Full of crispy, flaky, buttery goodness, croissants are the stand out star of the pastry scene. Whether you want to shake up your breakfast or impress your friends, Flor’s head baker has provided an expert guide on how to make the doughy delicacies at home. Flake it up!
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Making croissants at home comes with a warning, explains Helen Evans, head baker at Borough Market’s bakery of the moment, Flor. While the stars of the pastry scene are extremely easy to snaffle up, crafting those flaky, buttery layers is a hard and sometimes painstaking task. “Making croissants by hand isn’t easy,” says Helen, “but it’s totally achievable and there’s a beauty in experimenting and really getting to know the ins and outs of pastry at home.”
Half moon-shaped sweet breads have been a staple in Austrian, Italian and French bakeries since the Renaissance, but the modern incarnation we know and love today was developed in the 20th century. Croissants differ from other pastries by including yeast-leavened dough, which is rolled and folded with butter to give its famous crisp layers.
Mastering folding and rolling the dough – a process called lamination – is part of the art of making croissants. “Laminating by hand is hard work, but much more rewarding because you get a real appreciation of the effect you’re trying to achieve,” says Helen, who fell in love with baking while working in a high-end restaurant in Paris where she found herself craving the slower-paced, mercurial world of doughs and pastries. “It’s really hard to achieve consistency with breads and pastries because they seem to have a mind of their own, but that’s what really attracted me to it,” she says. “Every day is different and, although you’re guiding the baking process, you’re never fully in control.”
Helen is an advocate of responsibly sourced flour, using heritage and ancient grains that have been organically farmed to make the pastries at Flor. “We try and use heritage varieties of wheat that are more resilient and better for the soil and we support farmers that don’t use agrochemicals in the process,” she explains. “It’s important to get people thinking more about flour. It’s one of the biggest ingredients we work with and we don’t examine what actually goes into making it.”
Whether you want to liven up your morning breakfast, or impress your pals with a lovingly-baked snack, here Helen demystifies the art of making quintessential crispy croissants at home and explains how to incorporate heritage flour, which is kinder to the environment.
Classic croissant recipe
Ingredients (makes 8-9 croissants at around 90-100g each)
For the pre-ferment:
- 62g strong white flour
- 62g water
- A pinch of yeast
For the dough:
- 286g strong white flour
- 100g heritage variety flour (eg einkorn or spelt)
- 23g butter
- 54g demerara sugar
- 9g salt
- 9g fresh yeast
- 89g water
- 60g milk
- 250g add-in butter (for lamination)
“Making croissants is a long and involved process, so we tend to make ours over three days,” says Helen. Here is the three-day process for making the French pastries:
1) Make the pre-ferment by combining all the ingredients into a bowl. If you’re using dry yeast, bloom it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. “The pre-ferment develops flavour before we even mix the dough and will help with the leavening,” says Helen.
If you’re using a sourdough starter instead of yeast make sure it is active before you start baking.
2) Leave the pre-ferment for around six hours at room temperature in a covered container to ferment.
3) Add the rested pre-ferment to the rest of the dough ingredients (except for the butter that will be used for lamentation).
4) Mix the ingredients into a really strong dough. If you have a mixer, mix the dough for 15 minutes with a dough hook until it is strong and bouncy.
5) Leave the dough to rest for 20-30 minutes at room temperature to kick start the fermentation. Cover it and leave it in the fridge overnight. “The dough will be much easier to work with when it’s rested and chilled,” says Helen. “Otherwise it will be elastic and hard to roll.”
Helen recommends resting the dough in the fridge to stop it from fermenting. “When you’re making croissant dough, you’re always trying to beat the fermentation until you’ve cut and shaped your croissant,” she says. “When dough ferments it moves and this will mean the layers will be less sharp.”
6) The following morning put the dough briefly through a mixing machine, or give it a mix by hand.
7) Give the extra add-in butter for lamination a mix to make sure it’s pliable, keeping it separate from the dough for now. “The butter should be cold and pliable, not soft,” says Helen. “It should be the same temperature as the dough.”
8) The next step is the lamination, or folding the butter into the dough. Begin by putting the butter between two sheets of baking parchment and using a rolling pin smash and roll it into a rectangle. Leave this in the fridge to chill.
