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September 30, 2011

The Daring Bakers' Challenge: Croissants au Beurre (Butter Croissants)

The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

I haven't even realised it. The end of September has come so fast, hasn't it?  I love and hate September at the same time because well, I have to go to school (that's why I hate it) and my birthday is in September (that's why I love it). Another reason why I should love September is because of my blog turns one year old :D In fact, the first post was posted in August last year, but my second blog (the Czech version) started in October and I've decided to "celebrate" it in September because it's in between. Anyway, this month's challenge is a great way how to celebrate mine and my blogs' b-days. Who wouldn't love fresh croissants?

I've wanted to make croissants for a looong time but there hasn't been anything that would make me make them until now. However, I have to admitt I didn't use the recipe provided by our host, Sarah, but I searched the Net to find out how the French people do them because croissants are a part of French viennoiserie (aka pastries). Croissant is a buttery flaky bread named for its distinctive crescent shape. They are made of a leavened variant of puff pastry similar to Danish pastry (but without any spices). The yeast dough is layered with butter, rolled and folded several times in succession, then rolled into a sheet - this is called laminating - so we can say that croissant dough belongs to the group of laminated doughs.

The modern croissant dates to 19th-century Paris. Croissants have long been a staple of French bakeries and pâtisseries. They're the best-known type of French pastry in much of the world. However, the very first mention of a bread-type pastry comes from Austria where it was called a kipferl. The kipferl origin dates back to the 13th century. The "birth" of the croissant itself can be dated to at latest 1839, when an Austrian artillery officer, August Zang, founded a Viennese Bakery ("Boulangerie Viennoise") in Paris. This bakery quickly became popular and inspired French imitators. The French version of the kipferl was named for its crescent (= croissant) shape. The first recipes for the present-day croissant come from the 20th century. (source - Wikipedia)

Now that we know a bit about the long life of croissants, let's have a look at the ingredients. The yeast dough consists only from flour, fresh yeast, granulated sugar, liquid (either milk or water) and salt. There are neither eggs nor fat in that dough. At least that's what 've discovered through my search. The fat or eggs can be added but traditionally they should not be in the dough, but it makes the rolling and kneading easier in a home kitchen. I didn't add them as I wanted to stay true to the tradition and the rolling process didn't seem very dificult to me. To make them layered and flaky, you have to incorporate some fat into the yeast dough. In my opinion, the best fat is butter - no other fat will give you so tasty and buttery criossants and then of course you wouldn't have croissants au beurre. If you want to use margarine then go to your closest store, buy some frozen croissant dough and you'll save yourself a lot of time.

The butter you use should the best you can afford. I highly recommend using a kind of European butter with at least 82% fat. I used the best butter I could have possibly found - with 85% fat and only 15% water. However, if you can find any better, certainly go for it :) Oh, and one last note but pretty important - use only unsalted butter! The dough contains quite a lot of salt and with salted butter it would be just too much!

When reading French recipes, I discovered that most of them called for a combination of flour type 45 and 55 (aka farine T45 et T55 in French). SInce I live in a country where exists three basic types of flour - hladka (literally smooth, could be translated as extra finely ground flour, a bit finer than all-purpose flour, but with the same protein and gluten content), polohruba (literally semi-coarse, in fact it's all-purpose flour with lower protein and gluten content) and hruba (coarse, could be translated as coarsely ground flour, it's similar to semolina) and no type numbers, it's always quite tricky to find out the right type of flour. Anyway, after long search I've found what I needed to know. Type 45 is similar to all-purpose flour and type 55 is strong bread flour (aka type 650). However, the only correct type of flour used in the dough should be the strong bread one. The addtion of all-purpose flour is there to make the rolling easier in a homekitchen. Nevertheless, I used only strong bread flour and didn't notice any hardness during rolling and the croissant came out heavenly :)

As for the liquid, some say only water should be used, the others are strictly for milk, so I went with the best of both worlds and used half milk and half water. Both of them MUST be lukewarm to actvivate the yeast. And now I have to tell you that the best thing to do is using FRESH yeast. I know that's it not sold everywhere but it's not impossible to buy it. Fresh yeast really DOES give different flavour to the dough. Here where I live we don't use dry yeast very often, only in, let's say, 10% recipes and truth to be told, I haven't came across any French croissant recipe calling for dry yeast. Of course, it's up to you but I'm in the fresh-yeast team.

Feel free to fill the croissants with any type of filling. It can be either sweet or savoury. I love sweet croissants so I'm including a recipe for my favourite chocolate pastry cream (aka Crème Pâtissière in French) as I don't like pure chocolate in my pastries because it's too hard when cooled. The chocolate you choose is completely up to you. I prefer dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids, but the rest of the family always wants milk chocolate. If you want, you can use even white chocolate. Also my sister loves store-bought croissants with caramel glaze. I simply melted some caramel cubes with a little milk and according to her happy eyes it was successful :) Try to use the best caramels you can find in the store (preferably those containg butter and cream and no vegetable fats).

