HOW IT’S MADE: Croissants
Have you ever found yourself noshing on a delightfully delicate and buttery croissant and wondering how it was made? Maybe not, but perhaps you are wondering now? Either way, you’re in luck, because you’re about to find out.
Although there are many steps to making croissants, the process is actually pretty straightforward (or at least it looks that way…full disclosure–I’ve never tried it). Some of the steps require a significant amount of time, like letting the dough rise and refrigerate, but in terms of the labor involved, it seems precise but fairly easy. Anyone who’s got a rolling pin, a flat surface, a refrigerator, and an oven should be able to make croissants!
The dough is made of seven ingredients: flour, water, yeast, milk, sugar, salt, and (of course) butter. I’ve always known that croissants are made with a lot of butter, but what I didn’t realize is that there is actually an entire layer of solid butter—about a centimeter thick—that is rolled out between two layers of dough before the croissants are shaped and baked. I laughed a little bit when I found that out.
But the butter step comes only after the dough has been made. This involves mixing the seven ingredients together, letting the dough sit long enough for the yeast to turn the starch in the flour into sugar and that sugar into carbon dioxide, causing the dough to rise (sorry, just went geeky on you), and kneading the bejeesus out of that risen dough until it’s workable. The dough is then rolled out into a large rectangle.
This is where that big old block of butter comes in. There are a few different ways the butter block can be made; all involve rolling the butter between two pieces of parchment paper or saran wrap and forming it into a rectangle that’s about a centimeter thick. To get the butter between the pieces of parchment paper, some people cut the butter into small pieces, others mush it to workable consistency with their hands, some beat it with a rolling pin, and others grate it onto the parchment paper so that it’s really easy to roll out.
Once the block of butter is formed, it’s placed in the middle of the rolled-out dough and the dough is folded over it, so the dough fully engulfs the butter. The dough is then carefully rolled out with the butter inside into a long rectangle. If it’s done right, eventually the butter layer should blend into the dough. The rectangular dough is then folded in thirds, like a business letter. The rolling out and folding steps are repeated several times, and then the dough goes in the refrigerator so it can set and continue rising.
After refrigeration, the dough is rolled out one more time into a large rectangle and then cut into little triangles, which are then rolled into individual croissants, from the base of the triangle to the tip.
After the croissants are rolled and placed on a baking sheet, they are brushed with an egg wash and baked until golden brown.
And that’s it! If you’d like to try to make croissants yourself, here is a nice recipe with .gifs for every step that show you what to do:
Also, if you’re interested in a very detailed, step-by-step description of how to make croissants and you’ve got some time, you should check out Julia Child’s instructional video on croissants. Who better to teach us how to make croissants than the queen of French cooking herself?
This is a great video because Julia explains why she’s doing what she’s doing at every step—why she put the yeast in warm water, why she rolls the dough out a certain way—so by the end you really understand the purpose of every detail that goes into making a croissant. It’s also great because she’s not gimmicky like the chefs on the Food Network—there’s no live audience, fake smiles, or corny catchphrases.
If you do decide to make your own croissants, remember: they are always best fresh, so you should try to eat them the day you make them. Enjoy them with jam, or make one (or more) into a meal by spreading some chicken salad on it. Bon appetit!
Cover photo source.