Baking Diary – Log 8 – 09.05.2012
In the last post, I just technically share with you my recipe and techniques on how to make a croissant: layering yeast dough with butter, rolled and folded several times in succession, then rolled into a sheet, shape and bake.
I used to think, ” Sound easy enough, huh?” and I have failed, desperately.
So, as I said, in this post, I will review my whole croissant story up to now. By going through 6 typical cases, I will note down all my failures and why it happened, how to avoid my mistakes; my turning point and notes on my own experiences and tips on how to conquer the laminating technique to ensure stable successes in the future.
There was not any miracle happened overnight in my kitchen, and I’m afraid to assure you, neither will yours, especially with making croissants. But with constant practices and enthusiasm for success, we together will make it there.
Croissant Take 1 – a.k.a a complete Croissant Disaster
My croissant chronicle began on summer 2010 when we just finished first year of studying in Finland. I came across a recipe on one of my favorite food “porn” blogs in Vietnam. She made the most gorgeous croissant and Danish and pastry, even with one hand rolling, oh God! Here is one post that has all the pictures about her babes at Bep Rua (English translated as The Turtle Kitchen). I saw all those bread, and I was in love, deeply. I thought to myself “Hey, that’s sound simple. I surely can do it!”
Yeah, you wished, Miss dreamy Rose!
I have never made a batch of any bread that could be that ugly and miserable. Look!
Yuck, what was that? They were possibly the hardest, non-flakiest; and to some limit I imagined, the least tasty croissants ever produced by mankind. I should have stopped right there, saving some self-respect, just taking pictures from the outside. But no, I am such extreme that I dared to break those bad boys out and took a picture of the crumb inside.
No more words to describe this. Did I really make these? Where were my layers? Where was my honeycomb structure? Ok, if you don’t have those qualities, my croissants, could you at least be edible? “Noo, we can’t! You didn’t have any respect or skill for us, little Rosy!” – they mocked.
OK, let’s continue.
What went wrong with Batch 1?
1. Attitude – This is embarrassing but I have to confess that an I-know-it-all and not-willing-to-learn attitude do not help at all. Everything was supposed to go wrong from the very start with that kind of attitude of mine. These croissants are very delicate and do require a lot of continuous practices and learning in order to reach successes.
2. Poor laminating skill – That is my first try of this technique and it is a difficult one to master. Butter has to be evenly layered in paper-thin sheets of dough. Every step must be handled precisely and carefully, which I did not. What is the solution? Only, practice, and practice. Also, reading others’ experiences and tips does help a lot.
3. Warmth – Try making croissants for the first time in the middle of a hot Finnish summer day was not so good an idea. Croissants love coolness, and they hate warmth! Warmth makes the butter layers melt immediately and get absorbed by the dough layers, which is too soon because the butter is supposed to melt only in the oven in order to make those beautiful layered croissants. So, keep your croissant and kitchen cool if you want to make croissants. Here is some close-up to the crust. Eww, it hurts my eyes!
4. Bad timing – too long dough handling plus too short relaxing time in between? Worst combination ever! Because I was not familiar with the technique, I was super clumsy and kind of handle the dough like it was a 5-feet-tall of glass pile, very, very slowly. It doesn’t help at all when it comes to croissants. In addition to that, I was also impatient and did not let the dough rest in the fridge long enough in between, which will affect the gluten relaxation, and make the dough a nightmare to handle.
My advice is that you should keep the handling time as short as possible, work quickly and effectively and let the dough relax for a loooong time, minimal 30 minutes between every turn and fold, recommended 1 hour. Please also don’t fight against your croissant dough as if it is your dear beloved. When it said – “That is enough, Miss/Mister!” by springing back, or tearing, or butter leaking out, or dough layers sticking on the bench/rolling pin, stop everything and just peacefully let it rest another 30 minutes or so in the fridge and then try again gently. We all want this little precious relationship to work out, right?
