Sunday, March 18, 2012

Croissants 101–so many layers, so little time


I love croissants!  I mean they are probably my all time favourite pastry. When Rob and I were in France 5 years ago, we would go to whatever local bakery in the town we were in and buy a half dozen with our coffees almost every morning.  I don’t know what the French do that make their pastry so much superior to anything I’ve had here, but they do!

So now I’m on the hunt for the best croissant recipe.

First off the croissant is so named for it’s distinctive crescent shape.  It is a dough layered with butter that’s been folded and turned several times to give the pastry it’s special texture.

The key to a really good croissant isn’t just the flakiness, but a combination of flavour, crispness, texture and number of layers.  The more layers, the lighter the pastry. 

There are many conditions to consider when making the ideal croissant.  So after making all these different recipes (some world renowned, some unknown) I’ve come up with a few determining factors:

  • unsalted vs salted butter
  • sugar vs honey
  • using non-fat milk powder vs not using
  • the number of “turns” 4 vs 5
  • number of days to make, does more resting help or hurt
  • temperature of the oven
  • the water

I’m no expert and my tastes may be quite different than yours, but here’s what I thought of each recipe.  I just really really love croissants.

My first recipe I chose is from a Google search. Julia Childs recipes: as taken from MamaligaPros: small batch, easily workable.  flakey, buttery, very tasty, can be frozen before baked off.  Cons:  had to decrease temperature for second bake as the outsides were crispy but inside was not cooked.  I dropped the temperature to 400 degrees and they crisped up nicely and inside was cooked.  The croissants weren’t very big. Both Abby and I really liked the flavour but not the texture.


The second recipe I took from my awesome Bread book and included renowned pastry chef Michel Roux.  The directions were easier and included using non-fat milk powder. Pros:  larger batch, more butter, crispy and flakey.  Cons – flakes were thicker, couldn’t get the dough thin enough (could be due to pulled rib muscles), there was a lot of butter oozing, so a bit too greasy.  The flavour of these were Rob’s favourite.


My father-in-law Bill gave me his recipe that he got from the Canadian Living Magazine March 1987.  Pros: I really liked this dough, much easier to work with, not as stiff.  the dough rose a lot more.  very flakey. larger batch and got 18 decent size croissants.  Cons: the dough is really sticky at first and when baked the pastries didn’t hold their shape as well. This batch had good flavour, very buttery. Abby and I liked these ones.


Attempt four I went back and tried Michel Roux’s recipe again.  Now that the ribs aren’t quite so sore.  I got the layers thinner this time.  I really like the flavour on these.  Pros: These are closest to the flavour I remember from France.  Crispy and flakey with a doughy center.  Cons: Stiff dough makes it hard to roll.  This recipe also has the most butter folded in, so when baked they are greasier. 


I recently read that one of the reasons croissants here don’t taste the same as in France is because of the fat content of the butter. Butter in the states is around 80-82% whereas in Europe, butter typically contains 82-84% butterfat.  This greater proportion gives the butter a richer taste than American butter.  You can buy European butter but haven’t seen it yet in my journeys.

I love croissants and so do my girls.  I wanted to make some more but I have no resistance to them and if I see them I eat them.  So without further ado, here’s the recipe I recommend,… My father-in-laws:

  • 1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup skim milk powder
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp dry active yeast
  • 3 2/3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1 lb butter – cold
  • 1 egg
  1. Mix together water, milk powder, sugar and yeast.  Let sit until foamy
  2. In bowl of a standing mixer, add flour, salt and shortening.  With fingers, rub in shortening until combined.  It should look like oatmeal.
  3. Pour in yeast mixture and using dough hook, knead until dough holds together.
  4. Turn out dough onto floured surface and knead for 1 minute.  Don’t over knead at this point.
  5. Place dough into greased bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled.  About 2 hours.
  6. Punch down dough and cover.  Refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
  7. Roll out dough into a rough 18” x 10” rectangle.
  8. Flatten out butter into 5” square.  It’s easiest to slice the sticks into halves and lie them side by side.
  9. Place butter over 2/3rds of dough and fold unbuttered dough over and then fold again.  Like a tri-fold pamphlet. 
  10. Roll out dough into a 24” by 12” rectangle and tri-fold again.  Turn the dough 90 degrees and roll out again and re-fold.
  11. Wrap in plastic and stick back into fridge for 45 minutes.  Repeat to complete a third and fourth turn in rolling and folding.  Put back into fridge for 30 minutes
  12. Roll out to 24” by 12” rectangle again.  This time trim to make a proper rectangle.  Using a rotary cutter, make triangles.
  13. Roll up triangles starting at base and rolling towards tip.  Form into crescent shape and brush with egg wash.
  14. Stick into fridge overnight.
  15. Pre-heat oven to 450.  Re-wash croissants with egg.
  16. Drop temperature to 400 and bake until crispy brown and beautiful.
  17. Let cool for 10-15 minutes.
  18. Enjoy!  I bet you can’t eat just one :)


Thanks for looking!

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  1. These all look so yummy! You have definitely done a lot of work here trying out different recipes. I dont seem to have much luck making stuff like this. However since you have done all the work first I may have to try them :) I just worried that I would eat them all though! YUM!

  2. Karen, I am definitely going to try to make these for Adam! I have never been brave enough to make them from scratch but these look delicious!! Thanks for the tips!!

    1. Let me know if you need help. I'm just a few houses away!

  3. I got home from Spain last year and all I could think about was, " i have to learn to make croissants like they do in europe." then I read the recipe and said oh...nevermind. But your criossants look great. I think one of these weekends I need to try.

  4. I love croissants too but have never tried to make my own yet. You certainly did your research for this post and I believe that I would eat every one from every batch! Should I venture forth at some point and make my own, I will try your father-in-law's recipe. Thanks for such an informative post Karen.

  5. wow, these look so good.I love croissants but I am sure I can't bake/make my own.

  6. Wow these all look SO good. I could eat a half dozen of these for sure. I know what you mean about the French pastries - when we were in Paris I ate chocolate croissants at the same place every morning for a week. SO yummy!

  7. WONDERFUL looking croissants!
    I wish I could grab at least 2 and eat now!

  8. If you let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 24 hours before you incorporate the butter you'll get a better (more yeasty) taste. This is one of the things they do in France, but often is not in American recipes. I also learned that the egg wash comes just before baking - only once, not twice.
    Thanks for the great post!

  9. These croissants have to be pretty much perfect - so gorgeous and I love that you made these from scratch... I am featuring this post in today's Friday Food Fetish roundup (with a link-back and attribution), but please let me know if you have any objections. It's a pleasure following your creations…

  10. This is such a wonderful, well researched post, Karen! I have never tried making homemade croissants and you have done all the hard work for me! I'm very lucky I can actually buy unsalted French butter here in England. I must say, all your versions really did look absolutely delicious!