a far better option than just about anything I've gotten from a bakery or prepackaged at a store.

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