This is not a baking blog, I swear.
But it’s a Life Adventure blog, and learning how to to make croissants is definitely a life adventure!
The Fear of Butter
Croissants are made by layering butter and flour. There are a LOT of layers of butter. Just eating a properly-made croissant will coat your fingers in it. But the butter gives the pastry a bad name!
I’m not saying there isn’t a dessert level of butter in croissants. But I am saying that one batch of croissants takes the same amount of butter as a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and about 1/8 of the sugar. Or less. And you get the same number of croissants as cookies (comparing similar portions), so don’t be frightened of them.
The Importance of Butter
It is important to use butter and not Crisco or margarine because of the water-fat ratio. There is hardly any water in Crisco, which means there won’t be any steam when the croissants bake to puff up each layer. Margarine has way to much water, which means it is way too difficult to keep cold and produces too much steam. Our Kind Instructor didn’t know the effect of lard. She was, however, a vegan, and said that Earth Balance had the best water-to-fat ratio that could be substituted to make reasonable croissants.
The Temperature of Butter
Evidently, the success of croissants (and all laminated pastry, or pastry made with butter/flour layers) relies solely on the temperature of the butter at each and every stage. The reason croissants can be intimidating isn’t the number or complexity of steps or technique, but in maintaining the butter temperature as not too hard, and not too soft.
The time between each step is established to keep the butter from “melting,” or reaching the temperature that makes it spreadable. At this stage, it “melds” with the flour. At this point you no longer have proto-croissants but delicious butter dinner rolls.
You can cut corners with refridgerating for hours in between by making use of the freezer. You cannot, however, cut it much shorter than prepping the dough the night before and letting it rest until formation and baking in the morning.
You can also form the croissants and then freeze them, pulling them out to thaw in the fridge and bake at your leisure.
Techniques for Forming Croissants
I learned all this at a small class my mother won at a silent auction. The young woman who taught it had worked in her mother’s West Virginia bakery, and she was full of enthusiasm and friendliness. I wanted her to join our Girl Scout troop — she would have fit right in! Why don’t adults have troops?
Anyway, there was lots of hands-on practice, and through the “magic of television,” we got to try every step and end up with piping hot fresh croissants in three hours. I was lucky and got to take the final dough home to rest and bake today. Here are the techniques for making the Eiffel Tower, giving the tower a mustache, and forming pan au chocolat (chocolate croissants that aren’t technically croissants because they are not crescent shaped). Sorry about the focus on my right hand — I had to get creative with lighting and having only two hands.
The chocolate croissants are a little lopsided because I failed to place the final seam underneath the pastry. But they are delicious!
I have explained to some coworkers my classroom experience, and they are oh so supportive of my practicing my new endeavors. It’s so nice to be supported!
So here you have a dozen single-serving pastries that together hold one stick of butter. Don’t be afraid of flaky mustachioed Eiffel Towers! Go forth and make some yourself!