I made these spelt croissants this week to make sure that I remember how to, having not made croissants in more than a year since the cookery school closed. I don’t really know why I haven’t, except once made you have to eat them. Not that it is a terrible hardship, it’s just I normally end up eating far too many of them. This last year I have had plenty of chance to do research and so I have read a lot about the art of making viennoiserie. These are the best croissants I have made so far, they were deliciously buttery and flaky. I am really looking forward to teaching people how to make them again.
How to make croissants
You make croissants by laminating butter between layers of dough and folding these layers so that you end up with lots of layers of butter and dough. During baking the layers separate and become distinct and flaky.
The process is done over two days. Don’t worry though, it only takes a few minutes of your time on Day 1. Most of the time the dough is just sitting around. So you can go to work or get on with jobs leaving your dough to get on with it.
The dough for croissants is much drier than bread dough. You can mix the dough in a stand mixer as this makes it easier. If you are hand mixing don’t be tempted to add more water, you need the dough to be on the dry side to aid the lamination process.
The laminating process (rolling and folding the dough) contributes to the development of the gluten, so if you develop it too much in the first stage you will have tough croissants instead of tender ones.
You can make croissants with strong bread flour. I have used spelt flour in this recipe as the extensibility of the spelt dough works well with the rolling.
If I use a stand mixer then I mix it until combined on speed 1, let to rest for 30 minutes, then mix again for 2 minutes on speed one. If I am doing it by hand I mix the dough, then allow it to rest and then give it a gentle stretch and fold and repeat. Both of these take about 45 minutes, which gives the dough time to start fermenting. It then goes in the fridge overnight.
I also make the butter sheet the night before and then pop it in the fridge.
I make a preferment for the croissant dough. This is just a portion of the flour and water and a tiny bit of yeast that is left to ferment. This portion of pre-fermented flour helps improve the extensibility of the dough which makes rolling out easier. Preferments also improve the flavour and the keeping quality of the croissant. It is very easy to prepare the preferment, you just need to remember to make it the morning before you want to make the croissants. Then you mix the dough in the evening of day 1 and pop the dough in the fridge until you are ready to do the rolling the next day. The dough benefits from this slow overnight ferment. You need the dough and the butter to stay cold during the rolling and if they start off cold it helps.
For croissants to be really flaky you need to take care to roll the dough evenly and keep it in a square shape as much as possible. The layers should be built up as precisely as possible.This way the layers build up correctly and then separate as they bake.
To make the best croissants start with the best butter you can buy. Look at the fat content if it says 80% minimum look at the next brand. A minimum fat content of 82% will make a difference. The higher fat content makes it less likely to leak whilst baking. It helps aid the lamination between the dough and the butter. Country Life unsalted butter has 82.7g. Professional bakers use butter sheets from producers such as Isgny St Mere or the Edinburgh Butter Company. These sheets have been specially tempered so that the crystalline structure of the butter is suited to laminating and baking. As these are expensive and difficult to get hold of the domestic baker has to do the next best thing and bash and roll the butter to change its crystalline structure.
Once shaped you need to prove them until they wobble like jelly on a plate before baking.
The butter in the dough coats the gluten and makes rolling out a little easier. The malt extract helps to speed up fermentation and contributes to the final colour of the baked croissant. Don’t worry if you haven’t got malt extract it can be left out.
Recipe for Spelt Croissants
Makes 8-10 croissants
For the pre-ferment:
200g strong white flour or white spelt
110g warm water
2g fresh yeast or 0.5g easy bake yeast (⅛ tsp)
For the dough:
200g strong white flour or white spelt flour
50g caster sugar
7g fine salt
15g fresh yeast or 5g easy bake yeast
8g malt extract
20g unsalted butter
100g warm milk
For the butter sheet:
170g unsalted butter for laminating
1 egg and a pinch of salt
Morning of Day One:
Make the preferment by mixing together the flour, water and yeast in a bowl. It will make a stiffish dough. Cover well and leave at room temperature for about six hours.
Evening of Day One:
Add the flour, salt, caster sugar, malt extract, butter and yeast to the preferment (if using fresh yeast, crumble the yeast into the bowl through the flour). Add the milk and mix well, bearing in mind that the dough will feel drier than bread dough. Don’t be tempted to add extra liquid just keep mixing until it comes together.
Leave to rest for 30 minutes. If making by hand and carry out one stretch and fold routine. Leave to rest for 15 minutes, then stretch and fold again.
If making in the stand mixer, then mix briefly until just come together, leave to rest for 30 minutes and then mix on speed 1 for two minutes.
Wrap the dough well in a food bag or clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.
To prepare the butter sheet
Cut a large piece of baking parchment (at least 60cm long), Mark out a 20cm square on one half and fold the parchment in half. Place the block of butter in the parchment and bash it with the rolling pin to flatten it out, then roll it out within the 20cm square. I use a plastic scraper to keep it within the marked lines and to even it out. Place the butter square in the fridge.
The next morning, take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out to 20cm x 40cm. Place the square of butter in the centre and fold the dough over from each side into the middle to completely cover the butter. Press down lightly with a rolling pin to seal the butter into the dough. This has created a 3 fold.
Roll the dough out to a long rectangle of 4mm thickness. Fold over 10cm of dough. Then fold from the other side to meet it. Now fold the dough in half like a book. This has created a 4 fold.
If it is a warm day and the dough is getting warm put it in the fridge for 20 minutes to rest and cool down.
Turn the dough 90 degrees. Roll out to a 5mm thickness. Fold one side of the dough in so that when you fold the other side in it will sit perfectly on top. Roll the dough gently to 12mm thick. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes. This has created another 3 fold.
In total by creating 3 folds, then 4 folds, then 3 folds, you create 25 layers of dough and butter.
Roll the dough out to about 20cm x 60 cm. Cut into rectangles 8-10cm wide and then in half diagonally to make long triangles both with a base of 8-10cm. Cut a notch in the base and roll from the base into a croissant shape.
If you have large plastic box place this over the top of the pastries and place a mug of freshly boiled waster inside to increase the temperature and humidity. Ideally croissants prove at 26C. Leave to rise until you can clearly see the layers and the pastries wobble like jelly when the tray is gently shaken. This can take 2-3 hours as the dough is cold when you finish shaping. It needs time to warm up and then prove. Brush with egg wash.
Preheat the oven thirty minutes before you think they will be ready to bake. Preheat at 200C, the oven will lose heat as you load. As soon as the croissants are in the oven turn the heat down to 180C. Bake for 14-20 minutes until golden verging on dark brown. The exact timings will depend on the size of your croissants and on your oven.
From frozen, they will take 5-10 minutes longer to bake.
Want to learn more about making croissants?
You can join us for a relaxing, fun day of making croissants, pain au chocolat and goodies such as Chelsea buns, Shropshire butter buns and iced fingers.
If you are keen to make croissants a lot at home then I recommend buying a copy of Jimmy Griffin’s The Art of Lamination*, it will help answer lots of your questions.
*If you click the link it will take you to Amazon and I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you from any purchase.