🥐 Croissants baking notes. 🥐

croissant dec 2019 - inside swirl

Me and my friend Luke D. attempted the Tartine Bread book croissants for the first time this week… and they turned out pretty great!

croissant dec 2019 - swirl croissant dec 2019 - after rising

Croissants have been a vague interest for a while, but I’m not sure I would have had the fortitude to tackle this on my own - hadn’t so far, at least. Luckily Luke moved nearby and is now a close enough neighbor that we could pretty easily get together in the mornings and evenings for a few days.

Figuring it out together made it a lot more fun and less intimidating. That’s maybe my #1 tip from everything I learned from baking croissants for the first time, is to do it as a team effort somehow.

We met up for lunch on Sunday and planned it out and did the first step, and then met up in the morning and evening on Monday and Tuesday before and after work time.

Luke says: “Even though it seems daunting at first, the multi-day process actually means you break it up into manageable chunks.”

The schedule was basically this:

Day 1, after lunch: Make the leaven, make the poolish. I used my regular sourdough starter for the leaven and yeast from a jar of Fleischmann’s Active Dry that I had in the fridge.

We covered both with dish towels, and put the poolish in the fridge and left the leaven near the radiator. (It’s winter-ish here.)

Day 2: MORNING Float test the leaven & poolish. Make the dough. Rest the dough 25-40 minutes. Transfer to a plastic tub and let rise for 1.5 hours, doing 1 “turn” (pick up and flop it over on itself in half, once) every 30 minutes. Transfer the dough to a plastic bag and press into a rectangle, put in fridge. (I used a 6L ziplock bag from IKEA, not sure it would have quite all fit into a gallon ziplock, but probably it would have and just been thicker.)

EVENING Laminate the dough and do the three folding turns that create the 81 layers of butter & dough. This the most labor intensive bit of work, maybe 30 min of hands on time over the course of about 3.5 hours. Then we rested the dough+butter block overnight in the fridge.

In more detail, this involved: Cut 400g cold butter (about a 3 1/2 sticks) into cubes, sprinkle with half a cup of flour, and pound it with a rolling pin to make it into an 8 x 12 inch rectangle that’s pliable - the same consistency as the dough - but still stiff and cold. Then we put the butter in the fridge briefly to keep cool while we rolled out the dough. (Getting the dough out of the ziplock was nice to have four hands.)

Roll dough to a 12 x 20 inch block. Put the butter block on it and fold the dough over the butter. Then do the folding again, wrap the block in parchment, and put it in the fridge. (The pictures in the book were really helpful here.) Wait an hour, roll it out, fold, put it back in the fridge. Wait an hour, roll it out, fold, put it back in the fridge overnight.

(Here you’re supposed to put it in the freezer for 1-2 hours before you “retire” but I just wanted to sleep so I skipped that. Should try next time.)

Day 3: MORNING Take the block out of the fridge, roll it into a big 18 x 24” rectangle about 1/2” thick.

Cut in half to create two 9 x 24” rectangles, and then cut each rectangle into 4 rectangles, and each small rectangle diagonally into a triangle. (So you end up with 16 triangles.)

croissant dec 2019 - triangle doughs

We trimmed the scraps off the rectangles at the ends to square them up, and braided the scraps. Roll up from the wide end of the triangle to the pointy end. Set them on parchment lined baking sheets. From here you can let them rise at warm room temp for a few hours, but we decided to retard the final rise in the fridge so we could bake together in the evening. We covered them loosely in plastic wrap and left them in the fridge all day.

croissant dec 2019 - just rolled before rising

EVENING I took the croissants out about an hour before baking and let them rise a bit more - they ended up about 50% bigger than original and were still firm.

You could see the layers in the cut edges of the raw dough.

croissant dec 2019 - roll from side with layers after rising

croissant dec 2019 - before baking

Preheat the oven to 425 for 15 min, and checked the temp on a thermometer inside before baking. Mix two eggs and 1 tsp of heavy cream to make the wash, and brush it on the tops. Baked it for 26-ish minutes (book said 30). (See notes below on oven logistics.) Let them cool on a wire rack and stare at them admiringly and smell them a while. Then everyone who was around all ate some, and we were happy.

Anyways, some thoughts:

  • Wow, they taste really good! Pretty similar to the ones I got at Tartine when we lived in SF in taste.
  • The tops are a tad too browned - maybe a little less egg wash? These turned out pretty great for a first try but this is the most not-perfect part about them. TRAGIC!? But delicious.
  • A good view into my struggles with perfectionism, to have us make a really difficult and complicated and reportedly extremely easy-to-fuck-up pastry come out ALMOST PERFECT and still have a moment of like, oh noooo they are too browned on top… actually, these are shockingly excellent. This is a triumph! Also we put chocolate on one!

croissant dec 2019 - pile from side on countertop

  • The inside was a tiny bit moister/less cooked than I wanted - great layering, but could be even more delicate and thin and bubbly inside. They look a lot like the picture on page 171 in Tartine Bread though.
  • We made 16 croissants plus a scrap braid and they are HEARTY. I ate half for breakfast and it felt like a meal.
  • All the skills from two years of weekly sourdough making were VERY applicable and made handling the doughs and everything much easier.
  • Luke and I traded off and each did part of each step so we both got to experience each thing.
  • I tasted the dough at each step and smelled and felt the dough at each point in the process to start getting a sense for how things go.
  • Making the whole 1kg flour base amount was a good amount - a half batch wouldn’t have been worth the effort, and could not have handled any more.
  • Isn’t it weird and pointless to make pastries when we’re living in a climate crisis?
  • Why was it so it enjoyable do all that effort when you can just buy a great pastry and I don’t want to eat them all that often anyways? There are like 10 world class bakeries in Seattle, at least! Is it my magpie type collecting of skills/knowledge or the joy of doing stuff with my hands, the joy of from making a delicious treat me and others happy?
  • Nine different people will get to enjoy them within the first day which is maybe the coolest part besides working as a team with Luke — spreading the joy around.

