The preparation of the croissants consists of two main phases: the initial dough, called détrempe, and the laminating, which consists of integrating the butter to the détrempe, forming alternate layers.
The difficulty in making croissants at home lies in manually creating thin and even layers of dough/butter in order to achieve a product with good volume and an open, honey-comb texture.
For making the dough and shaping the butter:
- Clingfilm and freezer bag. It is important to correctly wrap the détrempe (and then the dough) in clingfilm and then put it inside a freezer bag to prevent it from drying out. It will also protect the dough against possible unpleasant smells inside the refrigerator.
- Waxed paper, pencil and ruler. To give butter the right shape in order to work with precision.
- Cold tray. Before rolling, place a tray (better if steel or marble) inside the freezer so you can place in it croissants once cut and keep them cold before shaping.
- Ice blocks. To keep the work surface cool at all times.
- Rolling pin. I use a stainless steel rolling pin because it has several advantages: it is non-stick and it’s heavy, so it saves me effort when handling some doughs. However, its weight can also be a disadvantage, especially if you have no experience in laminating. In fact, when we have no experience we usually tend to apply too much pressure on the rolling pin during laminating. So if we use a heavy rolling pin like the stainless steel one we may break the layers. Therefore, I do not recommend that you specifically buy this kind of rolling pin. If you already have it, it’s great but if not, a standard wooden rolling pin is perfectly fine. Once you have more experience in laminating, the stainless rolling pin is quite useful.
- Brush. The brush will allow us to remove the excess flour without damaging the dough.
- Infrared thermometer. It’s a necessary tool to control the temperature of the dough at all times. It’s cheap and very practical.
- Sharp knife or pizza steel. To trim the edges of the dough during laminating, and to precisely divide the croissants before shaping them.
Important notes on the ingredients
1. What flour should we use to make croissants?
Choosing the right flour is very important to get croissants with the right volume and texture. As you can imagine, not all flours can be used. When choosing the flour, you have to check some technical data: baking strength, elasticity/tenacity ratio (P/L) and the protein percentage.
– Baking strength: choose a strong flour, which allows to develop gluten during kneading, but also during rolling. The strength of the flour is measured by the W factor. A strong flour has a factor that ranges between W320 and W380.
– P/L: the flour you choose not only has to be strong, but it has to maintain this strength over time, that is, during proofing and baking. The factor that determines the relationship between force and time is called «P/L» (i.e., elasticity & tenacity). The flour used for croissant should have a good P/L ratio to avoid the dough fighting back during laminating (between 0.4 and 0.7 approx., the higher this value is, the less elasticity the flour presents).
– Proteins: the percentage of proteins (i.e. gluten) goes hand in hand with the baking strength. The more strength, the more protein. It is very important that the flour you use is rich in proteins (between 13% and 15%), since the good development of the croissants depends to a large extent on it.
To these three factors, I would add the water absorption power of the flour. It is difficult to measure it and you will have to try it by yourself. The hydration rate of the détrempe will depend on this factor (a flour that has a high water absorption power will need more hydration).
I usually use two flours that meet these characteristics: Lievitati flour (W350-370 – P / L 0.48 / 0.50 – Proteins> 13%) and flour Sfoglia (W300-320 – P / L 0.48 / 0.50 – Proteins> 13%), both from Molino Pasini. Like most specific flours they are not easy to find in regular stores and are usually sold in bags of 10 or 25 kg. Some of these flours are available online.
2. Yeast, sourdough, preferment: which is the best way to ferment the croissants?
Croissants can be fermented using various methods, the three main ones being: yeast (direct method), a mix of preferment (poolish) and yeast, or a combination of sourdough and yeast.
If you do not have experience making croissants at home, I would not recommend to start using sourdough. Besides adding complexity to the process (a more precise organization and a greater control of the proofing phase), its use requires a fairly rigorous control of the sourness, especially if, like me, you do not use your sourdough daily and it stays weeks in the fridge. If the breads we bake can have a mildly sour taste, croissants cannot so we have to make sure that the sourdough we use to make croissants is not sour at all.
After many tests, I think it’s not that worth to use sourdough in the croissant formula. When I started making croissants at home, I used part of sourdough (30%) and a small amount of dry yeast (since making decent croissants using only sourdough is almost impossible, even for professional bakers), but it did not end to achieve the expected results with this combination: my croissants lacked a little volume and I didn’t get the texture I expected.
