There is nothing like a warm, flaky, buttery croissant enjoyed with a dollop of strawberry jam and coffee. YUM!! Enjoying the above at a Parisian cafe doesn't hurt either.
Unfortunately, good croissants are still an elusive thing in this part of Pennsylvania (although an hour away in NYC you find some of the best French pastries in the world...if only there were a train connecting us to the city! sigh) If and when the real thing is found, they cost at least $3 each piece, and the inexpensive supermarket ones just taste kind of boring and leave a funny feel in your mouth.
Over Christmas, I learned why croissants made from scratch cost $3 each. They are a big, huge, pain in the butt to make, although worth the time and effort...and you get really sore arms. I'd been looking up different croissant recipes for some time now, thinking that I'd like to give them a try...and what better time for indulgence than Christmas!!
I used a recipe from Ciril Hitz's Baking Artisan Bread book, which has nice photos of each step as well as a DVD component that teaches how to make beautifully formed croissants. I had to make two components: the dough, which had flour, egg, milk, yeast, salt and sugar; and the butter block, which was a mixture of regular unsalted butter and a little flour (if you use European plugra butter, it has a higher fat content thus not needing any flour added to make it roll-able)
Laminating the dough was a fun process...you place the butter block inside the rectangle of dough you've rolled out, close it up like an envelope, roll it out, fold in thirds, and repeat. I think altogether there were about 27 layers of dough and butter. The dough it also going in and out of the fridge and freezer this whole time.
I forgot to mention that this process takes 2-3 days and requires some degree of patience. And, on baking day, rolling out the dough takes some major muscle work. I thought my arms were going to fall off and that I was going to break my rolling pin. I should have recruited D to help me, but I didnt' think it would take me 45 minutes to get the dough to roughly the correct dimensions. The elasticity kept making the dough shrink back, and it needed small resting trips in the freezer to gradually achieve the 1/4" thickness for cutting and rolling. In the end, I think my dough was still too thick, but I was too tired to care by then. I made my nice even triangles and rolled them up like in the video.
Not only did they bake up beautifully, they tasted as good as they looked. The frightening part was looking at the baking tray afterward and seeing the butter swooshing around on the pan. Yikes. As usual, we were too impatient to wait until they cooled, so we scarfed down some hot croissants, which were delicious, and then after they came to room temperature, we scarfed down some more and they were perfect. With great satisfaction, I peeled about my croissant and examined the dozens of delicate layers inside...beginner's luck seems to be my thing!
Final note: it took 2 days for my arms to recover.