When I read through The Baker’s Companion, I created a mental list of a few recipes I was most excited for. Croissants de pâtissier (pastry chef’s croissants), made with classic puff pastry, was one of them.
I’ve never tried making a laminated dough, in which layers of butter and flour are created through folding. This seemed like a real test of skill, and I was nervous and excited to try it. (Really, I’m even a bit more excited for croissants de boulanger, which are made with a yeast dough around the butter and end up with a bit more structure, but I thought I’d get the procedure down first.) I gave myself a Saturday to work on my pâte feuilletée (pastry made leaflike).
You start out by mixing a simple dough of flour, butter, water and salt. TBC says to knead it “until smooth and springy,” which I noticed almost immediately. Then you form it into a square and refrigerate it for at least half an hour.
Then you create a slab of softened butter tempered with a little flour. This was the trickier task, mostly because if it’s soft enough to shape easily it’s soft enough to stick to your spoon. Your butter block is supposed to be eight inches square. Mine was squishy enough (after I left the butter to sit on the counter overnight) that when I wrapped it in plastic, it squeezed it down a little smaller. Then that goes in the refrigerator, too, for at least half an hour.
I left it for about an hour and a half because the weather was nice and I also really wanted to go birdwatching. (I got three new species!) But then it was back to the task of the day.
An hour and a half of chilling, however, created a very firm slab of butter. When I wrapped it in the dough and attempted to roll it out, the butter broke within the dough under the pressure of the rolling pin, rather than flattening. I panicked, afraid that I had ruined everything and the layer was broken and it would puff less and this was never going to work, what was I thinking?
I tried to squeeze the butter pieces together through the dough, but then let it sit. 10 minutes later, it still didn’t want to roll. A little after that, though, it got working.
In rolling, the goal is to create a 10×20-inch rectangle to fold in thirds like a letter. Then you rotate the package, roll it out to the same proportions and fold it again. These are the first two turns of six. The dough is chilled for at least 30 minutes in between turns, and you can do two turns at a time as long as your dough is cool and it seems to be responding well. Your surface should be well-dusted with flour, though you need to brush excess flour off the pastry when folding to ensure your layers stick.
Despite the structural hiccup at the beginning of the process, things started to go as they were supposed to. The dough may have mushed in the crack in the butter, but it rolled out okay, and with each turn, it seemed to get more regular, as if the folding process was helping it keep an even, rectangular structure.
After the six folds–which create 729 layers!–the dough is chilled for an hour or more. I left it overnight, and today, I made a basic application, the croissants.
Half a recipe of puff pastry dough makes 12 croissants, so I cut my slab in half. The layers were faint, but I could just barely see them.
Then for more rolling, then measuring, then cutting. Rolled thin, the dough was shockingly like that of tube crescent rolls, but smoother. It wasn’t any more difficult to work with, and the satisfaction level is much higher.
I was super excited. So excited, I forgot the egg wash, which means my croissants didn’t brown as quickly as they were supposed to, which made me afraid that everything had gone terribly wrong… but then I had one. It tasted like crispy butter, which is really all I want when eating anything.
So, aside from a few minor problems, I’m going to call puff pastry, and Croissants de Pâtissier, a success. A delicious, satisfying success.