Shopping for bread has changed over the last decades, a development I personally regret. Large bakery chains have entered somewhere back in the nineties and many small family-run bakeries have vanished over the years. Buying from a chain bakery or even discount bakery doesn’t automatically imply inferior products, but I always prefer the small and independent or even family-run originals around the corner. No two bread rolls look the same and on Saturdays a line usually starts forming outside the bakery. When I have to leave the house in the wee hours of the morning, the air is already permeated with a heavenly smell from the bake-house in our backyard. They offer what I would – without a hint of hesitation – call the best sourdough bread (Bauernkruste) I have found in Munich so far, great rolls and baguette-like variations. And yet, one important piece is missing, one I rather not speak about: their croissants. The pretzel croissants they make are actually quite ok, but the regular ones are far from what I expect from my croissant.
Opposed to what many believe, croissants are NOT of French origin and despite the plethora of legends and myths that are and have been circulating, the croissant is Viennese. Backed up by the fact – so Alan Davidson, editor of the Oxford Companion to Food- that no printed recipe for the croissant (as we know it today) appears in any French recipe book before the early 20th century (the earliest French reference he found in Payen’s Des substances alimentaires from 1853).
Where was I? Yes, my croissant. ONE, it’s got to be a perfect mix of chewy and fluffy, which makes it easier to “unwrap” (my favorite way of eating a croissant). TWO, light-golden-brown in color. THREE, not too flaky, which makes it an excellent don’t-need-a-plate snack. FOUR, baked with plenty of butter, getting your fingers all greasy is a good sign and unavoidable and FIVE, a melt-in-your-mouth taste. Hm, I wonder, am I asking too much?
If you’re not satisfied with the croissants readily available at your local bakery, why not go ahead and give it a try yourself? But be warned, this is not as simple as my alternative way to start a Sunday morning…
The butter block: Knead the butter shortly to be able to form a butter block which is square (about 22x16cm/8.5×6.3 inch) and about 1cm (0.4 inch) thick. Books usually give instructions about the exact size of the block, but I found it to be less important, as long as you adapt the size of the dough (see below). I had my working space covered with a sheet of parchment paper, in which I wrapped the prepared block. Place in the fridge and chill it; it should not become rock hard though!
Preparing the pre-dough: Dissolve the yeast in milk and combine with sugar, eggs, oil, flour and salt. Knead only very lightly. If too soft, add a bit more flour. Form a rectangle, double in size of the butter block. Place the chilled butter in the center and fold the flaps over the butter without stretching them too much (lock-in). Carefully press together the edges to seal in the butter. The dough package should be folded uniformly to form a nice square.
The first three-fold: Roll out with a rolling pin, turn the dough over occasionally to keep the edges even. Don’t forget to dust the dough with flour to prevent it from sticking. Continue until the dough is about 1cm (0.4 inch) thick again. Then fold the dough like a business letter into 3rds. Do another three-fold. Cover with foil and chill for about 30 minutes.
Do two or three more three-folds, cover and chill for a few hours (or over night) before proceeding and forming the croissants.
Cut the dough in half to make handling easier and roll it out until about 3mm (0.1 inch) thick. Cut in pointed triangles, fill with a piece of chocolate or a small teaspoon of Nutella (if desired) and form little crescents by rolling the shortest side tautly up to the tip of the triangle. Place all on a parchment covered tray, paint thinly with egg yolk (more for looks) and let rise for an additional 15 minutes.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C (355°F) for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on size, until they are golden brown.
Resume: Considering the fact that this was a first for me, both making the puff paste AND the croissants, I felt like the queen of baking. Seriously, I wasn’t quite sure if I could pull it off, preparing something as advanced as puff paste. It was a huge relief to see the croissants turn out not only pretty looking, but also deliciously tasting. I’ve experimented quite a bit with sizes and fillings, but I’m sure there are plenty of tricks I haven’t considered, yet I’m very happy with the results. What’s the catch? The time factor – it does take quite a bit of time, is it worth it: you bet! Too bad our freezer isn’t large enough, otherwise I would have loved to try freezing them – unbaked – for next Sundays.
Note to self (for next time): If the dough is too delicate to handle between the turns – put it in the fridge for a few minutes. Maybe add an extra pinch of salt? Try baking them on silicone mats, to prevent their bottoms from turning too dark… Think of additional fillings…
Recipe source: adapted from Das große Buch der österreichischen Mehlspeisen, Josef Zauner, p.56
50g icing sugar
30g sunflower oil
42g fresh yeast (one cube)
an additional egg yolk to brush the croissants
if desired: chocolate or Nutella as a filling