Many budding bakers think that making croissants in an equatorial climate is a near-to-impossible task. Yet it can be done without having to rack up enormous electricity bills. Read on for some some tips and tricks.
Start with the Basic 3-Day recipe
Croissants can’t be rushed. Even though it is a 3-day recipe, the hands-on time is very short. 99% of the time is set aside for the dough to ‘mature & develop’ at it own pace in the fridge. You can of course compress the process into a day but it will still take many hours.
I recommend Weekend Bakery’s recipe. Follow its detailed time table and lucid explanations for the step-by-step ‘how-to’ + some tweaks I added to adapt to weather here @ the equator.
My work table is small so I halved the recipe. And this recipe works so well I didn’t need to change a thing.
250g all-purpose flour
70g water (use cold water as much as possible)
70g full-cream fresh milk (cold from fridge)
20g soft unsalted butter
5.5g instant yeast
140g unsalted butter (make into a 12×12 cm square slab)
1 full egg, beaten
Day 1 Night – Make the Dough
In the evening, gather all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, mix well & knead until you form a dough. Send dough into the fridge (not freezer) and let it stay there overnight (8-12 hours).
Tip: Knead minimally, 5 minutes by hand.
Trick: Roughly shape dough into a rectangle then wrap with 3 layers of cling wrap then massage it into a better shape after wrapping. No problems rolling it ‘into shape’ the next day.
To make the butter slab, thaw butter at room temperature, then transfer the softened butter onto a sheet of pre-folded 12cmx12cm cooking paper. Store butter slab in the fridge (not freezer).
Tip: Don’t thaw the butter directly on the cooking paper; the condensation will wet and tear it.
Trick: You can also prepare some butter slabs beforehand then store them in the freezer. When you need it, move it to the fridge section after making the the dough so the butter can ‘soften’ overnight.
Day 2 – Laminate!
Remove dough from fridge, roll it into a bigger rectangle, 12cm x 24cm or just under this size. Stick it into the freezer for 40-50 minutes to stiffen the dough for lamination; you want it stiff, not frozen. 10 minutes before you are due to work on the dough, take the butter slab out and let it rest at room temperature (mine is 29-30°C).
Tip: Chill dough in freezer before lamination to help stiffen it. If dough is more elastic than usual, chill it longer. Getting a grasp of the respective temperatures /textures for the dough and butter is key to successful lamination.
When time’s up, take the dough out and roll it out to about 14cmx26cm. Place the butter slab in the middle, bring the 2 ends to meet then pinch and seal them. Now you are ready to roll it.
Press down gently near the pinched seam and continue to work on the rest of dough. Check to see that the butter is stretching together with the dough. The other 2 ends are kept open to give (any) air bubbles an outlet to escape. Pat with some flour as needed.
Rotate the laminated dough so that the pinched seam is now perpendicular to the roller. Press down from the centre and start to roll out the dough to a length of about 46cm.
Ideally, do 3x single folds (fold into third) but it gets hot here and bubbles start to form by the 3rd fold. Reduce it to 2x double folds then, resting the dough 40 minutes between each turn.
For the double-fold, fold the 2 long ends inwards so they meet at the 1/3 mark of the dough, then fold the dough again into half. After the final turn, leave it in the fridge until the next day.
Tip: If 3x folds are not feasible, reduce to 2x but create 1 more layer during each fold.
Trick: Keep the ends of the dough as straight as possible from the first fold. If need be, trim off the uneven parts then lay them next to the ends (spread evenly) before folding. Helps the laminated dough maintain a regular shape throughout + zero wastage.
Day 3 – Shape & Bake
Before rolling out the croissants, cool the oven (and baking trays) with ice packs, about 30 minutes. Proof the croissants at a temperature of around 24-26°C.
Tip: Your oven is a great proofer if the kitchen is too warm.
I make my croissants small so I work with half of the dough each time, leaving the other half in the fridge while I roll out the first. Because it is smaller, I roll out the dough thinner as well to a size about 27cm x 40cm. This makes about 8-9 croissants of 6-8cm each.
