Updated: Dec 13, 2022
FUNDAMENTALS OF CROISSANTS
Croissant is one of the two main pastries that are made through the lamination technique that creates multiple layers of dough and butter, the other being puff pastry. The result of a well laminated and baked croissant is a flaky skin with a light and delicate open interior.
Croissant is also known to be one of the most feared pastries for those that have not attempted or have failed incessantly in making this complicated pastry. What was once thought to be only achievable pastry for the professionals through laminating the dough with a commercial machinery called the 'dough breaker' has been proved wrong by many hobbyist since the pandemic.
The trick to achieving a perfect croissant at home is with the simple act of "Practice". Unlike most desserts or cakes, this pastry requires the fundamental understanding on how lamination works through the science and through experience with feeling with your hands when making the dough and performing the lamination process with the butter.
In this post, I will be sharing with you some of the tips and tricks to make your first experience less daunting.
BREAK DOWN OF THE PROCESS OF PRODUCING CROISSANTS
Croissants requires at least 2 days process in producing. To understand the makings of this pastry, here are the breakdowns on the process consequently:
Preparing the Detrempe (Croissant Dough)
First part of Frist Lamination at room temperature
Knock back of the dough and sheeting the dough
Second part of First Lamination in the fridge at 4 - 5˚C overnight (at least 8 hours up to 12 hours)
Preparing of the laminating butter (beurrage) - sheeting
Lock in of the butter and dough
Performing the first book fold
Resting of the dough
Performing the second book fold
Resting of the dough
Rolling/sheeting out of the dough
Trimming and cutting the dough to triangles
Shaping of the dough
Final proofing of the croissants
Egg washing the Proofed croissants
Glazing of the baked croissants
CROISSANT DOUGH (DETREMPE)
The dough or often referred to as detrempe in French is the first thing that you will have to prepare in making croissant. There are vast variety of recipes out there in making the croissant dough and the one that I stick by is the one I will be sharing with you in here. Take note that the method of preparing the detrempe will be quite different from if you were to prepare them commercially. Because you are making such a smaller amount domestically, you can prepare the dough at a higher temperature with more yeast to expedite the proofing process.
Often bakers will prepare the detrempe with a lower Final Dough temperature and no first part of proofing at room temperature are performed for the first fermentation. Often the dough are portioned and will be placed in the fridge for cold fermentation overnight straight away.
In this recipe, we will aim for a Final Dough Temperature (FDT) of between 22- 25˚C depending on the ambient of your kitchen, ensuring that it does not go anything above 26˚C. Anything above 26˚C will cause the yeast to activate too quickly and can compromise the slow fermentation process that aims to develop flavour in the croissants. It is not recommended that you prepare this pastry when the atmosphere is too warm as it can make the task rather difficult to achieve.
After the dough is prepared, it will go through the first part of the first fermentation at room temperature until the dough increases 50% of its original volume. Once that is achieved, the dough is knocked back (where you press the dough down to release any additional gas that was produced by the yeast). The detrempe will then be rolled to a rectangle and placed onto a tray, wrapped well and placed in the fridge sitting at between 4˚C - 5˚C for the second part of the first fermentation.
The purpose of the first part of the first fermentation is to give the yeast a kick start in activating before putting them in a colder environment for a slower final part of the first fermentation.
HOW DO I CONTROL THE FINAL DOUGH TEMPERATURE OF MY DETREMPE?
Bakers often control the final dough temperature by working out the factors that contributes to the temperature of the dough and these factors are often referred to as variables. Variables that plays a role in the Final Dough Temperature are:
Out of the four variables, the only one that can be controlled are water temperature since it would be hard to change the temperature of the room that you are working on and the flour temperature where you stored them. The easiest way to change the final dough temperature after mixing of the dough is to control the temperature of the water since they can easily be manipulated by either using colder or warmer water for adjustments.
Friction refers to the temperature increase during the mixing of the dough when the dough hook hits the dough around in the bowl, which creates an energy that can increase the temperature of the dough.
When working out the temperature of the water, start by multiplying the DDT (Desired Dough Temperature) to the three variables that can affect the Final Dough Temperature (Room Temperature, Flour Temperature + Friction from mixing of the dough in the machine). Unless you are using preferment for the croissant, the variables will be four variables rather than three. Preferment will not be used in the following steps.
Desired dough temperature is the temperature that you want your Final Dough to be after mixing.
In the case of the day that I prepared the Detrempe (Croissant Dough), the temperature of the mentioned variables are as below:
Room temperature = 22˚C
Flour = 23˚C
Friction = 5˚C estimation
*Note that the final water temperature can be different from you depending on the ambient of your kitchen and the temperature of your ingredients.