There is a certain obsession with sourdough among home bakers (including myself!). The use of sourdough is essential for many breads, as it provides a special texture and helps extending the lifespan of the product (as in the case of Panettone, for example). However, a croissant is prepared for immediate consumption and, in this case, sourdough barely provides benefits in terms of texture and flavor. Of course you get great croissants using a part of sourdough (and as a personal challenge it’s fine!) but I personally achieved better results using fresh yeast.
Some bakers (like Chad Roberston from Tartine), use poolish in their formula, a liquid preferment made with the same proportion of flour and water, and with a pinch of yeast (between 0.1% and 0,3%). It is usually prepared on the eve so that it ferments between 8 and 16 hours, and bakers usually use between 30% and 40% over the total weight of the flour of the détrempe.
In theory, poolish allows to achieve a greater extensibility of the détrempe, which helps to better laminate the dough. Personally, I do not like this method as I think it brings more moisture to the dough, which forces us to have more control over hydration.
Some bakers also add a proportion of pâte fermentée («fermented dough», that is to say of previous détrempe) or even cuts of croissant dough in order to fully develop the croissant aromas; however I do not recommend it because it alters the formula (increasing the proportion of all ingredients, including yeast) and, consequently, proofing times.
Dry yeast or fresh yeast?
The best option for me (at least to begin with) is to use yeast.
I have tried both types of yeast (fresh and dry). At first I used dry yeast. However, I have stopped using it for several reasons. Firstly because it contains additives. Secondly because fermentation is slower and more difficult to control. And finally, I find it difficult to check the quality and condition of the dry yeast, since some of it has been packed for a long time and lose a lot of strength.
In my opinion, the best option for making homemade croissants is to use only fresh yeast. It is easy to find and its use is very practical.
Some advices when using fresh yeast.
I buy it from one of the bakeries in my neighborhood. They sell it to the weight and they usually receive it daily so I know it is very fresh and of great quality. But you can use perfectly the one sold in supermarkets.
– Look carefully at the expiration date. Before using it, smell it: if it smells very strong or rancid throw it away.
– Do not freeze it: the bacteria it contains will end up dying.
– Keep it wrapped in cling film inside a tightly closed glass jar to prevent it from drying out and consume it quickly.
3. Why is sugar important in fermented doughs?
In addition to providing flavor and color (favoring caramelization), sugar is part of the food for yeast. Bear in mind that during proofing, yeast consumes part of the sugars. The other part stays in the dough. Therefore, if we do not add sugar or use too little, our croissants will not ferment properly and will lose color and texture. Also keep in mind that sugar absorbs part of the moisture of the dough, so you have to adjust the amount of water depending on the amount of sugar.
Croissants usually carry between 8% and 15% sugar. You can use different kinds of sugars such as panela, coconut sugar, brown sugar, etc., taking into account that they will provide a different color and flavor to the final product. However, it is not advisable to use sweeteners (both liquid and granulated), since they have a greater sweetening power which would modify the texture and flavor.
4. Is it better to use water or milk?
At first I only used water (and a very small amount of milk powder). However, according to several pro bakers, milk not only adds flavor but has an influence on elasticity during kneading (that is, during the formation of gluten). I usually use half water half semi-skim milk, and I find it a good balance between flavor and texture.
Regarding water, it’s better to use filtered water or spring water. If you use tap water, leave it a couple of hours inside a glass so that chlorine can evaporate.
5. Is it necessary to use eggs in the croissants dough?
Although some recipes add egg, croissant dough does NOT carry egg. Other similar doughs, such as the Danish pastry, do carry it. Egg would provide a rather “brioche” texture, but in the case of croissants we are looking for a drier and lighter texture.
6. Is it essential to add salt?
Yes, especially in fermented doughs. First of all because it strengthens the gluten and increases the absorption of water. And secondly because it slows down the activity of the yeast. In the case of croissants, we do not want the dough to ferment during the whole process; salt helps us to slown down fermentation.
7. What is malted barley flour for?
I use malted barley flour in many of my breads not only to enhance the flavor, but also to improve the crust. I love the touch it gives to croissants, but it is a very personal criterion and its use is completely optional. You can find it in specialized stores and in organic food shops.
8. What is the best butter for laminating?
Butter is the characteristic flavor of a good croissant. That is why it is very important to choose a good quality butter. Professionals often use special «dry» butter specific for puff pastry, which percentage of fat is 84% (2% more than standard butter) and whose melting point (i.e. the point at which the butter begins to melt) is higher (34 ºC while that of standard butter is 28ºC). These characteristics facilitate the work of professional bakers by providing them with a butter that is easier to work with, with a lower degree of humidity and that withstands the high temperatures of the bakeries.
