Today is National Croissant Day. I know that because Starbucks has all these signs up trying to get you to buy their croissants on National Croissant Day–some kind of deal, I don’t know. I didn’t pay that much attention. All I thought when I saw the words “National Croissant Day” was, At last! I will try my hand at making croissants!
I looked through several of my cookbooks for a recipe and naturally, I ended up in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II. I have several books that contain recipes for complicated pastries and breads, but this was the only one that specifically addressed the croissant: a bread almost nobody ever makes at home. Because why would you? The bakeries have it down. Plus, they take approximately twelve hours to make. At least, that’s what Julia’s recipe tells you.
The recipe in MtAoFC is not exactly the same as the recipe in the croissant episode of The French Chef, and thanks to TV magic, you can watch Julia make the dough, rise it, laminate it, chill it, shape it, rise it again, bake it, cool it, and eat it all in about twenty minutes. She can compress it this way because most of the twelve hours in the recipe are down time: the dough is rising or it’s resting. But though she’s insistent on all this rising and resting time, as I read the recipe I thought, This is a bit excessive. That thought doubled as I watched her use an alternate recipe on The French Chef. So I set about making my dough with the proportions outlined in the cookbook, but I decided to do a quicker version, and I cut that time down by at least half.
First, you make a bread dough. This is pretty quick, as it’s a simple mixture and you don’t want to develop the glutens very far, so the kneading is minimal. Then you let it rise. In the cookbook, Julia says to let it at least triple, then punch it down, and let it double again. Not your typical bread-making wisdom, this seems to me like a formula for over-proofing, which can cause your bread to collapse. On TV she says to let it double, which is more conventional, so that’s what I did. Several hours saved. Now we could bash the butter and laminate the dough, which means creating layers of butter and dough–the same method you use to make puff pastry. (Watch the video. Julia will explain it all.)
Here was another opportunity to save time. Julia recommends waiting two hours between each set of turns, to let the dough rest and relax for easier rolling. To which I say, “Come on, Julia.” Yeah, it’s a little easier to roll that way but two hours is excessive. Me, I only waited fifteen minutes between turns, and things turned out fine. I might try a half an hour next time. But two hours? I doubt I’ll ever have the patience to go two hours. Maybe once just to see if there’s some magic I don’t know about, but I sincerely doubt it.
More time was saved in the shaping of the rolls, perhaps because I’m a speed demon. Also I’ve bought quite a few tubes of Pillsbury crescent rolls so I know what shape the dough should be and how to roll it up. Then I could have risen them till they doubled and popped them in the oven, but I decided to put them in the fridge overnight–partly because I was tired, partly to see if it would work. Clearly this added time to the recipe but I’m not counting it because it wasn’t necessary. In the morning I put the tray out on the counter, gave it its final rise, put on the egg wash and baked it. Behold, the glorious results:
I’m no pastry chef, but I have eaten a lot of croissants and these seem to be to be almost perfect. They got a little darker than I might have liked, but they’re tender and flaky and bready and my eyes rolled back in my head when I ate one. (And then again when I ate another one.) And while they require some patience and some technical know-how, I wouldn’t say they were difficult to make. Honestly, it’s going to be a lot harder to resist eating all of them.