I said I’ve seen recipes claiming you can make croissants in just four hours. I sneered dismissively. Everyone knows that the best croissants take three days to make.
She didn’t say anything. She doesn’t say anything very loud.
Do you have a way to make croissants in just four hours? I asked.
She said she did. And since she’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 knows is how to make puff pastry in four hours, and that’s the most time-consuming part of croissants.
Puff pastry is a dough for puff pastry and croissants that cooks in dozens of delicate, crispy and buttery layers. They almost shatter into a cloud of pastry dust in your mouth when you bite into them.
The traditional way to prepare them is to roll out a sheet of pastry and cover it with a sheet of fresh but soft butter. You then fold these sheets in thirds, like a letter, cool them so the butter doesn’t melt, roll them up and fold them in thirds again, cool them again, fold them in thirds, cool and, if you have time and patience, fold and refrigerate once more.
A faster and easier way, with almost as good results, is to shred frozen butter on the initial sheet of dough before folding it and possibly refrigerating it several 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 “rough puff pastry” or simply “rough puff.”
Fletcher’s method is more rough than rough – that is, it is further removed from the original concept of rolled doughs. But it’s faster and easier, and ultimately just as good.
Fletcher’s method, which she details in her blog Pastries Like a Pro, does not include a thin layer of butter between each thin layer of dough. In regular puff pastry, the butter steams as it cooks and the pressure of the steam pushes each layer apart a bit, resulting in a nice puff pastry.
Instead, she incorporates the butter into the dough, like you would a flaky pie crust. Because the dough is repeatedly folded back on itself, as 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 time by freezing the dough and butter pieces before blending 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.
As a general rule, you can make all your creases before the dough gets so hot that you need to refrigerate it (the idea is to keep the butter from going soft; if it’s soft, it won’t turn to steam when will be heated). In the summer, or if your kitchen is hot, you may need to refrigerate it before you can finish all your pleats. But if the dough is cool to the touch, you’re good to go.
The longest part of making traditional croissants is simply waiting for the dough to gradually develop a robust flavor and light flavor to counter 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, more than a packet – to make the croissants rise quickly, and it requires instant (quick-rise) yeast for extra speed. To make them rise faster, she makes them rise in an oven that is turned off but equipped with a pan of hot water, which heats the oven just enough for rising.
And to prevent the delicate croissants from burning on the bottom during baking, 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 find in a grocery store and probably in some bakeries. They’re light, they’re crispy, they’re delicate, and they’re the perfect blend of thin batter and butter.
And they don’t take three days to make. You can do them in just four hours.
OK, maybe five.
Yield: 16 servings
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, about 75 degrees Fahrenheit
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups bread flour (420 grams or just 15 ounces)
1/4 cup powdered buttermilk, see note
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 egg, well beaten
Note: If you can’t find powdered buttermilk, substitute 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 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. Blend for about 5 seconds to combine everything. With the machine running, pour the liquid into the feed tube; mix until a ball forms. Continue mixing 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 can be), knead by hand 5 or 6 times, then flatten it into a 1/2-inch-thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the freezer for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the 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 four and each quarter into three pieces. With the steel blade in the bowl, place three pieces of dough into the food processor along with 1/4 of the butter. Mix until the larger chunks of butter and batter are about the size of a pea. Turn out onto the work surface. 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 prevent the butter from dripping. Wipe the rolling pin frequently with paper towel and scrape the work surface with a pastry scraper or knife to prevent the dough from sticking.
7. Brush the excess flour from the dough with a pastry or basting brush to help the dough adhere properly. Fold into quarters, bringing the top and bottom ends of the dough towards the center. Brush off 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 flipping in this manner, then one more time for a total of three turns. Since the butter is frozen and the dough is well chilled, it should be possible to complete all three rounds without chilling the dough between rounds. However, if necessary, place the dough on a baking sheet and put it in the freezer for 15-20 minutes, then continue. With each round the dough will become smoother but still with visible butter. If desired, the dough can be refrigerated between rounds.
9. After the third round, place the dough in a plastic bag and put in the freezer for about 30 minutes before shaping. If the dough is not going to be used immediately, take it 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 in 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 two. Return half of the dough to the refrigerator. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough several times with a rolling pin to make it easier to roll. Roll the dough into an 8-by-24-inch rectangle. If it’s hard to get it to 24 inches, ride to at least 18 inches.
12. Cut into four equal pieces. Cut each of these rectangles in half diagonally. 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 lengthen it further once the first roll begins. Place on the prepared baking sheet and tuck the “tail” corner well below. Fold the ends down and towards 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 sheets in the oven and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
13. Remove the trays from the oven and drain the water. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is preheating, brush the croissant with the beaten egg. Nestle each pan into another pan of the same size and bake in the upper third of the oven for about 25 minutes, until golden brown and firm to the touch.
14. To make ahead: Freeze after baking and completely cooled. To serve, place straight 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; 4g of protein; 21g carbohydrates; 2g of sugar; 1g fiber; 239mg sodium; 25mg Calcium
Recipe by Helen S. Fletcher, pastrieslikeapro.com