Okay, all important issues have been said and it's time to show the croissant marathon :D It's not as difficult as it may seem. Actually, it's pretty easy, but it does require a huge lot of time. At least 15 hours. In the recipe there I'll give instruction how to make croissants in one day and bake them the other day to have them fresh for breakfast although in my tips & notes you'll see how to make them in only one day.

1000g (7 3/4 cups) strong bread flour
250ml (1 cup) milk, lukewarm
250ml (1 cup) water, lukewarm
55g (6 tbsp) fresh yeast
125g (10 1/2 tbsp) granulated sugar
20g (4 tsp) salt
500g (2 cups + 3 tbsp) butter, cold
1 egg for egg wash
Chocolate Crème Pâtissière:
250ml (1 cup + 1 tbsp) whole milk
25g (3 tbsp) cornstarch
70g (6 tbsp) granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
30g (2 tbsp) butter
1/2 vanilla pod
100g (3.5 oz) chocolate
50ml milk (for chocolate)
Caramel Glaze:
200g (7 oz) caramel cubes
1 tsp milk

Chocolate Crème Pâtissière: Bring 50ml milk to a boil in a small pan; remove from heat and add in chocolate, finely chopped, mix until smooth and set aside. Dissolve cornstarch in a little of the 250ml whole milk. Beat in whole egg and then egg yolks until well-incorporated. Pour the remaining milk in a saucepan, add sugar, scraped vanilla seeds and also the vanilla pod. Bring this mixture to boil and remove from heat. Pour a little of the boiling milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs don't curdle (this will temper your eggs). Return the remaining milk mixture to heat. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Do not stop whisking!! and bring to boil. The cream thickens. Boil for about 1 minute, then remove from heat, still whisking. Add butter, remove the vanilla pod and then add the melted chocolate-milk mixture. Pour in a bowl, immediately press plastic wrap firmly against the surface and let cool a bit. Then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Croissants: Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water. In a large bowl combine sifted flour, sugar, salt, lukewarm milk and pour in the yeast dissolved in water. Mix all the ingredients together using spatula, until all the flour is incorporated (it may appear a bit dry). Then using your hands knead the dough until beautifully smooth, silky and soft (about 5-10 minutes). Form the dough into two balls and cut a cross on the top of each - this will make the rising easier (photo 1). Cover with tea towel and allow to rest for 1 hour in a warm place or until doubled in size (photo 2). Knead each ball two to three times to remove the air from the dough, cover in a plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. While the dough is chilling, divide the butter into two equal halves and soften each half of the cold butter by pounding with a rolling pin (photo 3). Cut a large piece of baking paper and fold it so that you get a square 20x20cm. Unfold the paper, put one half of the softened butter inside, fold it again and roll the wrapped butter until it has the shape of the square - this makes rolling sooo much easier and you get the exact square (photo 4). Repeat with the second one. Refrigerate until ready to use. Now roll out one ball of the dough into an exact square 30x30cm. Place one square of the butter in the middle of the rolled dough (photo 5), fold up the dough and seal the butter. Pay attention to corners and edges, you don't want spots where there's no butter as well as unwrapped butter (photo 6). Roll the dough into a large rectangle - thickness should be 0.5cm (size approx. 35x60cm). Now fold the dough rectangle in three, like a letter - fold the top third down, and then the bottom third up (photo 7). Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 45 minutes. Repeat with the second dough ball. Take out the dough and repeat the rolling and folding 2 more times, which gives 3 folds in total (however, you don't add any additional butter). The last refrigeration should be a bit longer - 2 hours are perfect. It’s now time to cut the dough and shape the croissants. Take one part of the dough out of the fridge and roll the dough out into 3-4mm thin large rectangle - it should be 32cm wide. Cut the dough in half so that you get two stripes, both 16cm wide. Cut into triangles,12cm wide at the base, 16cm tall. Don't hesitate to cut off imperfect edges if you want a pefect crumb. Cut a slit in the base of each triangle (photo 8). Fridge and rest the triangle pieces, then strech them into 20cm high, this will create more layers. Now place 1 tsp of the chocolate pastry cream near the base of the trianlge if desired. Roll to the outside as you start from the base. Roll up fairly tight (if filled, don't press too much), stretch out the tip with one hand when you roll the bottom with the other hand. The tip should be underneath. Curve into a crescent shape. Place the unbaked croissant on the baking sheet. Gently brush with egg wash. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Repeat with the second part of the dough. Remove the croissants from the fridge and allow to rise for 2 hours (the temperature of the room should be from 22C to 30C, not warmer or the butter will leak out). Brush again with egg wash. Bake in preheated oven to 200°C for 15-20 minutes or until deeply golden brown. Serve either plain or with butter or glazed.

