The best, truest French croissants, according to Julia Child, are made by the classic method with a risen yeast and milk dough, slathered in butter, folded in threes, rolled and refolded and rolled and refolded repeatedly to create the tender, flaky, buttery, puffy croissants of your dreams. And as Julia says, “Why go to all the trouble of making croissants otherwise?”
And they are a lot of trouble! But then they’re not really that much trouble at the same time. Julia Child’s classic recipe is 8 pages long. That sounds like a lot of trouble! In fact, it can look downright intimidating–until you examine the recipe more closely to realize that most of the time that you’re making the croissants, you’re not doing anything. When I make croissants, I spend two days making them. But I’m not doing anything to them most of that time. Making croissants from scratch involves mini-episodes, 5-15 minutes per episode, of intermittent work between periods of doing nothing. Croissants are also very forgiving and flexible on those time periods. You can leave the dough, at any point, for hours and come back to it, pick up the next step, whenever it’s convenient.
I make a lot of croissants (and I sell croissants, too–so if you don’t want to make them yourself, you can just get some delivered to your doorstep here!). For the most part, I follow Julia Child’s classic recipe and instructions, though through experimentation, I’ve found a few steps where I like to differ slightly because it just works better for me. Croissants take a bit of practice to master, but the ingredients themselves are cheap. (The cost of croissants is in time, labor, and practice to gain expertise.) So go ahead, spend a little flour and milk and time, and learn how!
I mean, just look at how beautiful they are! They’re worth it.
How to make Country French Croissants:
1/3 cup warm water
1 scant tablespoon (or 1 packet) yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/3 cups warm milk
1 heaping tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon salt
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
The minimum time to make croissants, according to Julia, is 11-12 hours. Maximum time can be stretched over a couple of days depending on whether or not you choose to take some longer rest times to fit the croissants into your schedule. If you want croissants in the morning, start them the morning before!
Step 1: Combine the 1/3 cup warm water, the yeast, and the 2 teaspoons sugar in a large mixing bowl. Let sit at least 5 minutes to give the yeast time to liquefy. You can let this step go on longer if you need to, but I like to move on to the next step fairly quickly and get the dough going!
Step 2: Warm the milk in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Don’t over-heat the milk–if it’s too hot, it will kill your yeast! The milk should be fingertip warm, meaning not uncomfortable if you spoon a drop onto your finger. If you get the milk too hot, let it cool before adding it to the bowl.
Add the milk to the water/yeast/sugar mixture along with the rest of the ingredients–the additional sugar, the vegetable oil, the salt, and the flour. The dough will be soft and slightly sticky. Dust the ball of dough with a little bit of flour and knead gently, just enough to make a smooth ball of dough. Do not over-knead. Place the ball of dough in a greased bowl; cover and let rise for at least 3 hours.
*If you need to leave it alone for more than 3 hours at this point, put the bowl of dough in the refrigerator until you’re ready to get back to it.
After the first rise is completed and you’re ready to move on, sprinkle the dough lightly with flour and knead briefly and gently. Cover and let rise again for at least 1 1/2 hours.
*If you need to leave it alone for more than 1 1/2 hours at this point, put the bowl of dough in the refrigerator until you’re ready to get back to it.
This step is actually a series of repeating steps. When the second rise is completed and you’re ready to move on, sprinkle the dough again lightly with flour, kneading gently and briefly, then turn the dough out onto a floured surface. At this point, I divide the dough in half. You can divide it in half by eyeballing two halves, or you can weigh the halves to make sure you have equal parts. (I weight the halves. It’s the Alton Brown in me coming out.)
Roll out the first half in a rectangle approximately 9 x 18 inches.
Now it’s time for the butter! And I do recommend using real butter, not margarine. You’re making croissants. Use butter. It’s the whole point. Tender, flaky, buttery croissants. Also, margarine is oily and won’t work properly when the time comes to bake–it will melt out faster than butter, which is a fat, and will cause you trouble at baking time.
Julia recommends cold butter which is pounded down into a cold paste and smeared onto the rolled dough. I’ve read other methods of going so far as to roll and pound out the butter between sheets of parchment paper in an exact measurement to the size of the rolled dough, folding like a “butter book” and chilling again then unfolding over top of the rolled dough. I find these efforts to be unnecessary and not valuable to the final result so I actually soften the butter in advance by leaving it at room temperature prior to this step. The dough (and butter) will be cold from here on out because the dough is going to be refrigerated throughout the following series of repeating steps, so having it at room temperature the first time has no impact on the final outcome and just makes your life easier. But you can pound butter if you want to. However you go about it, get the first 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter spread as evenly as possible across the top of your rolled dough.
You’re going to fold in thirds. Fold one third over the middle third.