5. Neglecting the recipe – Ok, another confession, I was such an over-self-confident, I-know-all-about-everything idiot back then that I dared to change the recipe from over night relaxing in the fridge to immediate consuming, I had paid a painful price. Please learn from my mistake, don’t be that girl I used to be. Everything writers wrote for us was extracted from their own experiences and has its reason. They have spared a lot of time and effort from their busy personal lives to share them with us. I should have paid more respect to their wonderful works. I so regretted and ashamed about how I behaved, even now when I recall.
Etc. etc. and etc.
I might have encountered many, many more mistakes this time, some that I do not remember clearly enough to describe now. But to sum up, I must say that everything was wrong with this batch. Period.
Croissant Take 2 – edible but not so sure enjoyable
After the first time making super bad croissants, the failure hurt my confidence in baking so badly that I cowardly retreated from this challenge for very long time, almost a year. I almost never could collect enough courage to get over it and try again if it wasn’t for Bear, he loves, not like, loves this pastry and asked me continuously to try just one more time. And then I though to myself – “Who do you think you are, little fastidious pastries? I won’t let you defeat me!” Sometimes, my competitiveness does help, huh?
So, in summer 2011, one more time, I was on my little kitchen counter, continuing the quest for a great croissant.
This 2nd batch was a hundred times better than the 1st time. Look at them; at least they are somewhat croissant-like!
Here is a crumb shot of this batch, with Smile Cow cream cheese filling. I was so happy back then.
But it was not a great batch, not even reach a normal standard of croissant. It was totally edible, but not so enjoyable; they are sand-dry and almost tasteless.
What went wrong with Batch 2?
1. Poor laminating skill – Even though, my skill had been improved comparing to the first time, it was still at very low level. You could tell how your laminating skill was by looking at the crumb of your croissant. A good skill is indicated by even soft, chewy layers and big holes. Did you see that in mine? No? Good, because me neither. Told ya, I was so baaaad! Just keep practicing, practicing, practicing. Lalala.
2. Inflexibility –For the first time, I read from other resources and recipes to compare with the one I was using. I was so surprised to see that many of them suggest final proofing for more than 1 hour, some even 3. The recipe I used asked for only 1 hour proofing. But it seemed not enough for my situation, maybe because of the weather differences (she lived in Vietnam at that time), or flour, or something supernatural, I still could not figure it out.
So I do suggest that the recipe is definitely to follow, but it only serves you best as a guideline. Because sometimes in baking, time and environment is such vague definitions, you should take your current situation into consideration, watching how everything is happening and react accordingly rather than just blindly and passively following. Also, actively expanding your knowledge by learning from others expert is the best way to achieve successes.
3. Bad timing: Yeah, again, but this time, not because of the same reasons like batch 1. This was a whole new mistake that I discovered. I final-proofed my 2nd batch for only 1 hour due to my inability to act accordingly that has been mentioned above. I could clearly see that my croissant did not double after that 1 hour. But I though then – “Hey Ms. Smarty Pant, you haven’t learn from the last time at all, have you? The recipe said 1 hour. Then 1 hour it will be!” So, into the oven, it went. Guess what happened? Pools of melted butter leak out from my croissants when they were baked, indicating that they are heavily under-proofed. The dough then absorbed that amount of butter immediately; make the yeast then unable to perform their work, hence super dense and dry batch of croissants. The butter which stayed under each croissant would then be also be absorbed by the base dough, make it very greasy and unappealing.
So, my suggestion is that proof your croissant effectively. It should literally double in size. The timing is not that important. Feel very free to shorten or prolong the time accordingly to your kitchen situation.
So as a conclusion for this batch, I did see a quite visible improvement in my croissant making, but still not satisficing. I did a better job with better learning attitude. I felt better too, one small step at a time.
Croissant Take 3 – There was some light at the end of this tunnel
I gained some confidence back after batch 2. I felt motivated to try again. So very soon after last batch, about a week or so, I baked my 3rd batch of croissants. This time, I tried another recipe of Jeffrey Hamelman, which has different ingredient proportion and suggestions from the 1st one of Turtle Kitchen – Bep Rua.