Things we’ll do different next time:

  • POUND the butter with the rolling pin, don’t use a rolling motion much. This was the hardest part to figure out, and it all worked out in the end, but not without some giggling teamwork to repeatedly use the plastic scraper to free the flour butter chunks from the rolling pin. The book instructs you to “pound the cubes with the rolling pin” but somehow we didn’t believe how literal that was at first.

Luke says: “The butter pounding was definitely a new thing for me. Seems like you having a marble rolling pin really helped, would probably have been harder with a wood one.”

Oh, that’s a good point! Next time I’ll put the rolling pin in the fridge for a while before the butter pounding step. I should also mention that I got my marble rolling pin at a thrift for $5 and often see them at the Dearborn St. Goodwill one in Seattle… I bet the bougie city stock of unwanted marble rolling pins is huge! (Looks like they are $15+ new. The Sur La Table one is $30.)

  • Try pounding the butter+flour directly on parchment paper so it’s easier to put in the fridge. We used a metal pizza peel and two people’s hands to get the pounded butter+flour slab up and onto parchment paper to move it, and it was a tricky maneuver.
  • Start earlier, so that I don’t skip the freezing step before letting the block rise in the fridge the night before baking. I think it would have caused fewer air pockets in the block and made it puff up less overnight. So that means start the laminating earlier than 7pm when we did.
  • Roll slightly thinner. The book calls for 1/2”, and this was a scant 1/2”, but I wanted a little bit less.
  • Cut into more, smaller croissants. Maybe try to end up with 21 from a 1kg base recipe? Half of one of these croissants is about all I want to eat in a sitting so scaling it down by 2/3 should still be very filling without compromising the baking size. I weighed three of the ones we made and they were 150-170 grams EACH. Which is 0.33 - 0.37 lbs!!! I do not want to eat more than a quarter pound of weight of croissant as it turns out. (I rarely buy plain croissants for this reason - I like the smaller ones with fruit.)

croissant dec 2019 - seven on parchment These are huge.

  • Only proof/rise 8 croissants (1 tray) full in the fridge to bake. Freeze the remainder to later proof/bake in the future? [How long can they store in the freezer? 3 days? More?]
  • Try setting the rolled doughs on the baking sheets so that it ends up tucking the small part of the triangle end down. Some of ours jumped up and separated from the rest of the roll and got a little crispier.
  • Use less egg wash - think that contributed to the over browning. Also, maybe just do 1 lg eg and half a tsp of cream for the egg wash, because we ended up with at least half left even with extra generous brushing.
  • There is so little heavy cream in the egg wash that I’d probably just put in milk in the future if I didn’t have a reason for heavy cream otherwise.
  • We ended up with three baking trays full, and the first time baked two trays, which there wasn’t really room for - we switched the tray position twice to try to even things up, which let the oven cool and air flow in. Just bake one tray at a time.
  • Bake a shorter time and don’t open the door?
  • How can I make this process not use any plastic wrap for proofing?

Things to try next:

  • Just do the whole thing with plain croissant straight up once more, based on what we learned. As much as I want to jump to other kinds, still more to learn here.
  • I read an idea to cut the rectangles of scrap dough and flip the end through the whole twice to make it into a twist, and sprinkle with cheese or something.
  • Make custard cream like Le Journal (Seattle) uses in the peach or apricot croissant, and Ken’s Bakery (Portland) uses in the Oregon Croissant. (My two obsessions and the pinnacle of croissant for me! YUM.)
  • Make peach/apricot croissant with the little square with two corners folded into the center method. (Also will give a more manageable amount of dough.)

Thoughts on money:

I already had all the equipment necessary from making sourdough. Not counting our time, because this is a leisure/entertainment activity for us, but that would be a lot of $$$. Running an oven in Seattle for 1h is probably about $0.10 of electricity.

For ingredients: I buy bread flour in 25lb sacks at Smart Food Service (Cash & Carry) for $9-10/sack (varies), so this used 1000g, so about $0.80.

The rest I didn’t pay exact attention, but these are pretty decent estimates for mid-quality Seattle groceries:

  • Used maybe $1 of other flours (whole wheat and all purpose.)
  • 400g butter ~(3 1/2 sticks) - maybe $3 or $3.50?
  • 400g of whole milk - maybe $1?
  • 2 eggs = $0.60

= $6.50 to $7.50 for ingredients, or likely a few dollars less if you bought slightly lower end groceries or not in an expensive city like Seattle.

Also keep in mind you’d spend more on the initial stock up if you didn’t have a lot of this on hand, because you’d have half a stick of butter left and all the extra flours and milk left.

Still, let’s go with $8 as a cost for the batch just to make math easy, say we made 16 croissants, so it cost $0.50/croissant for the ingredients.

If you read all this please send me a note and say hello and tell me your baking dreams or whatever! You might also like ramblings on sourdough routine and sourdough $ math.

I think Luke and I are going to attempt a second run in January. Will report back.