I said I have seen recipes claiming you can make croissants in just four hours. I scoffed disdainfully. Everyone knows that the best croissants take three days to make.
She didn’t say anything. She didn’t say anything very loudly.
Got a way to make croissants in just four hours? I asked.
She said she did. And since it’s Helen Fletcher, the pastry chef at Tony’s in St. Louis, I took her seriously.
Turns out she can make croissants in just four hours. In fact, what she does know is how to make puff pastry in four hours, and that’s the longest part of croissants.
Puff pastry is pasta for puff pastry and croissants that cooks in dozens of delicate, crispy, buttery layers. They almost shatter into a cloud of pastry dust in your mouth when you bite them.
The traditional way to prepare them is to roll out a sheet of dough and cover it with a sheet of cold but supple butter. You then fold these sheets into thirds, like a letter, cool it so that the butter does not melt, roll it up and fold it again into thirds, cool it again, fold it in thirds, cool and, if you have the time and patience, fold and refrigerate once more.
A faster and simpler way, with almost as good results, is to grate the frozen butter on the first sheet of dough before folding and possibly cooling a few times (you don’t need to refrigerate it if you can work. fast enough). This method produces what the cheerful folks at “The Great British Baking Show” call “coarse puff pastry” or simply “coarse puff pastry”.
Fletcher’s method is rougher than rough, that is, it is further removed from the original concept of rolled pasta. But it’s faster and easier and, it turns out, just as good.
Fletcher’s method, which she details in her Pastries Like a Pro blog, doesn’t include a thin layer of butter between each thin layer of dough. In regular rolled doughs, the butter steams while baking, and the pressure of the steam forces each layer to pull apart a bit, resulting in a nice puff pastry.
Instead, she incorporates the butter into the dough, just like you would a flaky pie crust. Because the dough is folded back on itself a number of times, like with traditional puff pastry, you always end up with all the exquisite layers you would find in other croissants and puff pastry.
She uses a food processor to save time, and saves more money by freezing the dough and pieces of butter before mixing them in the food processor. This step makes the dough – with the butter in it – cold enough that you don’t have to refrigerate it for an hour after each time you fold it.
Usually, you can do all of your creases before the dough heats up to the point that you need to refrigerate it (the idea is to keep the butter from softening; if it is soft, it will not become vapor upon heating). In the summer, or if your kitchen is hot, you may need to refrigerate it before you can finish all your folds. But if the dough feels cool to the touch, you’re good to go.
The longest part of making traditional croissants is spent simply waiting for the dough to gradually develop a robust flavor and a slight tang to counteract the richness. Fletcher cleverly saves two full days by adding robust, tangy buttermilk to the dough.
This method uses a lot of yeast – a whole tablespoon, which is more than a packet – to make the croissants rise quickly, and it requires instant yeast (rapid rise) for more speed. To make them rise faster, she makes them rise in an oven switched off but with a saucepan of hot water, which heats the oven just enough for proofing.
And to prevent the delicate croissants from burning on the bottom during cooking, she uses what she calls the “double pan” method. She places the baking sheet on another baking sheet and bakes the croissants in the upper third of the oven. Two baking sheets take longer to heat up than one, giving the croissants time to bake until golden brown without burning the bottom.
The result is simply spectacular croissants, much better than what you can get in a grocery store and possibly some bakeries. They’re light, they’re crisp, they’re delicate, and they’re the perfect blend of thin dough and butter.
And they don’t take three days to make. You can prepare them in just four hours.
OK, maybe five.
Yield: 16 servings
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of water, approximately 75 degrees Fahrenheit
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
3 cups of bread flour (420 grams or just 15 ounces)
1/4 cup powdered buttermilk, see note
1 tablespoon of instant yeast
2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 egg, well beaten
Note: If you can’t find powdered buttermilk, replace it with whole buttermilk. Use 7/8 cup buttermilk and 1/4 cup water in place of water and dry buttermilk powder. Everything else remains the same.
