Sunday, 17 June 2012


I don't know if it's pure chance or a hidden character of mine to pick on the difficult options when I start doing something for the very first time. I picked macarons when I first started baking seriously back in February and now I have chosen croissants as my first challenge for 'bread' making, or viennoiseries , specifically. In this occasion, though, a big driving factor was the fact that a loved one of mine loves to eat croissants.

The whole process of making laminated dough like croissant dough appeared daunting to me when I first looked into the recipe. I had never made bread before in my life and I had absolutely no idea how proofing works or how to roll a bread dough. My only experience of rolling a pastry was with the shortcrust pastry that I made for the lemon tartlettes.

The results: Failed two times and got third time lucky. :)

I picked the recipe by Michel Roux in his book 'Pastry' that I bought from London a while ago. I'm sorry to say this but the recipe simply did not work. The amount of milk he stated simply wasn't enough to form anything that resembled a workable dough. It was very stiff, to the point I could have hurt myself had I dropped it onto my feet. It was so difficult to roll out that the layers I had created earlier ended up torn in pieces. And I ended up with a sore neck. :(  I gave it two tries and decided it's time to be wiser. I did some research and found this great blog entry by Ed and Marieke on croissant making with a fantastic video that I have probably watched 10 times by now and still wouldn't mind going through it again.

From there I found the recipe by Hamelman:

As I now know roughly how the dough, or 'detrempe' consistency should be like I can adjust the volume of liquid accordingly. A detrempe is the dough prior to the sealing of butter.

After doing some research I decided to split up my croissant making process into two days. I made the detrempe on day 1, which took less than 30 minutes and left it to chill overnight in the fridge, wrapped in cling film. I also measured out the required amount of butter and left it in the fridge.

The next day, I pounded the butter into the required shape and size, sealed it in the detrempe and carried out the rolling etc with at least an hour's resting period in between the turns. I also had to leave the final dough in the fridge for a bit when I was rolling it out the final time for shaping the croissants as the gluten was really starting to develop.

I also decided to half the ingredients stated in the recipe as I was still at the stage of experimenting and didn't want to waste too much ingredients had it not succeeded. This actually was more problematic than I had thought because the dough would have to rolled out to specific sizes and halving the ingredients would mean halving the size. The normal size in the recipe was 60x30cm and what I did wrongly at first was to divide both figures by 2 and ended up with extremely tiny but thick dough. The mistake I made there was I didn't think about the Volume of the dough (width x length x height). The need for rolling out the dough to specified sizes is to ensure the thickness, i.e; the height, of the dough is correct. To get the same height stated in the recipe, one would have to halve the surface area of the rolled dough (width x length) and NOT the individual measurements. Taking the example above, in the first scenario where I halved both measurements, I ended up with 30 x 15 cm giving me a surface area of 450cm square. The original surface area is 1800cm square, and the half of that is 900cm square. This is double of what I got with the first scenario and thus was incorrect, to compensate for the volume my dough had to be double the thickness of what I wanted. Then I realised the mistake I made and knew I had to roll my dough out to a surface area of 900cm square instead. It was easier from there onwards as all I have to do is to roll out my dough to 60x15cm to produce half the surface area stated in the original recipe.

But I also had to roll the butter block and detrempe into specific squares, and the calculation for those with half the ingredients was not as straight forward and indeed I couldn't believe I'd ever have to use a scientific calculator for..baking? The specified dimensions for the butter was 19cm, giving 361cm square of surface area, dividing that by half and a root square of that number was required. I'm certainly no mathematician so I had to resort to a scientific calculator. Well at least I got there in the end, who'd have thought that O level maths would come in this handy one day.

Maths done, I proceeded to the next steps of rolling and folding and it was so much easier to do those today as the dough was smooth and soft and there was no sign of worsening of my sore neck. Ha!

Everything went well and for the first time I saw the 'wobbling' effect of a fully proofed croissant, something I had read about but didn't believe before as my previous attempts were disastrous anyway.  I was exhilarated when I saw them puffing up like they should in the oven. Thank goodness I was the only one in the flat at the time or else I would have had to come up with an excuse for my manic trance.

Croissants baked, sliced and, I was gutted. I didn't see the honeycomb interior that I so wanted. It didn't take long before my flatmate remarked that perhaps leaving them to cool for a bit before slicing would help as the cooling process should allow the starchy strands to contract and thus forming holes. Made sense. I waited until one of them was just slightly warm to touch and, being impatient as I always am, I sliced it. Et voila!

During proofing, the yeast's metabolism produces gas that, on baking, expands, separating the layers of dough. At the same time the butter melts and is absorbed into the dough. On cooling, the starchy strands contract allowing the formation of these hollow matrices, termed honeycomb. The last bit was a hypothesis proposed by my flatmate which to me makes sense. The croissants' cross-sectional shots on Ed and Marieke's blog is a lot more impressive than mine so check those out if you wish to know what the real deal looks like.

My flatmate, for the first time ever, asked me for my croissants' recipe. It's a rare sight, I tell you.

I will post my halved recipe at some point. The ingredients are all the same but halved in quantity and the measurements are slightly different as explained earlier. It's probably more well suited for those who are doing it for the first time-ish to avoid unnecessary waste of ingredients.

There were two croissants left (I baked 6) and I can't wait to have them tomorrow for breakie!

My fourth batch of detrempe is now chilling in the fridge. More rolling and folding shall ensue tomorrow just to make sure it wasn't all by luck today.

Update: It was another success! In fact it turned even better than yesterday's because I finally found a way to determine whether my croissants were well-proofed! The tip is included in my next entry. The result was flaky croissants with really soft and airy interior. On top of that they were SO light! I gobbled down two in 10 minutes and those were my dinner. I promised my flatmate I'd leave one for him or else it'd have been gone by now too.

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