So here is the result of batch 3. Crust…
… And crumb.
Much better, wasn’t it? The crust seemed flaky and some part of the crumb even had some big holes in it. YAY!
Oh, don’t be happy for me just yet! There were still some serious problems in this batch. I will share with you below.
What went wrong with Batch 3?
1. Poor laminating skill + this time, something else – Yeah, still. I admit that my skill was not good, but it did improve a lot this time.:( I had handled the dough very precisely and carefully, but still this time, something made it go wrong. So why? It made me wonder if there is any possibility that was caused by something subjective, something from the outside of my own croissant making skill?
I had to recheck my whole process. Coolness? Checked. Rest time? Checked. Short handling? Checked. Ingredients? Checked. Utensils? Rolling pin? Checked. Oh wait, rolling pin? Uhm, an interesting topic rose. I had never paid attention to this matter before. Could it be? I will explore this possibility further in the next take.
2. Still not enough proofing – I spent 1 and half hours for this batch proofing. Somehow, it was still not enough. I also read in the recipe that it might not look double in size. So I eye-measured them, and they did seem to expand in volume. So I tossed them into the oven.
And yes, once again, pools of melted butter underneath for my croissant to freely swim in. So one critical advice here, never trust your 2 bare eyes and brain completely. Mine totally fooled me, big time. The eyes send continuous pictures, at second interval, into our brains, sometimes make them overloaded and fogged. After 1 hour and a half of constantly checking my croissant proofing, my brain completely forgot how they looked like in the very beginning. “Uhm, maybe, they have doubled in size, I supposed”- said Brain. I left myself no other choice but to leave the fate of my croissants on my own instinct. Well, just say I shouldn’t have.
So, my suggestion is that get your self a camera, snap pictures of your croissant tray at the very beginning, and then at 45-minute interval. At first, you may not realize how much they have risen, because they would look so alike. But check your photos, you will be surprised on the expansion in volume those babes has gained after 2 hours.
3. Too much stretching and squeezing by hand when shaping croissants – this time, I got obsessed with getting the exact measurement stated by the recipe in every step I did, especially in the shaping. I used my warm-like-a-sun hands to press, then squeeze, then stretch the dough triangle. I did not stop there. Then I continued to overuse those warm hands to roll in the triangle. “Hum, not good enough!” Then roll out, then roll in again, struggling to make it into the right size. How many butter layers screamed and died out of this forceful activity? You can see it yourself in the picture above.
One fact is that your hands are normally much warmer than the level a croissant could handle. So, unless you are born with natural ice-cold hands or you could shape a croissant in less than 30 seconds, use less of them, and more rolling pins to shape your croissants. You don’t want to destroy all your effort, right?
Croissant Take 4 – My croissant story turning point
Very soon after batch 3, I baked my next tray of croissants. During the last time, I have realized many matters and could not be more eager to fix those and try again. The rush in my heart kept saying that “Let’s go, Rose. You are almost there!” This time, I did lots of revision.
What was the result? Some drumroll, please. Ba dam, dam, dam, dam…
Guys, my revisions, they worked! Look at this 4th batch.
Yippee! Best looking and tasting croissants I had ever made. It actually tasted great, flaky crust, chewy, buttery hollow crumb. It felt very light weighted, too, comparing to its volume. Bear loved them! My friends loved them! Yay!
What changes did I make in this breakthrough batch?
1. Develop a recipe suitable for my own kitchen – after trying different recipes, I did not completely satisfy with either, therefore, I decided not follow exactly from any, but rather create a hybrid between them, to get the best of both worlds. More flavors, less waiting.
2. Changing of my rolling pins – From a normal one, like this…
… To a tapered French rolling pin; like this.
I bought it at a secondhand store for only 1 euro, very cheap, great deal. This is like a magic rolling pin to me, improving my laminating skill like a lot. You might think what change a rolling pin could make? My answer is many.
Many people who bake regularly say they prefer the French rolling pin to other types because you get a “feel” for the dough better, hence more precise control over the dough.
