The first croissant I remember eating came fresh from my aunt Tommie’s oven. I enjoyed every last crumb of that buttery, flaky morsel and decided that all other bread was woefully substandard. (Except biscuits, of course.)
I hadn’t considered the amount of effort involved in creating homemade croissants until the day my mother took a notion to tackle them. And by “day” I mean two days. Every time I passed by the kitchen she was either spreading butter on dough, rolling it out or folding it up. Also, cursing.
Imagine her disappointment when she crossed the kitchen marathon finish line only to be presented with flat, dense rolls that resembled nothing so much as hockey pucks. We tried to reassure her with comments like “they still taste good” or “I kind of like them this way,” but she never quite forgave Aunt Tommie for besting her in a baking competition.
Years later, as I was working with my mom to compile a collection of her recipes, I ran across the pages and pages of Aunt Tommie’s croissant-making instructions. I quickly relegated them to the never-gonna-happen pile.
Fast forward a few decades when I had the opportunity to attend a croissant workshop put on by Sur La Table’s cooking class program. Before I went, I told folks that I would never actually make croissants myself, but I wanted to see how it was done.
I spent a pleasant three hours in class mixing dough, stuffing it full of butter and rolling and folding, rolling and folding. I learned how to cut precise triangles and create pretty crescents. I mastered the art of filling and rolling classic pain au chocolat. And then there was the tasting. Oh my!
I left the store with a bag of chocolate batons and visions of homemade French pastries dancing in my head.
The first time I attempted croissants, I followed the recipe from class and amazed myself by actually creating tasty, flaky layers. The shapes were a bit wonky. The sizes were all over the place. But I returned from my book group brunch with nary a crumb in the bread basket. Success!
And now, I invite you along as I attempt croissants for the second time and share some lessons learned along the way.
Let’s start with a few croissant basics:
Chill out—croissants are best produced at cooler temperatures. When the thermometer hits 80 and you don’t have air conditioning, your kitchen time is better spent making ice cream.
Take it slow—making croissants takes hours, if not days. Fortunately, most of this time is spent waiting, not working.
Save space—make sure you have room on your countertop for rolling out dough and a spot in the fridge to stash your dough while it rests and relaxes.
Don’t forget to brush—remove excess flour from your dough throughout all stages of the process. A natural bristle pastry brush makes the task easy, but check for stray bristles that may fall out onto dough.
Give it a rest—if the butter gets sticky or the dough seems too tough to roll, pop it back in the fridge for 10 to 20 minutes and try again.
Check for leaks—occasionally, the butter will ooze out of croissants and run all over the baking sheet. I’d recommend peeping in on them at the 7-minute mark and sopping up excess butter with a paper towel. But leave the butter that pools under the croissants alone because it fries the bottoms in buttery goodness. Some folks think this is a terrible thing, but not I. (Note: the croissants pictured suffered a severe leakage problem but tasted amazing.)
Lighten up—problems may arise and your rolls may not reach Pinterest perfection, but to paraphrase Winnie the Pooh: Nobody can be uncheered with a homemade croissant.
What’s your favorite croissant filling? Got any croissant-making tips or techniques to share? Please do tell!