Now fold the remaining third over the top, closing it like a book.
Now rotate it on your floured surface so you’re ready to roll it out in a rectangle again.
Roll it out again in a rectangle roughly 9 x 18 inches.
If you’re lazy like me and you softened your butter, you’ll see the oozing of soft butter in spots. If you don’t like that, then pound cold butter. If you don’t care, then smush any runaway butter back in there and sprinkle a little flour on any “wet” spots and move on. Fold the rectangle exactly as before, in thirds, closing it like a book.
I place the first half in a twist tie bag at this point. Repeat the buttering and folding steps with the second half of the dough and the second stick of butter.
When I’m finished with the second half, it also goes in a twist tie bag then both bags go inside a ziplocked 2 gallon bag and into the refrigerator. You’ve now completed what is called Turn 1. There will be four turns in total, so you will be repeating the above rolling and folding pattern three more times.
Various methods of making croissants time out these turns by various rest periods. Julia does Turn 1 then immediately completes Turn 2. (She then does Turns 3 and 4 one right after the other.) I’ve tried that, and I don’t like it. The dough is easier to roll out if you allow a rest period between every turn, giving the gluten time to relax between each turn. I wait, refrigerating the dough, at least 30 minutes between turns.
*You can wait as long as you like between turns. Time your rest periods to your convenience to go back to the dough. I wait a minimum of 30 minutes between turns, but sometimes as long as overnight! I usually start croissant dough in the morning, then the way I usually time the turns is 30 minutes to an hour between Turn 1, Turn 2, and Turn 3. After Turn 3, I leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight. (By this time, since I first started the dough that morning, it’s evening time.) In the morning, I complete Turn 4.
After Turn 4, I leave the dough out, in the twist tie baggies, for 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax before the final croissant shaping and to start allowing the dough to warm to room temperature in preparation for rising and baking.
With the rectangle folded together to make more of a square, I use a pizza cutter to cut the first half into two parts, repeating with the second half. (So you end up with 4 pieces of dough.)
Taking one of your 4 pieces, roll it out into an approximately 9-inch square.
Using a pizza cutter, cut the rolled piece in half.
And then into long triangles.
Starting at the wide end of each triangle, roll up!
Be sure to end with the “tail” of the croissant on bottom.
Repeat with all your remaining dough to make 16 croissants.
Of course, you don’t have to make plain croissants! You can fill them. Like, say, with chocolate! Chocolate croissants are traditionally made with something called chocolate batons, which are like sticks of chocolate. The sticks are placed in the middle of the croissant and the dough is rolled around it. First of all, my local grocery store doesn’t carry chocolate batons, so I’d have to order them. Second, I prefer chocolate throughout the croissant, not just in the middle. Therefore, I use chocolate chips.
This results in chocolate pieces all through the croissant, and it’s incredibly delicious.
You’re not limited to chocolate, though! Here are croissants being rolled with white chocolate and macadamia nuts.
With 16 croissants to roll up, you can make all kinds of different croissants from the same batch!
I make chocolate croissants, white chocolate and macadamia nut croissants, blueberry lemon croissants, cherry almond croissants, brown sugar and cinnamon croissants, cranberry orange pecan croissants–and more! You get the picture. Make them plain, or fill them with whatever strikes your fancy.
Let rise on greased baking sheets. I use two sheets, eight croissants per sheet, to keep them from touching as they rise. I let them rise on the stovetop, because it’s usually a warm place, but be careful if you actually have your oven on to bake something else during this time AND when you’re preheating the oven for the croissants. There’s a lot of butter layered inside the croissants. If they get too hot while rising, the butter will leak out. To be on the safe side, I place baking racks under the baking sheets so they are only receiving indirect warmth when the oven is turned on.
I usually let croissants rise for 1 to 2 hours before baking. They will not double in size. They’re risen and ready to bake if the tops of the croissants spring back if you press lightly.
Right before baking, place one egg white in a small bowl. Stir in a tablespoon of water. Brush the tops of the croissants lightly with the egg wash mixture.
Croissant recipes vary widely on the suggested baking temperature. Julia likes 475-degrees. I find that this causes the croissants to bake too much on the outside before they can finish baking on the inside. Through experimentation, I’ve settled on 375-degrees. The croissants brown nicely on the tops and bottoms without over-browning, and they’re baked perfectly inside as well. Baking time at 375-degrees is 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
Fresh-baked classic country French (plain) croissants. Flaky! Puffy! Tender and filled with buttery layers of delight! There is no short-cut to this result.
Chocolate croissants. (My favorite!)
Again, if making croissants from scratch sounds like too much, you can order them right out of my kitchen to your door (go here), but why not give baking them yourself a try? And if you do make them, I’d love to hear about it!