Therefore, to calculate the temperature of the water, you will first need work out your DDT (Desired Dough Temperature) and use the DDT to minus the estimated friction (5˚C), then multiply it to the number of affecting variables (3 - friction, flour & room temperature), and finally use the total to subtract the actual temperature of the room temperature and flour variable, and you should then have the recommended water temperature :
Here is the example for the calculation
DDT is = 24˚C
DDT - Friction
= 24 - 5
(DDT x 3) - (Room temp. + Flour Temp.) = Water Temperature
(19 x 3) - (22˚C + 23˚C) = Water Temperature
57 - 45 = Water Temperature
12˚C = Recommended Water Temperature
BEURRAGE (LAMINATING BUTTER)
In making of the croissant, there are two parts butter. The smaller part of the butter are added into the detrempe and the larger part of the butter is used in the laminating process.
When preparing the beurrage, it is important the you use the right type of butter specifically made for this type of pastry. The butter used for lamination are also often referred to as French butter or fractionated butter. These butter has been manipulated with water content extracted and contains higher fat content than normal butter to ease the flexibility of the butter. Flexibility of the butter is crucial to prevent it from breaking during the laminating process.
When laminating, it is important to understand the texture and feel of the beurrage. The best guideline is to look for the same consistency of the beurrage and the detrempe. The butter that I am using is a French imported butter from Flechard Le Grand Tourage, with 82% fat.
The ideal temperature of the butter during the lamination process is usually between 16˚C- 19˚C. The butter should feel fairly flexible but not melting in your hands for lamination.
GOLD INSTANT YEAST
There are varieties of yeast that you can use in the recipe and my most preferred and recommended by professional baker acquaintance of mine are Gold osmotolerant instant yeast. This type of yeast can withstand environment that are high in sugar or salt concentration and is especially ideal for dough that needs to go through a long fermentation time.
Fresh yeast is not preferred as they break down too easily and loses its properties during the long fermentation process.
LAMINATION AND RESTING OF THE DOUGH BETWEEN TURNS
Traditional croissants often calls for 3 single folds with resting time in between folds. Three single folds often yields a close crumb interior and requires a longer preparation time. To achieve a more open interior crumb and a shorter preparation time, this recipe will call for two double folds with one resting time in between.
It is important to rest the dough in between folds if you are doing this by hand. This is to purpose the relaxation of the gluten as the dough may become resistant in between each fold and make it hard to roll it out to the desired width and length. To prevent from over working and possibly tearing the layers from trying to forcibly stretch the dough, resting is crucial.
During the resting of the dough, it is important to not let it sit in the fridge for longer than 30 minutes. This is to prevent the butter from hardening too much which can shatter when you try to roll them out again, compromising the layers of the croissants.
Once the croissants has been shaped, it is now time to leave the croissants to final proof until they double in size.
The best atmosphere for proofing croissants is an ambient that are drought free and sitting at a temperature between 24˚C - 26˚C. To control this environment at home, you can start by filling a deep dish with hot water and placing it in the turned off oven with the door close. Monitor the temperature inside the oven before placing the croissants in the oven to proof.
To prevent the croissants from forming skins, grease a cling wrap with oil and loosely place it over the croissants during the proofing process.
Alternatively, if you are proofing croissants on a warmer day with your kitchen temperature sitting around 24˚C - 26˚C, you can simply just leave it to proof at room temperature lightly covered.
Depending on the ambient of your kitchen, proofing time can take between 3 - 5 hours.
I highly recommend that you invest in a perforated tray if you are keen on making great croissants. Perforated trays allows even travel of air flow throughout the product giving the product an even crumb color and rise during baking.
BAKING WITH STEAM
The secret to an open crumb in your baked croissants is highly reliant on a few factors. One of which is air flow in the oven. The second main factor that contribute to a nice rise and open crumb is steam.
My first too many failures with making croissants at home without steam yields a close crumb interior and much to my dismay has a rather bread like texture. I am most certain now that after trying numerous times, that steam plays a major factor in helping the croissant rise better with a more open and delicate interior. A dense interior can also be a sign that you have broken the layers during lamination or if the pastries are under proofed.
So how do you create steam in a domestic oven that does not have a steam function? There are two ways of creating steam in your oven that I can share with you. The first way is by placing a deep heavy baking tray in the bottom rack while you are pre heating your oven. When ready to bake, pour hot boiling water into the tray and this will create steam as the hot liquid hit the hot tray.
The second option, which is my preferred method, is by preheating some lava volcanic rocks in a deep dish in the oven. When ready to bake, pour boiling water over the hot rocks to create steam. Since lava rocks can get extremely hot and don't break down easily and the crevices in the lava rocks also mean that there are more surface area for when the water comes in contact with these surfaces, it generates more steam.
Steam helps elevate the pastries during baking and prevents the crust from forming too quickly which can hinder a high rise of the croissants.