For me, a croissant is one of the greatest baked goods to eat: a crisp outer shell that rains flakes as you bite into it, revealing an open honeycombed interior. And then there’s it’s rich buttery flavour and an almost nutty aroma. Certainly not to eat if you’re counting the calories, but a real joy!
Sections in this post
- About the recipe
- Notes on the ingredients
- The texture of the dough and the butter
- Croissant dough
- How to shape the dough for pains au chocolat
- Top tips
- A rough timescale for making croissants
- Sourdough croissants
- Quicker croissants
I have been fascinated by laminated doughs since I was a young boy and making croissants is right up there in my top baking joys. Those mass-produced soft, doughy affairs that come pre-packaged and supposedly pass for croissants are very far removed from what I think a good croissant could be.
Croissants are, I think, one of the more challenging bakes (up there with macarons in terms of difficulty) but they are so rewarding to make. It might take a few goes to feel more comfortable with the process, but I think that is part of the joy of baking.
The photos in this tutorial are of different batches I have made. I am certainly not claiming these to be perfect (and I am learning all the time!), but in terms of flavour, flakiness and lightness, I am very happy with these!
They are not the quickest things to rustle up: I normally start them the night before and bake them the following evening, but most of the time is simply waiting around while the dough rests in the fridge and finally proves. And the dough really does need to rest in order to give excellent croissants.
The great news is there is no urgency with the timings and you can get on with other things while the dough rests in the fridge.
About the recipe
I have tried literally dozens of recipes over the years in my quest to make what for me is an excellent croissant, with a variety of slightly differing approaches across those recipes.
The recipe below takes ideas from many recipes I have worked through and gives the best results for me in terms of the proportions of ingredients and the stages.
While I like to make slight changes from time to time, the version below for croissants is always the most up-to-date version and gives croissants that work very well indeed.
I have also given a recipe for quicker croissants, which is a less daunting recipe to try and gives excellent results. This recipe is at the bottom of this post.
Notes on the ingredients
A strong plain flour (or bread flour) is best as you need the higher level of gluten (protein) in there to give a firm enough structure to the croissants: 12-14% protein content is ideal.
While I was getting used to making croissants, I used standard plain flour. Being lower in protein/less gluten it gave a dough that was easier to roll out without resisting. However, a lower protein content gives a weaker structure, so you don’t get as open an interior in the baked croissants.
Increasing the gluten content by using a strong plain flour gives a dough that is more stable while baking: the layers are less likely to collapse in the oven, so you get the more open interior.
I have had great results with supermarket strong plain flours that are about 12-13% protein. I avoid the “very strong” flours for croissants as the gluten content is too high and makes it much harder to roll out the dough.
A good quality butter with a high fat content is best for croissants and the lamination: ie) the very thin layers of butter and dough.
Quite a few of the higher-end butters have about 82% fat content and these are ideal. I find I get great results using either Lurpak or President. If you can find one with higher than 82%, grab it!
A little butter is mixed into the dough at the start – it slows down gluten development a little so the later turns are easier to do – but the bulk of the butter gets flattened to a thin slab and is incorporated into the dough by rolling and folding: the lamination.
In terms of the amount of butter for laminating, I go for about a third of the dough weight ie) the dough that is made and kneaded initially. You can go higher if you wish.
I sometimes use all water but I usually go for a mixture of cold water and semi-skimmed milk. The inclusion of the milk gives a better flavour as well as giving a dough that is slightly easier to roll out. I either go for half of each or, for a firmer croissant interior, slightly more water than milk.
The liquid needs to be cold to stop the yeast from activating too soon.
I only add enough liquid to give a firm dough at the start rather than the softer dough you might expect for bread. The firmer dough will be similar to the texture of the butter which in turn helps with successful lamination as there is less danger of the firmer butter breaking though the softer dough.
I vary between using fresh yeast and dried yeast, but I often use dried instant yeast for convenience. Just make sure the yeast is well within the date (and stored in an airtight container once opened), and all will be well.
