There is an art to making a perfect croissant. I have yet to eat a croissant in the States that has the same texture, taste, and delicacy that the French croissant bakers have perfected. During my pastry course at Cordon Bleu I talked with the head chef about this issue. For all of you croissant bakers out there, here's what I found out....
Croissants are made from a yeasted puff pastry dough. The process involves making a yeast dough and then folding in butter through a series of turns. The term "turn" involve rolling out the dough into a rectangle and placing a slab of butter on top of it, then folding the dough over it and rolling it out into another rectangle so the butter is inside the dough. This is repeated. Turns are what gives croissants their flaky layers.
There are six basic ingredients, water, flour, butter, salt, sugar, and yeast. The butter we use in France is called buerre sec or "dry butter". This type of butter, which comes in slabs as opposed to large cubes, has a low moisture content. Dry butter is not powdered–it's just like normal butter but denser with less water. When you are doing your pastry turns, the butter does not melt as quickly.
The technique is similar to cutting butter or crisco into flour to make a pie crust – if it melts, you've got icky crust. The idea is to coat the slab of butter with dough. I have found in the States that the solution is to go to a premium grocery store, like Whole Foods, and poke all the cubes of butter until you find one that does not imprint easily. Start with the French brands first– don't let the dairy supervisor catch you!
Secondly, our flour is different. Our all-purpose flour is really stong compared to French flour. The French use a flour called Type 55. Unfortunately we don't have an equall to this. Pastry flour is too fine and so is bread flour. The way to modify your All-purpose flour is with a pinch of pure ascorbic acid or vitamin C powder. If you can't get this then crush up a Vitamin C pill and use a pinch of it. One pinch per kg of flour. I'm not quite sure why this works, but the Cordon Bleu pastry chefs swear by it. I think it has something to do with the way it reacts with the yeast.
Thirdly, in France they use compressed yeast which has the feel and smell of fermented tofu. It's crumbly yet moist. I still haven't been able to found this in SF. The easiest thing to do is just use the packaged kind an follow the instructions before adding it into the dough. Normally this includes mixing it with a little warm water and letting it bubble up. The yeast will feed on the sugar added into the dough too and the vitamin C powder.
I have included the measurements for croissants below and instructions. It is difficult to describe pastry turns, so I'm afraid that I'll leave this recipe to those that understand the technique until I figure out how to get video online....
PURE BUTTER CROISSANTS
1 kg flour
25 g salt
30g fresh compressed yeast
600 ml milk and or water
For the Turns:
600g dry butter
Egg wash for the finish
Bake at 170C (not farenheit)
1. Put flour in a large mixing bowl and add the salt, sugar, and yeast in 3 seperate pockets leaving the middle space clear.
2. Add water and mix with spatula. Make sure you mix the yeast towards to sugar first.
3. Don't overmix!
4. Set dough in plastic wrap and place in fridge for 6 hours.
5. Take dough out and put on floured counter (granite or marble preferably)
6. Make three simple turns refrigerating inbetween the second and third turn for 20 minutes.
7. After 3rd simple turn place in the fridge again for 20 min.
8. Take dough out of fridge and roll out into a long rectangle about the width of parchment paper sheets.
9. Cut dough into triangles and weigh each one to make sure they're around 70-80g (you can add on scraps to the short side of the triangle is you need to )
10. Roll from big edge to tip of triangle and pinch the edges. For buerr butter croissants the ends should not be folded in but left straight. This is how to tell the difference between pure butter and half butter half margerine croissants.
11. Brush egg wash over croissants (2 eggs, and 1 egg yolk mixed)
12. Put immediately in warming oven for 1 1/2 hours
13. Put second egg wash on after croissants have doubled in size. Do it lightly
14. Bake until golden brown.