1. Mix the water and oil. Put aside.
2. With the steel blade in place, add the flour, buttermilk powder, instant yeast, sugar and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Process about 5 seconds to mix everything. With the machine running, pour the liquid into the feed tube; process until a lump forms. Continue processing for another 30 seconds to knead the dough. The dough should overlap the blade and clean the bowl but remain soft.
3. Remove from bowl. If it’s slightly sticky (and it is possible), knead by hand 5 or 6 times, then flatten into a 1/2 inch thick disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate in freezer for 60 to 90 minutes, or until edges are very firm about 1/2 inch all around. If you are using a marble rolling pin, put it in the freezer as well.
4. Meanwhile, cut each stick of butter in half lengthwise, then cut each of these pieces in half lengthwise. Then cut each of these lengths into eight pieces. Place the butter in the freezer to keep it hard.
5. Take the dough out of the freezer. Divide the disc into quarters and each quarter into three pieces. With the steel blade in the bowl, place three pieces of dough in the food processor with 1/4 of the butter. Mix until the larger pieces of butter and dough are about the size of a pea. Return to the counter. Repeat in quick succession three more times.
6. On a lightly floured surface, shape the mixture into a rectangle about 6 inches by 4 inches. Lightly flour the top of the dough and roll it into a rectangle about 18 inches by 6 inches, keeping the ends as square as possible and the sides as straight as possible. Use your hands to even out and keep the butter from dripping. Wipe the rolling pin frequently with paper towels and scrape the countertop with a pastry scraper or knife to prevent the dough from sticking.
7. Brush excess flour from dough with a pastry or basting brush to ensure dough adheres properly. Fold in four, bringing the top and bottom ends of the dough to the center. Brush the excess flour again, then fold in half. Turn the dough over so that the folded edge is on the left. This process of rolling, folding and turning the dough is called a “turn”.
8. Repeat rolling, folding and inverting in this manner again, then once more for a total of three turns. As the butter is frozen and the dough has cooled well, it should be possible to complete all three turns without cooling the dough between turns. However, if necessary, place the dough on a baking sheet and put it in the freezer for 15-20 minutes, then continue. With each turn the dough will become smoother but still with visible butter. If desired, the dough can be refrigerated between turns.
9. After the third round, place the dough in a plastic bag and freeze for about 30 minutes before shaping. If the dough is not to be used immediately, take out of the freezer after 30 minutes and refrigerate for up to 3 days before using. Or the dough can be frozen after completion for 3-4 months. In this case, thaw 24 hours in the refrigerator before use.
10. Half-fill a 9 x 13-inch saucepan with the hottest tap water available. Place on the bottom of the oven or on the lowest rack possible. Place an oven rack in the upper third of the oven. Close the door.
11. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough in half. Return half of the dough to the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, dent the dough with a rolling pin several times to make it easier to roll. Roll the dough into an 8 x 24 inch rectangle. If it’s difficult to get it to 24 inches, roll it to at least 18 inches.
12. Cut into four equal pieces. Cut each of these rectangles in half on the diagonal. Each piece will have a square and two sharp corners. Gently pull the square corner to the side to even out the triangle a bit. Roll it lengthwise, gently stretching the dough to stretch it further once the first roll is launched. Place on the prepared baking sheet and fold the “tail” corner well below. Fold the ends down and toward the center to form the crescent shape. Cover the rolls with a tea towel and repeat the operation with the other half of the dough. Place the baking sheets in the oven and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
13. Remove the trays from the oven and remove the water. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is preheating, brush the croissant with the beaten egg. Place each pan in another pan of the same size and bake in the top third of the oven for about 25 minutes, until golden brown and firm to the touch.
14. To Prepare Ahead: Freeze after cooking and completely cool. To serve, place directly from the freezer on baking sheets and heat in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.
Per serving: 230 calories; 14 g of fat; 9 g of saturated fat; 44 mg of cholesterol; 4 g of protein; 21 g of carbohydrates; 2 g of sugar; 1 g of fiber; 239 mg of sodium; 25 mg of calcium
Recipe by Helen S. Fletcher, pastrieslikeapro.com