Homemade Croissants

Whenever I listen to “Just Give Me a Reason," I think of Venice.

It’s strange how random things can suddenly trigger seemingly unrelated memories. While I was in Venice last summer, our program lived on Giudecca, off of the main island, in what was essentially the suburbs. It was always so quiet in the afternoons, as people took a nap and tried to escape the suffocating heat, but occasionally the silence would be broken by a motor boat going up a canal, driven by a teenager with the music blasting. It was the Venetian equivalent of pounding car stereos. And for whatever reason, they always seemed to be playing “Just Give Me a Reason,” a song that now always takes me back to that little canal outside our dorm in Venice.

While these croissants may not be much more Venetian than P!nk is, my brain has also inextricably tied them to that summer in Italy. Every morning, everyone in our study abroad program ate breakfast at this little cafe, Bar Palanca, on Giudecca, which was one of the highlights of staying on the island. The staff was incredibly nice, even though they had to deal with 50-odd loud American college students every morning, in bjillion percent humidity, no less. And then there were the croissants….oh, the croissants. While the cafe had only a very limited variety of pastries--plain croissants, cream-filled, nutella-filled, and jam-filled, all placed in a little glass case with no labels--they were all amazing, fresh, flavorful, and warm. 

And so, here they are, my croissants alla Palanca. Although homemade croissants are a pretty long process, let me assure you they are worth every single minute. These croissants are nothing like what you would buy at a store. Served warm from the oven, they are flaky, buttery, and slightly crispy on the outside, yet with soft, pillowy layers on the inside. The sugar sprinkled on top caramelizes in the oven and transforms into a sweet crunchy layer on top of the croissants. 

The key to making good croissant is getting flaky

layers. We do this through a process called lamination, in which we envelop the butter in dough, and get alternating layers of butter and dough. The steam released by the butter during baking then causes the layers of dough to puff up. To make all these layers of butter and dough, we will roll out the dough very thin and then fold it. For this to work, you have to keep them very cold so that they don't easily mix together.

Get ready for some 30 process photos. I'm supposed to be doing my statistics homework right now instead of uploading all the pictures, but hey, one must make sacrifices for the cause.

Let's get started!

Melt your butter and mix it into the milk, then sprinkle the yeast on top. Add in the flour, adding in a 1/3 at a time and mixing after each addition.

Swap your whisk for a dough hook, and mix to 1-2 minutes. If you're doing this by hand, knead it for 3-4 minutes.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

And now, prepare the butter block. Yes, I did just say we'll be making a butter block. That's why croissants are so good.

Fold a piece of wax paper in half.

Fold in the sides of the paper so that you get an 8 inch x 8 inch square.

Place your butter onto a clean surface. Yes, you need all that butter. 

Beat the butter with a rolling pin to slightly flatten it, and then do your best to fold it in half.

Place the butter onto the wax paper. Fold the paper into a square again.

Roll the butter so that it fills the entire square. I learned this trick from America's Test Kitchen. It'll make sure you get a perfectly square and even block of butter. Think of the horror if your butter was lopsided. It'll be ruined. RUINED. No pressure or anything, though.

Refrigerate the butter for at least an hour until it's nice and hard.

Now, roll out your dough into a square, and place your butter block in the middle. Fold the edges of the dough around the butter and give it a good roll with the pin to seal the folds.

Roll the dough into a 12 x 18 inch rectangle. And yes, I actually measured with a ruler.

Fold the dough into thirds, a la business letter. Refrigerate it for at least an hour; we want to keep it super cold! Repeat this roll-and-fold process 2 more times.

Refrigerate the dough overnight, and then freeze the dough for 30 minutes. Roll it into a 20 x 30 inch rectangle. Then fold it in half into a 10 x 30 inch rectangle.

Make little slits in the dough with a knife every 6 inches.

Cut along those slits.

For crescent shaped croissants, cut the rectangles diagonally.

Unfold the dough. Some of your triangles will be really big; cut those in half along the fold.

If you want rectangular croissants, cut the rectangles horizontally. Or, if you're forgetful like me, accidentally cut all the rectangles into triangles, seal the back together, and then cut them the right way.

For the crescents, make a slit at the base of the short side of the triangle. This will help the croissants form a curved shape. Place about 2 teaspoons of jelly at the base of the triangle, if you want filled croissants (although they are also super delicious plain!)

Roll up the triangle.

For the rectangular croissants, add some filling if you want, and then simply roll it up.

Let them rise for 2 or three hours, until they are puffy.

Look! You can see all the layers we made.

Brush them croissants with an egg wash and sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake them for 15-20 minutes until golden brown, and...ta-da! Croissants!

Beautiful, buttery, flaky, croissants. Your house will smell amazing right now.

It's an ambitious project, but these croissants are totally, 110% worth it. Make them soon!


Homemade Croissants

Click Here for the Printable Recipe.
Yields: 24 Croissants
Adapted from Girl Versus Dough, Some process steps adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

1 ½ cup whole milk, lukewarm
3 tablespoons butter, melted
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
3 ¾ to 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup plus 5 tablespoons butter, cold

For the egg wash:
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon milk.
Raw sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Mix together the milk, sugar, melted butter, and yeast.

Mix in 3 ¾ cups of flour, adding more if the dough is too wet. It should form a smooth dough that is soft but not tacky.

Refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours.

Fold a piece of wax paper in half, and fold in the sides so that it forms an 8 inch by 8 inch square.

Make the butter block. Place 1 cup and 5 tablespoons of butter onto a clean surface and beat with a rolling pin until it is flatter. Fold the butter in half and beat again.

Unfold the wax paper and place the butter inside. Re-fold the paper around the butter, and roll the butter so that it fills the entire square.

Refrigerate the butter for at least 1 hour.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and turn it onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a 12 inch x  12 inch square.

Unwrap the butter block from the wax paper and place it in the middle of the square so that the corners of the butter places touch the middle of the sides of the dough square.

Fold the corners of the dough around the butter. Roll over lightly with the rolling pin to seal the folds.

Roll the dough into a 12 x 18 inch rectangle. Fold the rectangle into thirds, like a letter. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Repeat step 11 two more times. After the third time, refrigerate overnight.

The next day, place the dough into the freezer for 30 minutes.

Place the dough onto a floured surface and roll into a 20 x 30 inch rectangle.

Fold the rectangle in half, into a 10 x 30 inch rectangle.

Along the long side, make knicks with a knife every 5 inches.

Cut along the knicks to form 6 rectangles.

If you desire your croissants to be different shapes (crescent-shaped and rectangular-shaped), cut diagonally along half of the rectangles, and horizontally along the rest.

Unfold the dough. Half of your triangles and rectangles will be very large; cut them along the fold.

For the crescent-shaped croissants, make a slit at the base of the short side of the triangle. This will help the croissants form a curved shape. Place about 2 teaspoons of jelly at the base of the triangle, if desired.

Roll the triangle into a crescent. Repeat with all the other triangles.

For the rectangles, add 2 teaspoons of Nutella if desired, and roll up into a sausage shape. Repeat with all the rectangles.

Place the croissants on a baking sheet at least 3 inches apart, and cover with plastic wrap.

Let them rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours, until puffy. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix together the milk and egg. Brush the croissants with the egg wash, and sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until deep golden brown. Rotate the pans halfway through.