One of the tricks with croissant making is to ensure the yeast does not activate during the rolling/folding/shaping stages. If it does, the dough becomes vey hard to work with. Chilling the dough right down, even freezing it for a bit (which won’t kill the yeast), helps significantly.
You have to be patient with the final proving (rising) of the shaped dough as the butter, the sugar and the chilling slow down the activation of the yeast.
I usually use caster sugar but any sugar will work. I sometimes like to use a brown sugar (such as a light muscovado) which gives a different depth of flavour, and sometimes I have used a mixure.
I use a fine sea salt or a standard table salt. There’s no point with fancy salty crystal or flakes when it comes to making croissants!
The texture of the dough and the butter
The texture of both the dough and the butter is crucial: the closer to each other they are in terms of texture, the better the lamination will be, resulting in more well-defined layers and an open interior.
If the dough is much softer than the butter, the butter can tear through the dough, ruining the layers and resulting in a doughier interior.
The butter needs to be pliable rather than solid so that it also doesn’t rip through the dough or break apart. If you try to bend over a corner of the butter it shoud be able to bend easily without snapping. If it snaps, leave it at room temperature to soften just enough to be pliable.
To achieve the dough and butter at the same texture for the initial rolling out, have the dough VERY cold initially (an overnight chilling and a blast in the freezer is ideal) and remove the butter pat from the fridge just until it become pliable. Thereafter, resting the dough on the work surface for a few minutes or so before rolling out will help the butter achieve the best texture.
Recipe for croissant dough: makes 9 croissants (& a few off-cuts)
- 350g strong white plain flour
- 10g “instant” dried yeast
- 7g fine salt
- 50g caster sugar
- 120ml cold water
- 60ml cold semi-skimmed milk
- 40g very soft unsalted butter
To laminate the dough:
- 200g unsalted butter
- egg yolk, beaten with a little milk
(1) Mix the initial dough ingredients together in the bowl of a food mixer to give a fairly firm dough, adding just a little extra water if needed to help it all come together. Knead gently on a low setting for about 5 minutes: just enough to bring it together to form a fairly smooth dough with just a little elasticity.
NB: you don’t want to develop the gluten too much here; the rolling out of the dough later will develop the gluten and give structure to the final croissants
(2) Flatten the dough into a rough rectangle, about 40cm by 20cm. Wrap it well and pop the dough on a flat surface such as a small baking tray. Pop this inside a plastic bag and refrigerate overnight ideally, although 3-4 hours will still give delicious croissants.
NB 1: the overnight chilling allows the yeast to activate just enough to allow very slow fermentation – and this is where a lot of the flavour comes from.
NB 2: by shaping it to a rough rectangle now, there is little rolling out to do when it comes to adding the butter slab (stages 5 and 6). That way, gluten will be fully relaxed when you first roll it out with the butter block inside (stage 8).
(3) Shape the butter into a thin square that is about 20cm by 20cm by bashing it lightly with a rolling pin between two sheets of baking parchment. Chill the butter until you are ready to encase it in the dough.
NB: this can be done in advance, and I often make up several squares of butter and pop them in the freezer to use when I want to make croissants: in which case, I just defrost them before using.
(4) Remove the butter from the fridge for about 15 minutes, depending on the room temperature, to soften up just enough to be flexible and not at all brittle. Meanwhile, transfer the flattened dough from the fridge to the freezer for about 15 minutes while the butter gets to a pliable texture. To test the butter is at the right texture, bend a corner over: if it snaps, it is too firm, in which case leave it at room temperature just until it can bend easily without snapping.
NB: I find the short freezing of the dough while the butter is out of the fridge is ideal for getting them to as similar a texture as possible. It also makes the first rolling out very easy.
(5) Stretch or lightly roll out the flattened, rested dough on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle that is just wider than the butter square and just over twice as long ie) just over 40cm by 20cm (so very little rolling out/stretching should be needed).
(6) Place the butter near the bottom of the dough and bring the rest of the dough over the butter, sealing gently and trying not to trap air bubbles.
Straighten the edges – I find pressing the flat surface of a ruler against the edges works best. Brush off any excess flour.
