Serves: Makes 24 croissants
- Dough Block (Détrempe):
- ½ cup (4 ounces) warm whole milk (110° to 115°F)
- 1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sugar
- 4 teaspoons active dry yeast, or 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- 4 cups (20 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ stick (2 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 cup (8 ounces) cold milk
- Butter Block (Beurrage):
- 3½ sticks (14 ounces) cold unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon whole milk or cream
Procedures:Layer upon layer of butter and dough produce the ultimate French breakfast treats, but you needn't limit yourself to croissants and their flavored variations. For example, try Morning Buns, a San Francisco twist on the classic cinnamon roll. Be sure to give yourself the time and counter space you'll need to enjoy the process of making the dough. There are tips at the end of the recipe for fitting the dough into your schedule. Be sure to read “A Primer on Laminated Doughs”, for tips that will help you turn out beautiful croissants.
Make the dough block: Pour the warm milk into a small bowl and whisk in 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Whisk in the yeast and set aside for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is activated and the mixture is bubbling.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, the salt, and cold butter pieces. Blend on medium speed until the butter is cut into tiny pieces and the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add the yeast mixture and the cold milk. Switch to the dough hook and mix on lowest speed for 1½ to 2 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and has formed a very rough mass. Dust a work surface lightly with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Knead the dough 3 to 5 times, just to finish bringing it together. The dough will not be smooth or elastic; it will become fully kneaded and smooth during the rolling and turning process ahead. Don't overwork the dough now or you'll have trouble rolling it later. Wrap the dough loosely in plastic wrap (to allow a little room for expansion) and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.
Make the butter block: Cut the butter into ½-inch pieces, toss with the flour, and refrigerate for 20 minutes. In the cleaned stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the floured butter on medium speed, scraping down the bowl once or twice with a bowl scraper, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the butter and flour form a smooth mass. You are not trying to beat air into the mixture, just make it pliable and smooth while keeping it cold. Scrape the butter onto a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap, wrap it up, and refrigerate while you roll out the dough.
Incorporate the butter into the dough: Dust the work surface with flour. Set the dough in the center and dust the top with flour. Roll the dough into a 15 by 12-inch rectangle with a short side parallel to the edge of your work surface. Gently pull or stretch the dough to form straight edges and sharp corners. Brush any flour from the surface. Visually divide the dough crosswise into 3 equal, 5-inch-wide sections (you can lightly mark the dough with a ruler or the back of a knife if you wish). Spread the cold but pliable butter evenly over the top two sections of dough, leaving the bottom third empty and leaving a ½-inch border around the edges of the buttered sections. This is best done with your fingers, since the butter isn't quite warm enough to spread easily with a spatula. Alternatively, you can place the butter between two sheets of plastic and roll it into a 9½ by 11-inch rectangle. Peel off one sheet of plastic, invert the buttered rectangle over the dough rectangle, center it, and peel off the other sheet of plastic.
Use a letter fold to encase the butter: Fold the empty bottom third up over the center third of the dough. Then fold the top third down over the center. Pinch together the seams along the bottom and sides of the dough. Roll your rolling pin across the top briefly and gently 3 or 4 times to help seal the seams. This completes both the incorporation of the butter and your first turn of the dough. If the butter has become warm and squishy, wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour before continuing with the second turn. If you have worked quickly and the butter is still cold yet pliable, continue with the next turn.
Position the dough with the short side parallel to your work surface and the long fold on your left. Dust the dough with flour and roll it into a 20 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush any flour from the surface of the dough. Fold the dough using the book-fold method: Fold the two short edges into the center of the dough, leaving a ¼-inch crevice between them. Line up the edges precisely and square the corners as you fold. Now fold one side over the other, as though you were closing a book. Roll your pin across the top of the dough briefly and gently 3 or 4 times to seal the seams. This completes your second turn. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, dust with flour, and roll again into a 20 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush any flour from the surface of the dough. Fold the dough using the letter-fold method: Visually divide the dough lengthwise into 3 equal, 5-inchwide sections (you can lightly mark the dough with a ruler or the back of a knife if you wish). Fold the bottom third up over the center of the dough, and then fold the top third down over the center, making sure to square the corners and fold as neatly and precisely as possible. Roll your rolling pin across the top of the dough again briefly to help seal the seams. This completes your third turn. The croissant dough is finished. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours before cutting, shaping, and baking the dough.
Cut the dough: Roll the dough on a floured surface into a 26 by 14 by ¼-inchthick rectangle. Cut the rectangle in half lengthwise to form two pieces that each measure 26 by 7 inches. Position the rectangles so the long edges are parallel to the edge of your work surface. On each piece, use a ruler and paring knife or pizza cutter to make nicks along the top edge of the dough every 4 inches. Along the bottom edge, measure 2 inches in from the left side and make a nick; then add a nick every 4 inches.
Now cut the dough into triangles: Line up your ruler with the top left corner and the first bottom nick (2 inches in from the left side of the dough). Cut along this line. This first skinny triangle is not a full croissant. You can use these “scrap” triangles to make baby croissants or simply sprinkle the surface with sugar and bake as a snack. Next, line up the ruler with the first nick on the top edge and the left corner bottom, and cut along that line, forming a full-size triangle. Then cut a line from the first nick on top to the first nick on the bottom to form the second triangle. Continue lining up the nicks and cutting until the whole sheet has been cut into 12 triangles. Mark and cut the second half of dough in the same way.
Shape the dough: Line the baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Line up all the triangles so that their bottom (4-inch) sides are parallel with the edge of your work surface. Make a 1-inch vertical slit in the center of the bottom edge of each triangle. To shape, grasp a triangle and, with the wide end in one hand and the point in the other, very gently stretch the dough until it is a couple inches longer. Set it back on the table (notice how it resembles the Eiffel Tower!). Pull the slit in the bottom apart slightly and roll the corners upward and outward, widening the slit. Now roll the entire triangle toward the tip, pulling gently on the tip to stretch the dough slightly. Tuck the tip under the roll (so it doesn't pull out during baking) and place the roll on one of the prepared baking sheets. Curve the ends in toward each other to form a crescent shape. Continue stretching and rolling the dough triangles until you have shaped all the croissants and placed them 2 inches apart on the baking sheets.
Wash with egg and proof: In the cleaned small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and milk. Brush each croissant evenly with the egg wash. Cover the remaining egg wash and refrigerate to use later. Allow the croissants to rise in a cool room-temperature spot until they are nearly doubled in size and look like they have taken a deep breath, 1 to 2 hours, depending on the warmth of the room. If you squeeze one gently, it should feel soft and marshmallow-like. Don't try to rush the rise by warming the croissants-you don't want the butter to melt.
Bake the croissants: Preheat the oven to 400°F and position a rack in the center. Chill the croissants in the freezer for 10 minutes or in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. This will firm the butter, creating a flakier texture. Brush the croissants once more with the egg wash. Bake one baking sheet at a time, rotating it halfway through, for 17 to 22 minutes, until the croissants are a deep golden brown. Transfer the croissants to a rack to cool.
Storing: Baked croissants keep, unwrapped at room temperature, for 1 day. For longer storage, wrap each croissant in plastic wrap and slip into a resealable plastic freezer bag. Freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw at room temperature for 30 minutes, then reheat in a 350°F oven for 7 to 8 minutes, until the crust is crisped and the center is warmed through.