The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child, taken from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two. Croissants have been on my to-bake list for a long time, but I never had the nerve to make them before. So I was glad when I saw that Sarah had decided to bring them up as our September’s Daring Bakers Challenge. The most difficult part of making croissants is that they take a very long time. About 12 hours total, with resting and rising periods.

The flaky, buttery, airy croissant is one of the most famous food in the world yet it also has a very disputed history. There are countless stories and legends about where this pastry originated and how it was made. However, there is still little evidence to support its true origin. Will we ever know the truth behind the croissant? Probably not but the stories are just as fascinating as the pastry itself.

The Battle of Vienna is perhaps the most famous and widespread story surrounding the croissant. In 1683, Vienna was under siege by the Turks. After several months of trying to starve the city into submission, the Turks attempted to tunnel underneath the walls of the city. Bakers hard at work in their underground kitchens heard the sounds of the Turks digging and alerted the city’s defenders. This advance warning gave the defenders enough time to do something about the tunnel before it was completed. Soon afterwards, King John III of Poland arrived at the head of an army that defeated the Turks and forced them to retreat. To celebrate their victory, several bakers in Vienna made a pastry in the shape representing the Turkish crescents they had seen on the enemy’s flags. They called this new pastry the “Kipfel” – the German word for crescent – and continued baking it for many years.

The issue behind this story is that there are too many versions of it. The story is often intertwined with Marie Antoinette as being the main influence to bring the croissant to France. According to this legend, it was Marie Antoinette (Austrian Princess who married Louis XVI), who introduced the croissant to France. As a bride of fifteen, she recalled memories of the croissant in Vienna and insisted that her chefs recreate her favorite pastry. Many critics dispute this story as the croissant is such a unique food, there is no way Marie Antoinette could have described it.  Furthermore, Marie Antoinette would not have mentioned the croissant without writers of the period having commented on it. As well, there is no record of the pastry in a long and extensive list of  foods from that time.

Today, the croissant is both a symbol of French culture and tradition. And since this was my very first time working with puff pastry, I was rather apprehensive about the outcome. I must admit that it was not as difficult as I had initially imagined. While not being perfect in shape, my croissants were worth every ounce of effort and love that had gone in their making. I still have half of the dough chilling away in my freezer, ready to be cut and shaped into a fresh batch of croissants for breakfast.

CROISSANTS

Ingredients:

¼ oz (7 gm) of fresh yeast, or 1¼ teaspoon (6¼ ml/4 gm) of dry-active yeast

3 tablespoons (45 ml) warm water (less than 100°F/38°C)

1 teaspoon (5 ml/4½ gm) sugar

3¼ cups (450 gm/½ lb) of strong plain flour

2 teaspoons (10 ml/9 gm) sugar

1½ teaspoon (7½ ml/9 gm) salt

½ cup (120 ml/¼ pint) milk

2 tablespoons (30 ml) tasteless oil

½ cup (120 ml/1 stick/115 gm/¼ lb) chilled, unsalted butter

1 egg, for egg wash

 

Method:

  • Mix the yeast, warm water, and first teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl.
  • Leave aside for the yeast and sugar to dissolve and the yeast to foam up a little. Measure out the other ingredients.
  • Heat the milk until tepid (either in the microwave or a saucepan), and dissolve in the salt and remaining sugar.
  • Place the flour in a large bowl. Add the oil, yeast mixture, and milk mixture to the flour.

  • Mix all the ingredients together using the rubber spatula, just until all the flour is incorporated.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and let it rest a minute while you wash out the bowl.
  • Knead the dough eight to ten times only. Place the dough back in the bowl, and place the bowl in the plastic bag.
  • Leave the bowl at approximately 75°F/24°C for three hours, or until the dough has tripled in size.

  • After the dough has tripled, remove it gently from the bowl, pulling it away from the sides of the bowl with your fingertips.
  • Place on a lightly floured board and use your hands to press it out into a rectangle about 8×12 inches (20cmx30cm).
  • Fold the dough rectangle in three, like a letter (fold the top third down, and then the bottom third up).
  • Place the dough letter back in the bowl, and the bowl back in the plastic bag.

 

  • Leave the dough to rise for another 1.5 hours, or until doubled in size. The second rise can be done overnight in the fridge.
  • Place the double-risen dough onto a plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap.
  • Place the plate in the fridge while you prepare the butter. Once the dough has doubled, it’s time to incorporate the butter.
  • Place the block of chilled butter on a chopping board. Using the rolling pin, beat the butter down a little, till it is quite flat.

 

  • Use the heel of your hand to continue to spread the butter until it is smooth. You want the butter to stay cool, but spread easily.
  • Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a lightly floured board or counter. Let it rest for a minute or two.
  • Spread the dough using your hands into a rectangle about 14 by 8 inches (35 cm by 20 cm).
  • Remove the butter from the board, and place it on the top half of the dough rectangle.

 

  • Spread butter all across the top two-thirds of the rectangle, but keep it ¼ inch (6 mm) across from all the edges.
  • Fold the top third of the dough down, and the bottom third of the dough up.
  • Turn the dough package 90 degrees, so that the top flap is to your right (like a book).
  • Roll out gently (don’t push the butter out of the dough) until it is again about 14×8 inches (35 cmx20 cm).

 

  • Again, fold top third down and bottom third up. Wrap the dough package in plastic wrap, and place in fridge for 2 hours.
  • After two hours have passed, take the dough out of the fridge and place it again on the lightly floured board or counter.
  • Tap the dough with the rolling pin, to deflate it a little. Let the dough rest for 8 to 10 minutes.
  • Roll the dough package out till it is 14 by 8 inches (35 cm by 20 cm). Fold in three, as before.

 

  • Turn 90 degrees, and roll out again to 14 by 8 inches (35 cm by 20 cm). Fold in three for the last time, wrap in plastic.
  • Return the dough package to the fridge for two more hours (or overnight, with something heavy on top to stop it from rising).
  • It’s now time to cut the dough and shape the croissants. First, lightly butter your baking sheet so that it is ready.
  • Take the dough out of the fridge and let it rest for ten minutes on the lightly floured board or counter.

 

  • Roll the dough out into a 20×5 inch rectangle (51 cmx12½ cm). Cut dough into two rectangles (each 10×5 inches).
  • Place one of the rectangles in the fridge, to keep the butter cold. Roll the second rectangle out until it is 15×5 inches.
  • Cut the rectangle into three squares (each 5 by 5 inches (12½ cm by 12½ cm)). Place two of the squares in the fridge.
  • The remaining square may have shrunk up a little bit in the meantime. Roll it out again till it is nearly square.

  • Cut the square diagonally into two triangles. Stretch the triangle out a little, so it is more of an isosceles traingle.
  • Starting at the wide end, roll the triangle up towards the point, and curve into a crescent shape.
  • Place the unbaked croissant on the baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining dough, creating 12 croissants.
  • Leave the tray of croissants, covered lightly with plastic wrap, to rise for 1 hour. 

  • Preheat the oven to very hot 475°F/240°C/gas mark 9.
  • Mix the egg with a teaspoon of water. Spread the egg wash across the tops of the croissants.
  • Put the croissants in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until the tops are browned nicely.
  • Take the croissants out of the oven, and place them on a rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Storage & Freezing Instructions

  • Croissants are best eaten the day they are made. They will survive till the next day in a sealed container.
  • If they seem a little stale, they can be quickly re-freshed by warming them in the oven.
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