Yes, you can make excellent croissants at home! The key to making these delicious, flaky, buttery, French pastries is in the dough, which is handled differently than regular leavened dough. Croissant dough (pâte à croissants or pâte levée feuilletée) is made by repeatedly rolling and folding a leavened puff pastry dough that contains lots of chilled butter. The process, called laminating, isn't difficult, but it takes time because the dough must be chilled in between folding sessions to ensure that the butter remains firm.
- For the Starter Batter (Détrempe):
- 2 envelopes (about 4 1/2 teaspoons) dry yeast (or 2 tablespoons fresh yeast)
- 3/4 cup (175 ml) warm water
- 3/4 cup (about 100 g) flour
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) warm milk
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- For the Laminated Dough:
- 3 cups (390 g) flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 12 oz. (340 g) of cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2" (1.3 cm) pieces
- additional flour for rolling out the dough
- egg wash made from 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water
Make the Starter (Détrempe)
- Mix the yeast into the warm water, stirring until well dissolved.
- Whisk in the 3/4 cup flour, the warm milk, and the sugar to make a smooth batter.
- Cover the bowl with plastic and leave the batter to mature in a warm, draft-free place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. You'll notice that the mixture rises and becomes bubbly during this time.
Prep the Flour and Butter
- While the batter is maturing, combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.
- Add the cut-up butter (make sure it's firm and cold) and stir gently to coat the butter with flour.
- Use your fingers to press and flatten the cubes of butter, but don't try to incorporate them into the flour.
- Chill the flour and butter mixture until the starter batter has finished maturing.
Make the Croissant Dough
- Add the détrempe batter to the chilled flour and butter, mixing with a rubber spatula just enough to moisten the flour and make a crumbly dough. The butter pieces should still be firm.
- You're now ready to move on to laminating, or folding, the dough. It must be done a minimum of four times. The first folding is a little tricky because the dough is crumbly and the butter is chunky.
- After the first folding, the process becomes easier.
Laminate the Dough for the First Time
- Turn the crumbly dough out onto a large, well-floured surface. If the top of the dough is wet or sticky, sprinkle it with flour.
- Press the dough with your hands or tap it with a rolling pin to form a large elongated rectangle about 12" x 18" (30 cm x 45 cm). Use a dough scraper or your hands to help shape the edges.
- Sprinkle any exposed butter with flour, and then fold the dough into thirds like a letter. You may find it a bit difficult to lift the edges of the rough dough to fold it – I use two dough scrapers to do this – but don't worry about appearances at this point. The dough will smooth out, and the flour will be better incorporated after the next folding.
- If the butter is still firm, continue to the second folding. If the butter has softened and is starting to run, cover the dough in plastic and chill it in the freezer for 15 minutes (or in the fridge for one hour) before rolling out the second time.
Roll and Fold the Dough for the Second, Third and Fourth Times
- Scrape your work surface to clean it, then dust it with more flour. Position the folded dough so that a short, open edge faces you.
- Roll out the dough into another 12" x 18" (30 cm x 45 cm) rectangle. Sprinkle flour on any exposed butter, brush off the excess flour, and fold the dough into thirds again. It completes the second folding.
- Wrap the dough in plastic and chill in the freezer for 15 minutes, or in the fridge for an hour.
- Repeat the rolling and folding two to four more times, chilling the dough as necessary between sessions to keep the butter firm. After the final folding, wrap the dough in plastic and leave to rest in the fridge for at least two hours, or up to 24 hours.
Shape and Bake the Croissants
- With a long, sharp knife, cut the prepared croissant dough in half. (If your kitchen is warm, return half to the fridge so that it remains chilled.)
- On a floured surface, roll out one portion of the dough into a large rectangle about 1/4" (6 mm) thick. Use a knife or pizza cutter to trim straight edges on the rectangle, and then cut out 8 elongated triangles.
- Roll up the triangles from the base to the tip, and transfer the croissants, tip side down, to ungreased rimmed baking sheets. (Use parchment paper for easier cleanup.) Leave ample room between the croissants for expansion.
- Cover the croissants loosely with plastic and leave to rise for 1 to 2 hours, until the dough is quite puffy. (Or immediately freeze the shaped croissants; see Tip below.)
- Preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C).
- Make the egg wash by beating together one egg with one tablespoon water. Brush the egg wash gently over the croissants, then bake one pan at a time in the middle of the preheated oven until rich golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Transfer the croissants to a rack to cool for 10 minutes or longer before serving.
- Completely cooled croissants may be frozen until needed. Reheat directly from the freezer in a 375° F (190° C) oven for about 10 minutes.
To Freeze Shaped Croissants for Later Baking
- Once shaped, the croissants may be frozen for later baking. Do not allow the croissants to proof; instead, cover the shaped dough with plastic and place the pan in the freezer for a few hours until the croissants are solid.
- Transfer the frozen unbaked croissants to a freezer bag or plastic storage container and store in the freezer for up to two months.
- When ready to bake, place the unbaked croissants on a parchment paper lined tray, cover loosely with plastic, and leave to proof at room temperature overnight or 12 hours
- Brush with the egg wash and bake as directed above.
While laminating often calls for folding a chilled slab of butter within the dough – you can see this method in the puff pastry dough tutorial – the following recipe uses small cubes of butter instead, as shown in the tutorial, How to Make Croissants. Adapted many years ago from a Bon Appetit recipe, I use it to make basic homemade croissants or other pastries calling for croissant dough.
The dough may be made for same day or next day baking, or the croissants may be shaped and then frozen for later proofing and baking.