9) On a floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle. The dough should be two-thirds bigger than the butter rectangle.
10) Place the unwrapped rectangle of butter in the centre of the dough, so it covers over the middle third.
11) Make a letter fold by folding one side of the dough up and halfway over the butter. Then fold the other side of the dough up and over the butter so the two edges of the dough meet in the centre of the butter.
12) Wrap the dough in cling film and rest in the freezer for 15 minutes. “You want the dough to be cold, but not frozen,” says Helen.
13) Unwrap the dough and roll it into a smooth rectangle. Rotate 90 degrees then fold in the same way as before. Rest for another 15 minutes and then repeat one more time. Leave the dough in the fridge for 2-3 hours.
14) Roll out the chilled dough to its final thickness. Then cut the dough into triangle shapes – 8cm across the top and 32cm long – using a pizza cutter.
15) Lay out the triangles. Take the tip and roll it gently up to make the classic croissant shape. “This is fairly straightforward, but I would suggest watching a couple of YouTube tutorials to get the hang of it,” says Helen. “People have different techniques. For example, I always roll towards me and have the point closest to me. Whereas one of my colleagues rolls away from himself and has the point further away, so it depends on personal preference.”
“You don’t want to make the rolls too tight,” Helen warns. “This means they won’t grow nicely and will be stunted. Roll them gently and aim for even tightness. Aim to be as symmetrical as possible, so one side doesn’t end up heavier than the other.”
16) Leave the croissants to prove at room temperature overnight. “We tend to leave them in a warmish fridge overnight, at around 14°C,” says Helen. “Croissants really benefit from a long, slow proof. Don’t leave the dough in an airing cupboard like you might do with bread, because it might be too warm and you risk the butter that you’ve carefully laminated melting out of the layers.”
17) Heat your oven to 180°C.
18) Give the croissants an egg wash by brushing them with raw egg. “This gives them a nice shine,” says Helen. “I put a dash of cream in and a very small pinch of salt.”
19) Bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown.
Helen’s tips for making croissants at home
Get the ingredients right
Helen is a huge advocate of using responsibly sourced flour that uses heritage and ancient grains. However, many of these varieties don’t have the high level of protein needed to create croissant dough. “If you want that quintessential buttery, flaky, soft croissant you’ll need to use strong modern white flour that you’d usually find in the supermarket,” says Helen. “However, you can play around by adding some heritage whole wheat that will give you a better flavour and colour. When you put whole wheat into a croissant you get a lovely speckle through the crumb.
Butter makes up a huge part of croissants (more than we’d all like to admit), so it’s also really important to use good quality dairy. “Use butter with a really high-fat content,” says Helen. “The more fat, the better. It will be more pliable, easier to work with and tastier, of course!”
Consistency is key
Keeping your dough and butter at a consistent temperature is crucial for making good quality croissants. “Butter is susceptible to cracking so it’s really important to make sure it’s in a pliable state before you put it in the dough,” says Helen. “I’ve often chilled the butter too much and it’s cracked. It’s particularly prone to cracking at the beginning of the folding process when the butter is thick.”
Knowing when the dough is perfectly proved is a difficult skill to master. “It’s something you develop an instinct for over time as you bake,” says Helen. So, if you’re new to home baking, or you’re making croissants for the first time, don’t be dismayed if it takes you a bit of practice to get the knack of being able to call when the proof is ready.
A perfectly proved croissant should leave an indent when you press it gently with your finger. It should also be almost gelatinous in appearance, wobbling like jelly. “That’s a sure sign that it’s ready to bake,” says Helen.
Practice makes perfect
“Don’t worry too much about making mistakes because you’ll learn from it,” says Helen, adding that it can be extremely difficult to troubleshoot what has gone wrong when your croissants don’t end up as intended. “There are so many elements that can give different results; it could be the ingredients; the butter might have high water content and shatter easily or the flour might not be strong enough. Or, maybe the dough wasn’t fermented or rested for long enough. There are so many things that could go wrong and it’s only through practice that we develop an instinct about each process.
“Find someone who really loves eating croissants, so you can pass all your mistakes and test subjects to them!”
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Images: Flor, Getty
Helen Evans, head baker at Flor
Helen Evans is the head baker at Flor in Borough Market. She is passionate about using heritage and ancient grains.