Well, it turns out, croissants are not that hard. They do take time, most of which is resting time in the fridge. So while you do have to plan ahead to make them, they aren't going to make you sweat in your kitchen for hours on end. And the result is definitely worth it! If the only croissants you've had are from grocery stores or from a tube of refrigerated dough, you are in for a really, REALLY wonderful treat! I don't think I can ever go back after having the real thing.
The night before I want these is when I do the first step, which is making the base of the dough. You combine your flour, sugar, milk, and yeast (you don't have to proof it first-yay!) in a Kitchen Aid mixer, turn it on the highest speed, and let it go crazy for about four minutes. The recipe says that you will likely need to add more milk a tablespoon at a time to make it come together. The book says no more than 3 tablespoons, but I needed 4. That could be because this is Colorado in winter and it's crazy dry here-just do what's right in your kitchen. The dough will look lumpy and dry and tough like this picture. This is exactly as it should be.
Take the dough, wrap it up in some plastic wrap AND in a large freezer bag, and let it rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Then put it in your fridge for 8 hours. (This is why it's good to do it right before bed.)
8 hours later, get out 4 1/2 sticks of cold butter. Yes, that is a ton of butter. But it will make your croissants super flaky and delicious. I cut the sticks up, then put them in my Kitchen Aid. It is weird to beat cold butter and somewhat unintuitive for someone who uses softened butter for cakes, but I think it is a little like pie crust where you need it to be chilled in order to get flaky layers. Turn your mixer on the highest setting, and let it beat the butter into oblivion for 2 minutes. When it's done make sure there are no lumps. Scrape all the butter out onto your counter, shape it into an oval disc 6-7 inches long and 1 inch thick. Wrap it up in plastic wrap, and place it in the fridge or freezer. I did the freezer because I would be using it within a few minutes and wanted to make sure it had a chance to get cold again. If you need to wait awhile to continue to the next step, just keep it in the fridge.
Take out your dough, and roll it out to a 10X17 rectangle. This is pretty hard, because the dough was surprisingly tough! Don't worry about that, it turns out perfectly.
Once the dough is rolled out, get out your butter disc, unwrap it, and place it right in the middle of the dough.
Wrap the edges of the dough around the butter like an envelope. This is, in fact, called a Butter Envelope.
Once it's all wrapped up, take your rolling pin and beat the crap out of it. Something I've noticed about Julia Child is that she's pretty rough with her cooking. And it's awesome and fun. So beat, beat, beat that dough. (At this point in the process, my husband came running into the room, thinking one of our kids were playing basketball in the kitchen. It was just me trying to flatten the butter.) The butter might bust out, and that's OK. Just press the dough back together with your hands. Beat the dough until it's about 14X6 inches. Wrap it back up and put in the fridge to chill to become manageable again.
An hour or so later, take out the dough and roll it into a rectangle that is 24X14 inches. This goes pretty smoothly since the butter helps the dough spread out.
Then fold it into thirds like a letter. Wrap it up, and chill it for two hours.
One thing that I think is important here is that you don't rush the resting/chilling periods. If you have to leave and can't take the dough out exactly two hours later, it's fine to leave it in longer. The thing you can't do, though, is take it out early. It is really important that the dough gets that time to rest and mature.
Two hours later, take the dough out with the 14 inch side facing you (or going from left to right). Do not unfold it. Roll the folded dough out into a 24X14 inch rectangle. This part is cool, because you can see the flakes of butter beginning to form in the layers of flour! It's quite pretty.
Every time you roll out the dough and fold it, it is called a "turn". You will need to do a total of three turns in the process. Each time you turn the dough, you will roll it out in the opposite direction as the time before, and without unfolding it. So always roll it out with the 14 inch side being horizontal (left to right) from you, and roll it to become the longer side of the rectangle, if that makes sense. This is how you get layers and layers of flour and butter.
I seriously never knew that before making these.
On your third turn, after rolling the dough out into the 14X24 rectangle, fold it into thirds again like you did before. Then fold it up again, like a book. This is called a "wallet'. Wrap it up and chill for another two hours.
When it's time to roll this out, Julia suggests cutting it in half to make it easier. Look at all of those layers! Pretty cool.
I'm not going to lie-this part takes some muscle. The dough is cold, and you are really going to have to use some elbow grease to get it rolled out. Make sure you keep your counter well floured, and make sure you check periodically to ensure the dough isn't sticking.
Now cut out some triangles. I used my pizza cutter.
Then stretch them out, thinning them a little at the edges.
And roll them up, starting with the long edge and in towards the point.
And voila, you have some lovely croissants!
These need to rise for four hours. She suggests keeping them in your cold oven with a pan of steamy water. I did this and it worked like a charm. I got big, fat, risen croissants and the smell of the yeast in the bread was heavenly.
Brush with an egg wash (1 egg and 1 tablespoon of water), then bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes. Let them get crusty and golden brown on the tops.
And then enjoy every single bite! See how light and well risen they are on the inside? Perfect. And while time consuming, totally worth it.
1 ounce fresh yeast 3 1/2 cups flour, unbleached all purpose 1/3 cup Sugar 2 teaspoons Salt 1 cup Milk 4 1/2 sticks unsalted butter-1 lb 2 oz
Problems and Lessons Learned:
While I overall found the recipe easy to follow and simple (but time consuming), I did encounter some issues and learned a few things.
- First is that in Baking With Julia, there is an illustration that shows how to fold up the croissants. This occurs after the third turn. Julia rolls out the dough into the 14X24 rectangle, then folds the dough in half, and then cuts the triangles into the folded dough. Then she cuts all the triangles in half. I did this, as you can see in these photos. What happened is that I got a bunch of little croissants. And while I guess that's OK, I really wanted large, bakery worthy ones. So for my second batch, I did as I described above and just cut large, single triangles and didn't fold the dough in half before cutting.
- The second issue I had was that she says you should make a small dough ball to "fluff" the croissants in the center before you roll them up. This would make the center of the croissant nice and high. I didn't like how these turned out in my first batch - the dough balls were noticeable to the point I could pick them out and they didn't bake as well either. They were doughy and thick, not light and flaky. On my second batch I left them out and it was a big improvement!
- Third, during the rising, it's important to do it as Julia instructs - in your cold oven with a steamy pan of water in with it. The first time my oven was otherwise occupied so I left them on the counter and covered them with cloth. The croissants didn't rise and well and didn't get as flaky as my second batch.
- Lastly, the recipe calls for 1 ounce of fresh yeast. I don't have that, so I used the 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dried yeast and it worked just perfectly.
And I think that's about it. Good luck, be patient, and enjoy!