Caramel Glaze: Add a little water to the bottom of the double boiler and bring this water to a simmer (not a boil). Unwrap all of the caramel cubes and place them into the top of the double boiler. Add milk and stir well. Slowly heat the caramels until smoothly melted. Immediately dip the cooled croissants in the glaze and allow to thicken for about 5 minutes.

  • Make sure your work with cold dough. If it turns too warm, the butter will leak out or become a part of the dough and the baked goods won't be flaky. If your dough becomes sticky and you'll see small tears, don't hesitate and refrigarate the dough for a few minutes to make it cold again.
  • If you want to make only 20 croissants (that's what I did), don't half the recipe - it's not worth the effort. Simply put one half of the dough into your freezer after the last longest refrigeration (after the third fold).
  • If you want to bake the croissants without the 8-hour waiting, skip that 8-hour refrigeration and let them rise for 3 hours instead.
  • Croissants taste best the first 6 hours, then they lose their crispiness. To make them like new, reheat them in your oven for a few minutes.
  • This video helped me a lot. Though the chef's folds are a bit different from mine, he shows beautifully how to roll out the butter. You don't need to understand it even though it's in French, his moves are pretty straightforward..

Having spent two days on these, I can say I am so happy to bake only 20 croissants and freeze the rest of the dough. Otherwise you'd spend so much time for 5 minute pleasure. Literally. They are so good they disappear so fast! I bought one "butter" croissant in our local store to test my croissants. My whole family agreed that mine were so much better. The store-bought one was tasteless, too salty and felt as if you were eating air (aka nothing) because it was so puffy and crust-less. On the other hand, my croissants were so buttery, not very sweet, slightly salty, flaky and with perfect crispy crust though they might have been a bit flakier. Anyway, my sister totally loved the caramel glaze on them. At first it's a little tough and chewy, but after an hour or so, it softens perfectly and remains shiny at the same time. The most favourite ones were those filled with chocolate pastry cream. The cream was silky, sweet, chocolate-y and simply delicious and it made the croissants so moist! Yum! Don't get scared by the method, be brave and give them a try :)

Linked to:
Sweet Tooth Friday
These Chicks Cooked
Whisking Wednesdays
Any Linky Goes 
Sweets for a Saturday
Sweet Indulgences Sunday
Flash Back Friday


  1. Your pics are amazing, drooling over here.
    I would love for you to share at my weekly linky fri-mon
    Come strut your stuff.

  2. I had no doubt you would make simply beautiful croissants, Catalina. The photos are a testament to your skills and dedication: great job!

  3. WOW - your photos are drool-worthy. Your croissants look so delicious. I have never seen a croissant covered in caramel before, and now I wish I had one right now! Really great job.

  4. What stunning photographs and I love all the extra information you provide well done on this challenge. Bravo to you on your result.

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  5. Wow!beautiful croissants! Your photos are gorgeous. Thanks for sharing the video, I really enjoyed it.

  6. Wow! Yes, these are definitely heads and tails above bakery croissants! Just beautiful! And I love the idea of a caramel glaze~

  7. I love it when you figure out how to make something homemade that is so much better than anything you can buy. These look great. Especially the caramel one :)

  8. Thanks for linking up last week to my Whisking Wednesday party. Would love for you to come back this week and link up a few more recipes. These look so buttery delicious!

  9. Featuring these on Thursday afternoon at Bacon Time. Hope to see you at this weeks linky too.

  10. Mindie Hilton: Thank you for the invitation! I'm very happy to link up and I'm even happier when I hear you like them :)

    Simona: Thank you so much! I was looking forward to seeing yours - are you among the DBS or not any more? In fact, I haven't seen you there since the coffee cake challenge which is a pity because you are so talented and have great ideas!

    shelley c.: Thank you for your kind words :) I had no idea that caramel glazed croissants were so rare outside my country :D

    Audax: You always provide us all with so much useful information that mine can't even try to compare but thank you!

    Renata: You're welcome, I'm glad you found the video useful and thank you :)

    Lizzy: Thank you a lot :) I'm pretty surprised that the caramel glaze gets so much attention :D

    Tessa: I totally agree with you! Homemade simply has to be better :D Thank you!

    ryobious: You're welcome - I'm always happy to link up :D Thank you :)

  11. Catalina,

    Just wanted to let you know I stuck another comment in on my butter finger bars, but I couldn't figure out how to "reply" so that it linked back to you :)

    Butterfingers aren't really similar to a kit kat. More peanut butter, no caramel, and all crunch. I think I've seen a couple make at home recipes for them floating around if you are interested.

  12. Tessa: Thank you a lot for your reply! Well, it seems like there's nothing like Butterfinger in our stores which is pretty sad :( Anyway, I'll have a look at those recipes :)

  13. Hi Catalina, great post, I really enjoyed it!. I`m writing about the French food a bit myself, didnt dare yet to post any receipe. Hope you can check and will enjoy:

  14. Karo: Hi Karo, thank you! I love French anything :D Can't wait to read your posts!


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