What a French rolling pin also does differently is to flatten the center of what you are rolling before it flattens the edges. If you use a cylinder normal rolling pin, all surfaces get flattened at the same time, and if you tilt it at all, an edge will get much thinner than the center. With a French pin, it is much easier to avoid edges that are too thin, and this is why I chose and love it.
3. Have a camera in hand – This time I snapped pictures of the tray to keep track at 45 minutes interval, on the final proofing step. By using this simple tip, you have saved yourself and your brain from a bunch of pains that might be caused by trying to hard to recall a vague image in your mind.
Before final proofing:
4. The English lock-in Method – In the last batches, I always used the French method to block my butter inside the dough. I thought that it was the only way to do that back then. But before baking this batch, I did some research about butter locking technique and came across the English method. I decided to try it on this batch. It worked like a charm. The English method in my opinion is more tolerant toward home baking because the dough and butter layers are thinner and arranged already at the beginning. Thus, it will be easier apply the laminating technique. This method also creates more initial layers than the French Method, which will reduce the turn-and-fold times to minimal.
5. Better laminating skill – of course. After spending quite a lot of time practicing the technique, my skill finally got a bit better than before.
What left to be improved in batch 4?
1. Not enough gluten development – As you can see in the pictures below, my croissants are a bit on the flat side. This means that the gluten strains in my dough were not strong enough kept the round shape when its volume expanded continuously inside the oven during baking. This made the dough expand length-wise (horizontally) rather then height-wise (vertically), which is not so pretty.
So I suggest that you follow my instruction on how to knead the dough and how strong it should be, here in my previous post – a croissant recipe for beginners.
2. The croissants were too brown – I baked these at 220 degree Celsius, for almost 18 minutes. I intended to bake them for 20 minutes, but at 18, they were too brown that I was afraid that they would get burned, so I took them out, fortunately.
There are 2 combinations of oven temperature and baking time that I found most successful so far in my croissant chronicle: 200 degree – 20 minutes, and 220 degree – 7 minutes + 175 degree – another 10 minutes. So I would suggest either of them to you.
3. Not a very well prepared batch – you might not believe this, but I was too into taking picture that I totally forgot to preheat my oven. This mistake prolonged my final proofing time another good 20 minutes (Thank God, I have a small oven!), made those croissants a bit over-proofed. You can see that also contribute to flat croissants. So please, do not be absent-minded like me when it comes to baking.
Croissant Take 5 – My first taste of real success
When you are running in a dark tunnel toward the light, it suddenly is getting brighter and bigger. What will you do? You gonna stop and take a break? You must be joking, right? Of course you will run faster, and faster toward it. Hey, me too. Not very long after batch 4’s improvement (a few hours after completely consuming batch 4 to be exact ), I baked another batch of croissants.
This batch is my first success for real. Finally, I have quite round croissant with the layering, super flaky crust.
And open crumbs.
Aha, gotcha, croissant! I was super duper happy, that I jumped up and down like a restless tennis ball all over my apartment.
What changes did I make in this first successful batch?
No bulk fermentation + cold ingredients – many recipes I came across on the Internet ask for some bulk fermentation after kneading the dough for 1 to 2 hours at room temperature. In my opinion, it’s not suitable for home bakers. Bulk fermentation does strengthen the dough gluten structure and improve the quality of the croissants in flavor. However, with long bulk rising time, I am taking a risk of over fermenting my croissants, which would cause the final proof and oven spring to be weak, plus it may sour the taste of the croissants. Furthermore, when the dough warm up to the room temperature, it will take lots of time in the fridge to cool it down in order to cooperate the cold, plasticized butter in.
Therefore, I decided not to perform bulk fermentation. Instead, first I used cold liquid (water and milk) to make the dough, and then I put it into the fridge for a good 1 to 2 hours. Also, I tried to prolong the resting time between each turn and folds to 1 hour to prevent the dough from getting to tight and fighting back. To improve the flavor of the croissant, I use overnight resting in the fridge after all the turns and folds.
What left to be improved in batch 5?