However, they are not easy to get and are often reserved to professional bakers. While it is true that this type of butter is ideal for making croissants and that its flavor is incomparable, it is not worth buying it. I have tried several butters of different brands and I can assure you that you can get great results using a butter of good quality from the supermarket. I usually use organic French butter (from Président). You will have to try until you find the one you like the most.
Of course, forget about shortening or low-fat products.
How to make croissant dough
Although there are many croissant recipes available, there are few variations from one to the other. After all, croissants almost always have the same ingredients, only the proportions vary. At the beginning it is normal to follow strictly the available formulas. But there is no perfect formula, especially because each of us uses different ingredients in different places. Using the same formula we would obtain different results depending on the type of flour we have and depending on the place we live (it is not the same to make croissants in Madrid, where the climate is very dry, than in the North of Spain, very rainy and humid).
The success of a recipe depends not only on the ingredients and the steps to follow, but also on other factors more complex to control such as the ambient temperature, the degree of humidity, the temperature of the dough after kneading, the power of the oven, etc. That is why it’s important to investigate, to try different flours and butters and to modify the quantities according to our needs, but also to be very methodical in all the phases of the process, i.e. to control the temperature of the dough and the proofing times, to let the dough rest between the folds, etc. Only then we will achieve a final product according to our requirements.
The formula that I propose below is nothing exceptional: I have been testing and adapting different recipes of great pastry chefs (Thomas Marie, Pierrick Challamel, Philippe Conticini, Daniel Alvarez, among others) to find a formula adapted to my needs.
For the croissant initial dough (détrempe)
300 g strong flour (Lievitati from Molino Pasini) (100%)
80 g cold water (26.6%)
79 g cold semi-skimmed milk (26.4%)
45 g sugar (15%)
30 g unsalted butter (softened) (10%)
6 g salt (2%)
9 g fresh yeast (3%)
2 g malted barley (0.6%)
171 g butter (31% of the total détrempe weight)
Day 1 (Saturday)
– 7:00 pm: make the détrempe and chill it in the freezer.
– 7.30 pm: prepare the butter block and keep it in the fridge overnight.
– 8.30 pm: remove the détrempe from the freezer and store it in the fridge overnight.
Day 2 (Sunday)
– 8.00 am: start laminating, first fold.
– 9.00 am: second fold
– 10.00 am: third fold
– 11.30 am: cut and shape the croissants and let them ferment
– 2.30-3.00 pm: bake the croissants
DAY 1 – SATURDAY
7.00 pm – Détrempe (initial dough)
Place all ingredients, except the butter, into the bowl of the stand mixer and knead about 4 minutes at minimum speed.
I insist on the fact that the liquids have to be very cold to prevent the dough from overheating and begin to ferment during kneading. The temperature of the dough at the end of the kneading phase should not exceed 22 degrees C.
On the other hand, you may have to adjust the hydration percentage depending on the water absorption capacity of your flour, taking into account that the more hydrated is the dough, the harder it’ll be to get an open crumb (however the dough will be easier to laminate). After 4 minutes, add the softened butter and continue kneading 3 or 4 minutes at the same speed.
We have to develop the gluten so that the dough supports the later phase of integration of the butter, but not 100%, since we will continue to develop gluten during laminating. A kneading between 8 and 10 minutes is usually enough, although everything will depend on the flour your use and on the power & type of your stand mixer. Strong flours require a soft and slow kneading to avoid giving too much tension to the dough. We do not want too much gluten development because we will struggle extending the dough during laminating. The final dough has to have a smooth texture and with some elasticity (but not too much), and does not have to stick to your hands or the work surface.
When the dough is ready, shape it as a disc with the palm of your hand so it can cool faster, wrap it well in plastic wrap and place it inside a freezer bag. Put the dough in the freezer so that it cools quickly, without it becoming frozen (between an hour and an hour and a half depending on the temperature of your freezer).
[Note: all videos have English subtitles. You can turn them on by clicking the Settings wheel in the lower part of the screen.]
Some formulas state that it’s possible to completely freeze the détrempe for a later use. I do not recommend it since the yeast weakens and even dies depending on the freezing time. It is better to give it a cold snap and keep it in the refrigerator (in the coldest part) until the next day.
Important note regarding the temperature of the détrempe
Don’t forget that we do not want the détrempe fo ferment before laminating. We want it to rest in the cold so that it relaxes and can be extended more easily. The experts say that to avoid the dough to start fermenting, the temperature has to be less than 6 ºC. However, the temperature of our refrigerators is usually much higher, although it indicates otherwise. Ideally, place a thermometer in the fridge to check the actual temperature and adjust it based on the thermometer value.
