The book:  MAKING DOUGH, by Russell van Kraayenburg (Quirk Books, $24.95)

The recipe:  Butter Croissants (in other words, your plain, perfect, standard croissant)

Why I tried itEvery couple of months I buy a croissant. Unless I’m in a big city with hardcore pastry people, it’s usually just sort of OK. But once a decade or so, I make croissants. And, when I do, I always ask myself two questions. 1) Why did I think this was a good idea? and 2) Why don’t I do this more often? That’s how much of a pain they are before, and that’s how good they are after. But – given the ten year interval – I can never remember which recipe I use. So when Making Dough arrived, and I felt the ten-year itch, I thought I might as well see if Russell van Kraayenburg could take me painlessly through the process.

Why I loved it: In short, he did. I was busy, and it took a couple days. But the diagrams were clear, the beurrage (butter block) and détrempe (dough) proportions worked out, and at no point did I feel I’d gotten in over my head. And the reward for all that measuring, weighing, rolling, resting, trimming, shaping? 15 minutes of transporting, senseless, crumb-strewn butter-bliss. I can’t tell you if those 15 minutes will be worth it to you – that’s a subjective matter. It’s probably a good thing not everyone’s willing to sell their soul for a pound of butter. All I can tell you is that it was worth it, and then some, to me.

Estimated preparation time:  15 or 16 hours, technically, but you might as well make it easy for yourself and call it 2 days. A person has to sleep sometime, and there are plenty of stopping points where the dough, and you, can turn in for some shut-eye.

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Butter croissants

Croissant Dough
Yield: 3 pounds
Time: 8 hours

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 ounces granulated sugar
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
12 ounces bread flour
8 ounces cake flour
2 teaspoons salt

Butter Block
12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, cold
1/2 ounce bread flour

MIXING THE DOUGH: There are two ways to make croissant dough: kneading with your hands and using a stand mixer. (Note from TSC – I used the stand mixer method, so I can’t vouch for how well the by-hand method works.)

By Hand Method:
1. Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until it reaches the scalding point (180°F on a clipped-on thermometer); it will begin to steam and appear slightly foamy. Remove from heat and let cool to 115°F at room temperature.

2. Warm a large bowl by running hot tap water over the outside. Add warm (105°F –115°F) milk to bowl and stir in yeast for about 2 to 3 minutes, until completely dissolved. Stir in sugar. Slowly pour in melted butter while stirring. Mix until homogeneous. Add flours and salt. Stir until dough begins to form.

3. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 2 minutes, until dough holds its shape and is smooth.  Let dough rest in the bowl, covered with a kitchen towel, for 20 minutes.

4. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface, ideally a large marble slab, and shape into a rough rectangle with your hands. With a rolling pin roll dough into a 12-by-16-inch rectangle. Carefully move to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest for 20 minutes.

Stand Mixer Method
1. Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until it reaches the scalding point (180°F on a clipped-on thermometer); it will begin to steam and appear slightly foamy. Remove from heat and let cool to 115°F at room temperature.

2. Warm the large bowl of an electric stand mixer by running hot tap water over the outside. Add warm (105°F –115°F) milk to bowl and stir in yeast for 2 to 3 minutes, until completely dissolved. Stir in sugar. Slowly pour in melted butter while stirring. Mix until homogenous. Add flours and salt.

3. Knead with the electric mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment on the lowest setting for about 1 to 2 minutes, until dough comes together and begins to form a smooth ball. Let dough rest in the bowl, covered with a kitchen towel, 20 minutes.

4. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface, ideally a large marble slab, and shape into a rough rectangle with your hands. With a rolling pin roll dough into a 12-by-16-inch rectangle. Carefully move to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest for 20 minutes.

MAKING THE BUTTER BLOCK:
There are two ways to make the butter block: kneading with your hands and using a stand mixer.

By Hand Method
1. Using the heel of your palm, mash butter down and away from you on a hard, cold surface (ideally a chilled marble slab) to soften. Incorporate smashed butter into remaining butter, rotate, and repeat, mashing butter until it is soft and malleable but still cold. Add flour. Knead until well combined.

3. Shape mixture into a 6-inch square with your hands. Place between pieces of parchment paper. Roll into a 12-by-10-inch rectangle with a rolling pin. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes, until firm.

Stand Mixer Method
1. Beat butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until just softened. Add flour and mix until blended in.

2. With a spatula transfer mixture to a piece of parchment paper. Shape into a 6-inch square with your hands. Place another piece of parchment on top. Roll into a 12-by-10-inch rectangle with a rolling pin. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes, until firm.

MAKING CROISSANTS

1. Remove butter block from the refrigerator. Place dough on a lightly floured work surface with a short end nearest you. Place butter block on the bottom two-thirds of dough (closer to you). Fold the top, butterless third down over the center third. Fold the bottom third of dough and butter up over the rest (as if folding a letter into thirds). Wrap dough tightly in parchment paper or a kitchen towel. Place on a baking sheet and freeze for 25 minutes. If you need to let it rest longer, move it to the refrigerator.

2. Perform a single turn: Unwrap dough and place on a lightly floured surface. Lightly pound dough with a rolling pin, starting from the center and working outward in both directions; start with the rolling pin parallel to the long side and repeat with it parallel to the short side. Flip dough and repeat. Once dough and butter have softened (if you press your finger into the dough, the butter block underneath it should not feel hard or provide much resistance, roll dough into a 12-by-16-inch rectangle, slowly and lightly so that the butter won’t break. Fold dough into thirds like a letter. Wrap tightly and return to the freezer to rest for 25 minutes.

3. Repeat the single turn (step 2) twice more, for a total of 3 single turns. After the last fold, rest in the freezer for 25 minutes. Move to the refrigerator and rest for an additional 35 minutes.

Storage
Croissant dough can be stored at various stages during folding, forming, and proofing. Make sure that it is always covered with a kitchen towel or tightly wrapped in parchment paper when storing.

Before folding: Store the dough alone, before it and the butter block have been folded together.
Refrigerator: 1 day.
After folding: Store after the dough and butter block have been folded 3 times. Refrigerator: 1 day. Freezer: 1 week.

After shaping: Refrigerator: 1 day. Freezer: 1 month.

Croissant diagramClassic Butter Croissants

Yield: 7 croissants
Prep Time: 8 hours
Bake Time: 50 minutes

3 pounds prepared Croissant Dough
1 egg, beaten (egg wash)

1. Shape dough into croissants (see diagram). Place on a baking sheet, evenly spaced so that they aren’t touching, with the pointed ends underneath. Let rise in a proof box or bag, spraying a light mist of water over them with a spray bottle every hour. Let rise for about 4 hours, until doubled in size and very soft. Pressing the dough should make a small indention that will not fill in.

2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 450°F. Brush croissants with egg wash. (If you prefer your croissants lighter in color, brush with beaten egg whites only, rather than an egg wash made from a whole egg.) Place baking sheet in oven and reduce heat to 425°F. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the pan, and reduce heat to 375°F. Bake for another 35 to 40 minutes, until croissants have dark brown, glossy crusts, feel very light, and, if turned over, appear dry.

3. Let croissants cool on the baking sheet until they can be handled. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before serving.

Excerpted from Making Dough: Recipes and Ratios for Perfect Pastries by Russell van Kraayenburg. Reprinted with permission from Quirk Books.

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