Tip: The quality of the final product depends on how perfectly you are able to roll out the laminated dough for the final cut.
Trick: A smaller piece of dough (and croissants) is (are) easier to work with .
After the croissants are shaped, proof them in the cooled oven for 2.5 hours. Add/throw out ice-packs as need (if too cold/warm).
When they are puffed up to 2x the size, are jiggly when shaked, remove them from oven, cover with damp cloth and stick them into fridge. Meanwhile, let the oven temperature equalize with room temperature, about 30 minutes, before pre-heating for the bake.
Trick: It is easier to apply egg wash to chilled croissants then freshly proofed ones.
Preheat oven to 220°C after that. While pre-heating, brush the croissants with egg wash. Bake croissants at 200°C for 20 minutes. Recently my oven seems to be getting hotter so I may turn the temperature down by 10°C.
I thought Weekend Bakery’s time-table was superb and an extremely good summary so I am reproducing it here, adding some adaptions of my own.
2000 – Gather all ingredients. Mix well and knead until dough forms.
2010 – Shape dough into a rectangle. Wrap in cling wrap x 3 layers. Keep in fridge for 12 hrs
2011 – Move butter from freezer to fridge
0730 – Roll dough into a 12cm x 24cm rectangle. Stick into freezer.
0810 – Remove butter slab and let soften @ room temperature
0820 – Take out dough, roll it out to a 14 cm x 26 cm rectangle.
0825 – Start lamination. Do a double-fold.
0830 – Wrap dough back with cling wrap, stick into fridge for 40 mins.
0910 – Do another double fold. Stick into fridge until next day.
0730 – Cool oven with ice packs
0800 – Take dough out. Cut in half & roll it into a 27cm x 40cm rectangle.
0807 – Cut into triangles 6-8cm wide at base. Repeat with other half.
0815 – Leave croissants in oven to proof. Add/remove ice packs as needed.
1045 – Remove croissants from oven. Cover with damp cloth, stick into fridge. Keep oven door open to let air circulate.
1115 – Apply egg wash. Preheat oven @ 220°C
1125 – Bake @ 200°C for 20 minutes.
1145 – Remove croissants from oven and leave on cooling rack for 30 mins.
Practical – Notes
1. Croissants are partial to a cool environment. Anytime you are not working the dough, it stays in the fridge (not freezer). The butter needs to stay solid; the yeast needs to stay dormant.
2. Contrary to how you make bread, you don’t want too much extensibility for croissant dough. A stretchy dough makes lamination difficult. Hence, many recipes caution about overdeveloping gluten. How to not over develop gluten?
- Use medium protein flour. It’s hard to get T55 flour (11% protein level) flour in this part of the world but all-purpose or plain flour works just as well.
- Don’t over hydrate. Most croissant recipes recommend a hydration ratio of only 50%-55%.
- Hold back on the kneading. After mixing the ingredients into a dough, knead it just enough to get all the stuff well mixed.
3. Use wet ingredients cold ie the water, milk. This prevents the yeast from activating prematurely. It gets messy when bubbles act up during lamination, burst and spills butter. See # 1.
4. An overly extensible dough will get bunched up at the edges rather than where you want it to be during lamination.
5. Use quality butter (preferably French). Irish butter has a strong, distinct smell which can be off-putting. Specialised butter, say those with a 95% fats ratio, require a different recipe.
6. The dough and butter should be of similar texture. Temperature wise, the dough needs to be colder than the butter, about 4-5°C.
7. The butter slab should look solid, can be bent without breaking and not melting at the edges. Stiff butter shatters during lamination and will not be evenly distributed. Melty butter will be absorbed into the dough.
8. Don’t proof croissants in an open kitchen if its warm. The butter in the layers will melt as it proofs (you want it to melt during baking, not before).
9. A humid environment creates condensation so cooling the work table with ice packs will not work.
Croissants are more technical than other breads. A lot comes from understanding how your work environment affects and interacts with your dough; a fair bit from skills honed through experience & failures and very critically, knowing the performance of your oven.
Be ready to adjust constantly. You don’t have to be perfect, you just don’t give up.