Our détrempe is ready and has to rest until the next day. You cannot make croissants being in a rush. The détrempe has to rest in cold for at least 12 hours (at a suitable temperature, I insist). I have tried to make croissants the same day but the results are much worse.
7.30 pm – Shaping butter
Before going to bed, you must give the butter the right shape and thickness to be able to laminate the next day. Before cooling the détrempe, weigh it in order to calculate the percentage of butter that you will need to laminate. In this case, my dough weighs 551 grams and I want to use 31% butter on the total weight: 551 x 31/100 = 171 g.
Just before going to bed, my advice is to leave the kitchen windows open: the colder the kitchen is, the better! Working in a cold environment (less than 18 ºC) is one of the keys to success for laminating. When it comes to handling butter it has to stay cold at all times (that’s why it’s almost impossible to make croissants in the summer: the butter melts and it’s impossible to laminate properly!). I also recommend you to put blocks of ice in the freezer so you can place them the next day on your work surface in order to keep it cold between the folds. The best material to laminate is marble, because it keeps cold, but steel or wood also works. Later I’ll talk about the temperature and texture that should have the dough to start laminating.
DAY 2 – SUNDAY
8.00 am – Laminating: enclosing butter in the détrempe and first fold
The détrempe has rested all night in the fridge and the butter is shaped. We can start laminating. As I have mentioned before, it is very important to work in a cold environment!
What is the ideal texture of détrempe and butter befor laminating?
Some croissant recipes state that to laminate correctly the détrempe and the butter must be at the same temperature. Well, this not quite correct. We shouldn’t think in terms of temperature, but in terms of texture or plasticity. Now, for butter and détrempe to have the same texture, their temperature cannot be the same. Butter tends to heat faster than the dough, so the dough (which is the one that seals the butter) has to be colder. As a general rule, I work with a dough at 8 or 9 ºC and with a butter between 11 and 13 ºC. You should control the temperature at all times with an infrared thermometer, although it’s very important to feel it with your hands, especially the butter: it has to be cold, but malleable (i.e., you should be able to bend it without breaking it: this is plasticity). If the butter is too soft and hot, it will come out of the dough during laminating and will end up mixing to the dough instead of creating layers. If, on the other hand, the butter is too hard and cold, it will end up cracking and you won’t be able to create layers. If you see that the butter and/or the dough heat up too much, do not hesitate to interrupt the process and cool them down.
9.00 am – Second fold
How many folds are needed for croissants?
As a general rule, croissants are given 1 double fold and 1 single fold, or 3 single folds. Although the more folds, less volume, I always do 3 simple folds because it is more practical: I find it easier to extend the dough with a simple fold. The double fold requires more strength and we may apply too much pressure and break the layers of dough/butter.
10.00 am – Third fold
Repeat the process indicated in the previous video, wrap the dough in plastic film and let it rest an hour or an hour and a half in the fridge.
11.30 – Cutting and shaping
We have given the last fold and the dough has rested in the refrigerator (the last rest before shaping is longer, minimum one hour). Now we must rolling it out to cut the croissants before shaping.
Straight or half-moon croissants?
There is a debate among purists about whether the croissant should be straight or half-moon. According to experts, a butter croissant has a straight shape, while a half-moon croissant is made with shortening. However, in the past it was the other way around: shortening appeared almost a century after the croissant was invented, so originally the real butter croissant had a half-moon shape (hence its name). With modernization and global economy, it was more expensive to produce butter croissants, so the shortening croissants (which takes less space and is more profitable) invaded the market. I choose the straight shape because it is simpler: I only have to roll the dough on itself once cut into triangles. The half-moon shape requires more technique.
12.00 am – Proofing
Our croissants are shaped and need to proof. To do this, we must place them on a non-stick tray (or covered with baking paper), leaving enough space between each croissant.
Is it possible to freeze shaped croissants in order to proof them at a later time?
It’s possible although as I’ve already told, freezing and yeast are not quite compatible. If you decide to freeze the croissants, you always have to do it after shaping and before proofing; just place them carefully inside a freezing bag tightly closed. Of course, you should not keep them long in the freezer, since yeast will end up dying. When you are ready to bake them, let them de-freeze before proofing.