(7) Use the rolling pin to lightly press down on the dough along the length a few times, giving small ridges to begin with. This helps elongate the dough without using much pressure, and helps the butter spread just enough to roll out easily within the dough.
(8) Lightly roll from the centre of the dough away from you before giving the dough a half-turn and repeating. Aim for a long, narrow rectangle – about 20cm wide and 50-60cm long. The key thing is the thickness, which shouldn’t be much more than 5mm thick. Brush off any excess flour, which you don’t want trapped inside the dough.
NB: the trick is a slow, gentle movement with the rolling pin rather than putting too much force into it.
The envelope turns (creating the layers)
(9) Use a sharp knife to trim the short edge nearest to you, so you can see the butter inside*. Fold the bottom third of the dough up:
Now bring the top third of the dough over this, still keeping the edges as straight as possible.
This is one envelope turn completed. You will have three layers of dough (with the butter sheet very thinly in between each layer):
*NB: trimming the edge of the dough nearest to you ensures there are no closed dough bits inside. This helps achieve the lightest interior in the final croissants. I save these off-cuts and make them into a couple of buttery rolls later!
(10) Wrap up the dough and put in the coldest part of the fridge for about an hour to rest.
NB: as well as chilling the dough, this relaxes the gluten, making the subsequent rolling out easier.
(11) Remove the dough from the fridge and leave the dough out of the fridge for 5-10 minutes or so: just enough to have a pliable dough, which will allow the butter to soften up a little so that when you roll it again it will roll out without the butter breaking.
(12) Rotate the dough 90° so the visible three layers are on the left and the right and repeat steps 7 to 10 twice more to give two more turns, chilling between turns. Make sure you rest the dough in the fridge for about an hour each time.
You have now done the three turns.
(13) After the third and final turn, wrap up the dough and leave the dough to rest in the fridge for 2-3 hours, or even longer if you want: it won’t rise too much as the dough will be very cold.
NB: the dough benefits hugely from this final resting as you get a dough that rolls out more easily for the final time for the cutting and shaping.
(14) Remove the dough from the fridge and leave it on the lightly floured work surface for about 5-10 minutes to allow the butter in the dough to soften slightly before rolling out a final time to cut:
(15) Roll out the dough to a long narrow rectangle: just over 60cm long and 20cm wide. Leave for a minute or two before cutting so that the dough relaxes a bit and doesn’t shrink too much when you cut it.
NB: if the dough resists when rolling it out for this final time, gently fold it up and chill for about 15 minutes. Then upfold it and carry on rolling: it will get there!
(16) Trim the edges with a sharp knife, cut into triangles with base about 12cm and height 20cm. Take a triangle and stretch the base a little to widen it. Then stretch the top third or so gently between your fingers to make them a little longer. Roll it up from the base, lightly stretching as you get near the tip (this gives more ridges/steps) and make sure the tip is underneath. Repeat with the other triangles.
NB: I sometimes fold in the 2 bottom corners of the triangles before rolling: as in the photo below (a tip from the Buchon Bakery, which gives more rounded ends), but you can just roll the triangles just as they are.
(17) Put the shaped dough well spaced out on baking trays lined with a double layer of greaseproof paper. I tend to go for 4 croissants per tray.
PROVING AND BAKING
(18) Pop them in a large bin liner and leave at room temperature until puffy and well risen. If you give the tray a gentle shake, the croissants should wobble a bit.
NB: be patient as this proving can 3-4 hours depending on the room temperature!
NB: I find a large bin liner is easiest, with a tin or mug inside to keep the plastic from touching the dough. You can prove in a slightly warm room but just make sure it is not too warm – otherwise the butter can melt.
(19) Brush the egg and milk mixture lightly over the risen dough. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 175°C (fan) for about 20 minutes: they should be a golden brown and feel light when you lift one up.
NB: keep an eye on them as they bake: after about 15 minutes you might want to rotate the pans depending on your oven. The pastries will already show flaky layers, giving a teaser as to what is to come: arguably the most exciting part of the entire process!
Shaping the dough for pains au chocolat
Roll out the rested dough as in Step 15 of the recipe above.
shaping pains au chocolat – makes 10
- Cut the rolled out dough into rectangles about 12cm by 10cm.