In this batch, I fixed every mistake I had in the previous batches that I mentioned above. However, there is one thing that I was not completely satisfied: the holes of the honeycomb crumb seemed a bit smaller than I dreamed of. According to me, “croissant innards are like labyrinths, each encapsulating pockets of deliciousness”, like this.
Those tiny holes were not enough. Why did I have such small holes? I narrow it down to 2 reasons.
1. Too many turns and folds for such small amount of dough – I was quite confident with my laminating skill then already + the help of the French pin. Therefore, I did 1 double fold and 2 single folds for this batch of croissants. Hum, or 2 double folds and 1 single fold? Anyhow, they should equal to 5 to 6 single folds with the French lock-in method. That was some ambitious laminating!
I was just hitting stride, and I though to myself, “If 3 is good, how many more layers will I get with 5? My croissants will be sky high!” Let’s Rock n’ Roll!
Check this picture out on King Arthur Flour blog post about croissants. Which of these two croissants, do you think, had more turns?
Answer: the one on the left had 6 turns, the one on the right only 4. For more distinct layers, better flake, and by the way, less work, just do the precise number of turn indicated in the recipe. I used to think that the more turn and fold we did, the more layers the croissant will have. But sometimes, the more does not lead to the merrier.
2. Roll out the croissant triangles too extreme – I stretched those out into at least 25cm long triangle, and roll them up more than 4 times until they looked like whirligigs. For the final roll out, while it needs to be as thin as 3mm to 5mm, don’t go over board, like me and roll it too thin, other than it will look like this batch of mine. It was not so bad, but not as open as I expected.
Croissant Take 6 – The most stable successful recipe so far
Oh sweet Lord! How could you keep up with me to this? Thank YOU so much, guys!
This is by far the most successful version of croissants I am able to create in my home kitchen. It is also the recipe that I introduced to you earlier in part 1 of my Croissant Chronicle. Here is a picture of this batch.
And some crumb shot.
You can see from the pictures that they honeycomb holes are now more open than before, plus the layers look velvet and thicker. Exactly what I was aiming for.
This batch is an improvement from batch 5, fixing the 2 mistakes that I made: less turn and fold + less stretching when shaping. I made minor changes in the ingredients percentage. I also pay more attention to trimming the imperfect edges out of the dough, keep it square.
It comes out that the ingredients proportion and recipe discovered in this batch has the best of every worlds: Easy enough to handle dough (suitable for beginners) + Great flavor (who doesn’t want something good) + less time consuming (2 days instead of 3) + less turn and fold (less work, less risk)! YAY!
That’s how the croissants come out of my oven so far. Phew, finished!
As a conclusion, I would like to summarize some important tips and lessons I learned after many takes of pursuing a perfect croissant:
- Use cold ingredients + no bulk fermentation.
- Knead your dough to sufficient gluten development.
- Plasticized your butter probably.
- Pay attention to corners and edges when dealing with croissant dough. Trim all the imperfect edges.
- Rest the dough! Let them rest! And then rest, some more! Allow for more patience than you think you need.
- Keep your working bench, kitchen, hands, utensils, and dough cool when performing lamination. Work COLD!
- Croissants hate warmth! They hate it so much; they could die! So, don’t proof warmer than 25 degree Celsius!
- Use camera to capture the raise of your croissants in the final proofing. NO bare eyes please, unless you have super memories.
- Don’t under-proof, nor over-proof your croissants. Watch them closely! They have to be soft and able to jiggle when you shake the tray. The layers will be very obvious at the end.
- Practice! Practice! And practice!
In the next post, I will introduce continue my croissant chronicle with a more challenging recipes. Let’s see how that’s come out! Also, I will describe the various uses of this laminated dough. Croissants may not be the only angel coming out of this. So stay tuned!
My fingers crossed everyone! Good luck!
I want to say something more, but I could not think! My system is overloading.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Teeeeee…
My brain is officially on strike, again.
See you in some other days.
I have to go lay down and rest now.
Have a nice evening!
Updated: I submitted this to YeastSpotting.