Proofing is a key point that requires time so we cannot be in a hurry. When we work with fermented doughs, we usually have the bad habit of wanting to accelerate the fermentation process (i.e. by placing the dough near a heat source or in a preheated oven). For croissants, I do not recommend it for a simple reason: we have spent time and effort in laminating the dough so that our croissants come out the best we can and we do not want excess heat to melt the butter and spoil all our work. As a general rule, croissants must ferment at a temperature between 21 ºC and 24 ºC (and a humidity rate of approx. 75-80%). For this, it is very useful to have a thermometer at home that indicates the temperature and humidity. Therefore, it is preferable to leave the croissants ferment at room temperature in the warmest room of the house (which is usually the kitchen). Or directly inside the oven (off and without preheating). If it is too cold in your house, you can try to leave the oven light on (the temperature will rise a few degrees), but always watching that it does not exceed the maximum fermentation temperature.
Humidity is harder to control. In dry environments, as we are not professionals and we do not have fermentation chambers, the only thing left for us is to create a humid environment ourselves. The most effective option I have found is to place a bowl of hot water (at about 70 ºC, warmed up with a kettle) in the oven’s sole (as far as possible from the tray where the croissants are). The croissants are left to ferment with the oven door closed, placing the thermometer inside to control the temperature and humidity at all times. The water does not get to heat the environment excessively (since it cools quickly), but the humidity increases.
How do we know that croissants are proofed and ready to bake?
As with bread, fermentation is one of the most difficult processes to control.
The finger test that we usually use for the bread dough (light pressure with the fingertip on the surface to check if the dough has fermented correctly) does not work for croissants. After fermentation, the croissant dough is very delicate and it is better not to touch it. The test will have to be visual.
The proofing time will depend on the above mentioned factors and you will have to control the croissants, which more or less have to double their initial volume (not more). However, the biggest the croissant is after shaping (that is, the more rolls you have given on it), the more time it will take to ferment. In my case, the croissants fermented 3 hours at about 24 ºC and an approximate humidity of 80%.
3.00 pm – Baking
Preheat the oven to 190 °C (convection) for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, introduce the tray of the proofed croissants in the fridge. Cooling the proofed croissants before baking them help us to coat them with egg wash more easily without crushing them. On the other hand, the contrast between cold and heat will help development in the oven.
After 15 minutes, take the tray out of the fridge and give the croissants a coat of egg wash (either only with egg or with a mixture of yolk & cream or milk). During this operation it is very important to wash ONLY the smooth parts and avoid washing the layers (otherwise the egg will seal the layers preventing them from expanding correctly).
Bake at 190 ºC between 17 and 20 minutes depending on the size of the croissants, taking care not to open the oven.
Is it necessary to produce steam in the oven to bake the croissants?
It’s not. If your initial dough was rather dry, you may want to produce steam during the first 5 minutes of baking. But it’s general not necessary, especially if you have fermented the croissants in a humid environment as I mentioned earlier.
When the croissants are browned and ready, remove them from the oven and let them cool completely on top of a rack.
How to keep the croissants once baked?
Homemade croissants are best eaten when freshly baked! If you want to keep them fresh, place them in a wooden box covered with a clean cloth.
If the next day they have dried a little, a few seconds in the microwave will make them crispy again. You can also toast them, they are delicious!
Learn from your mistakes: problems that may arise during the process
The best way to get a good result is to practice.
When I enclose the butter in the dough and begin to laminate, the butter leaks:
– The butter is too soft (hot)
– The détrempe is too hot and does not chill the butter enough
– The pressure on the roller is too high
When extending the dough to make the folds, the dough shrinks and cannot be extended correctly:
– Excess kneading of the dough
– Lack of hydration of the dough
– Lack of rest of the dough between the folds
– The dough is too hot and has started to ferment
In the oven, the croissants develop well at the beginning but they end up losing volume:
– Initial temperature of the oven too high: the croissants grow too much at the beginning, which prevents a uniform development
– Excess of fermentation of the croissants
– Yeast in poor condition
In the oven, the butter melts and a puddle forms around the croissants:
– Incorrect laminating (probably due to a too soft and hot butter): instead of forming layers that retain moisture, butter has been integrated into the dough and melts in the oven
– Fermentation temperature too high, which has caused the butter to start melting
– Oven temperature too high
– Daniel Álvarez, Sweet Devotion: una visión actual de la bollería artesana – Vilbo Ediciones, 2017
– JM Lanio, T. Marie, P. Mitaillé, Le grand livre de la boulangerie – Ducasse Édition, 2017
– Éric Kayser, Le Larousse du Pain – Larousse, 2013
– Xavier Barriga, Bollería – Grijalbo 2013
– Chad Roberston, Tartine Bread – Chronicle Books, 2010
– Asesoría técnica en panificación – http://www.franciscotejero.com/