- Take a rectangle of dough and gently stretch it with cold fingers so it is a few centimetres longer.
- Place a chocolate baton/chocolate chips/chunks of chocolate width-ways close to the bottom of each rectangle and roll the bottom of the dough up over it. You can have the chocolate going right to the sides or go for the hidden chocolate effect!
- Place more chocolate at the “join” and roll all the way to the end. If the dough is on the thick side and you can’t quite get two lots of chocolate in there, pop a little more chocolate with the first lot.
- Place on baking trays with the seam face down and gently pat down each one.
Top tips for croissant dough
While it might take a few goes at making croissants to get a real feel for them, these tips should help achieve excellent results:
Try to avoid making a laminated dough on a hot day in a warm kitchen
A warm kitchen makes croissant making even more of a challenge. If you are going to make them on a warm day, though, you need to work quickly with the rolling out: be prepared with more frequent chilling to prevent butter softening too much.
Brush any excess flour off the surface of the dough
Too much flour trapped between the layers will affect the lamination and give a heavier, doughier interior rather than a light, open structure. Use a pastry brush or clean paint brush to flick the surplus flour away each time you have rolled out and as you fold up the dough for the turns.
Line the baking trays well
I always go for a double thickness of greaseproof paper, as these pastries are prone to getting overly dark on their bases if baked straight on the tray.
Don’t rush the proving of the shaped dough
Leave the shaped dough at room temperature to prove: it will prove in a cool room (albeit slowly in about 3-4 hours, but that is fine!) or a couple of hours if the room is warm. Don’t be tempted to pop the dough into the airing cupboard as it will be too warm and the butter might melt.
Check the dough after a couple of hours: you want them puffy and with a slight wobble, and you should be able to see the layers of butter in there: this is always an exciting thing to see.
Croissants start to brown up fairly quickly and it is easy to take them out thinking they are ready, only to find them collapsed or doughy inside! You can afford to go a darker golden-brown with croissants and pains au chocolat.
To test they are ready: the tops should be firm and crispy and they should lift easily off the tray, feeling very light.
A rough timescale for making croissants:
Making croissants is more a weekend affair for me, and I often stick to a timescale similar to the one given below. These timings are merely loose guidelines but they always work well for me!
- Day one – evening: make up the initial dough and refrigerate overnight. Make the butter block and also refrigerate overnight
- Day two – 9am: encase the butter block in the dough, roll out and do the first turn. Refrigerate
- Day two – 10am: do the second turn and refrigerate
- Day two – 11am: do the third turn and refrigerate the laminated dough for a few hours before rolling out and shaping
- Day two – 3pm: roll out the dough, shape and leave to prove/rise for 2-3 hours
- Day two – about 6pm: bake!
One of my favourite sweet variations is bitter orange pains au chocolat incredibly indulgent and divine to eat slightly warm.
But I am quite partial to chocolate and ginger pains au chocolat
Mind you, spreading salted caramel over the dough before adding the chocolate and shaping gives wonderful salted caramel pains au chocolat:
My favourite savoury variations include:
croissant-based “pizza” (topped with slow-roasted onions, anchovies and olives) – my croissantdough version of the classic pissaladière:
croissage rolls (essentially sausage rolls made using croissant dough rather than puff pastry)
bacon and goats’ cheese “cruffins”: strips of croissant dough rolled up and shaped in muffin tins before getting filled
A sourdough croissant has an even crisper exterior and has even more depth of flavour that a croissant made with commercial yeast.
My recipe for sourdough croissants is here.
You can incorporate the butter grated from a frozen block of butter, which gives a dough that takes about 20 minutes to make up (before it needs to rest, get shaped and prove).
This is certainly an easier method and it is much quicker to get the dough laminated, taking no more than half an hour. While the dough still benefits from overnight resting prior to shaping, it works very well with just a few hours rest in the fridge before shaping.
The result is a flaky croissant with a nice structure, although it does not have quite the same level of honeycombed interior as you get with the traditional method. But it does give a very nice croissant indeed!
My recipe for these quicker croissants is here.