Serves 24 Prep time 40 mins, cook 25 mins (plus resting, proving)
Making your own croissants may seem daunting but it's surprisingly simple, writes Lisa Featherby.
It may not have occurred to you to make your own croissants, but it really is worth taking the time to experiment with this classic French pastry. They are made with a simple yeast dough and, of course, lots of butter. And while they take about 16 hours to make (which sounds daunting), most of this time is spent allowing the dough to rest. The rolling, folding and resting technique is similar to the one used for making puff pastry, although croissants have fewer layers. The reward? Beautiful fresh pastries with a crisp, flaky crust, a soft, buttery interior and incomparable flavour.
The dough is made by activating yeast with a little sugar and some milk (sometimes water is used), then adding flour to create a soft, but not too sticky, dough, which is best made in an electric mixer.
The dough is then rested in the first of several resting stages. Resting the dough serves two purposes: first, it relaxes the gluten, which will give your croissants a good texture, and second, the long, cold fermentation enhances the pastry's yeasty flavour.
Whether to use French or Australian butter to make a great croissant is the subject of much debate. In our testing, we found that Australian butter can produce a crisper, flakier croissant with better flavour, but that it produces inconsistent results from batch to batch. Investing in expensive French butter, however, we found to be unnecessary. Michael Klausen of Sydney's Brasserie Bread, whose croissants have won several awards at the Royal Easter Show, says the bakery uses Belgian butter specifically made for use in pastry, but for home use he recommends Danish Lurpak butter, widely available from supermarkets, which he describes as more consistent than Australian butter. "A drier butter with a good butterfat percentage is what you're after," he says.
Your butter should be cool from the fridge and the same temperature as the dough, says Myriam Cordellier of Balmain's Victoire bakery. Klausen agrees: "You need to find that temperature when your butter and dough have the same texture," he says. "It makes the rolling process easier – if it's hard, cold butter it will flake; if you have warm butter it will smear and make the dough split."
When the butter and the dough are both cool and of rolling consistency, envelop the butter in the dough and roll it into a rectangle, then fold the dough like a letter to create three layers. Turn the pastry 90 degrees, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour to rest, then repeat three times to create buttery layers. It's important to work quickly when rolling so the butter doesn't soften too much, and to brush any excess flour away with a pastry brush to prevent the dough from becoming tough.
When the dough has rested for the last time overnight, place it in the freezer for 20 minutes so it's easier to work with, then roll it out and cut it into triangles. You can do this by halving squares diagonally, or by cutting the dough freehand. Any pastry you're not working with should be kept refrigerated; otherwise, the dough will become soft and difficult to manage. Stretch the edges of each triangle slightly, then roll it into a taut roll with three or four layers. Finish by pressing the tip of the triangle underneath the roll to secure it – this will stop it from lifting during baking – then shape the croissant into a crescent.
Klausen offers a tip for proving the croissants: "When you prove the product for baking it should happen in an environment where steam is controlled and they are covered so they don't form a skin," he says. The best way to do this is to place the croissants on an oven tray lined with baking paper, place a couple of glasses on the tray, enclose the lot in a plastic bag and leave the croissants in a draught-free (but not hot) place so they will rise but the butter won't melt.
You can brush the croissants with eggwash for extra colour, but the butter content is enough to make them brown nicely without help. Remove the bags and glasses and place the croissants into a hot oven with a spray of water for steam, which will help develop a nice crust.
Croissants don't keep well and are best eaten on the day they're made. But leftovers are delicious toasted with ham and cheese or made into a rich bread and butter pudding. If they last that long.
Step-by-step instructions Heat milk in a saucepan over low heat to lukewarm, transfer to a large bowl with sugar and yeast and stir to combine. Add flour and 2 tsp salt, knead to form a soft sticky dough (5 minutes), adding more flour if necessary. Form dough into a rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled (1 hour).
Pound butter with a rolling pin to soften to a similar consistency as the dough, then place between sheets of baking paper and roll out to a 20cm x 12cm rectangle. Refrigerate until required.
Roll dough on a lightly floured surface to a 40cm x 25cm rectangle. Place butter in centre of dough so that long sides are parallel to short sides, fold long sides of dough over butter, then fold short sides of dough over butter to enclose.
Flatten dough slightly by pressing with rolling pin, then roll out to a 40cm x 25cm rectangle. Brush off excess flour with a pastry brush.
Turn pastry so a long side is facing you. Fold the left one-third over the pastry, then fold the right one-third over the top. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate to rest (1 hour). Roll and fold dough three more times, resting in between, then wrap and refrigerate until well rested (8-12 hours).
Trim dough, cut in half (return one half to refrigerator), then roll remaining half on a lightly floured surface to a 40cm x 30cm rectangle and trim edges.
Cut each half in half again widthways (return one half to refrigerator), then cut widthways into 3 rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally in half to make triangles, repeat with remaining dough. (Keep dough in refrigerator until ready to use.)
Working quickly, gently roll and stretch short edges to lengthen.
Roll up triangles from base towards tip, finishing with tip underneath, then curve ends to create a crescent.
Arrange croissants 5cm apart on oven trays lined with baking paper, then place a few glasses on trays, cover each tray with a plastic bag and set aside in a draught-free place until tripled in size (1-2 hours). Meanwhile, preheat oven to 220C. Remove bags and glasses, reduce oven to 200C. Spray water inside oven to create steam, then bake two trays of croissants, swapping and turning trays halfway through cooking, until deep golden (20-25 minutes). Increase oven to 220C and repeat with remaining trays. Stand for 10 minutes before serving.