Croissants are made from a yeasted puff pastry dough. The process involves first by mixing the dough, then folding in slabs of cold butter through a series of “turns”. These “turns” involve rolling out the dough into a rectangular shape, placing the butter in the center, then folding the dough like an envelope. These “turns” are repeated 3-4 times which is what gives the croissants their flaky interior.
From my first journey to the Côté d’Azur, I have been spiritually absorbed by fallen in love with the sheer experience of enjoying a good French croissant au beurre. Flaky golden on the outside, soft, buttery chewy on the inside – far from the doughy-bready type that’s sold in most bakeries across North America.
Having tried various croissants from the numerous boulangeries particularly in Nice and Cannes, I settled on my favorite boulangerie. Michel Tabarini is located on 220 Avenue de la Californie in Cap Fabron neighborhood in Nice, France. Established in 1898, Tabarini’s a bread pastry shop that’s known for their quality tradition. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, it’s worth a trip to see taste their special breads like farmhouse breads, quignonette, Amélie French sticks, leavened breads, of course their croissants.
Tabarini’s croissants are light buttery. The paper thin flaky pastry houses an elastic interior, a soft, buttery texture with a hint of sweetness. The pastry gives way with each bite then quickly springs back. Being a gourm, I made sure that Alex I always had a couple of croissants available to enjoy with our morning French roast. I was utterly enamoured with Tabarini’s croissant, so much so that I neatly folded one of their croissant-butter laced paper bags tucked it into my copy of Larousse Gastronomique.
In between visits to Nice, I’ve been challenged to find a replacement that even remotely comes close to the croissants from Tabarini. So my journey began.
A bit of history, if you’re interested
so I sat in front of my irreplaceable laptop internet, with a 1970’s French movie playing in the background (for further inspiration ) I began my journey to explore the history of the croissant. Here are some interesting tid bits I found.
Contrary to popular belief, the Croissant was not invented in France, but Austria, Vienna by Austrian chefs who were asked to create a celebratory treat for defeating the Ottoman Empire in the war. Hence, the shape of the crescent, which resembles that of the one seen on the flag of the defeated enemy. As each bite of the croissant was enjoyed, so was the victory against the Turks.
The origin of the croissant is one of the great food legends of all time. The Larousse Gastronomique offers this explanation regarding the origin of the croissant:
“Croissant…This delicious pastry originated in Budapest in 1686, when the Turks were besieging the city. To reach the centre of the town, they dug underground passages. Bakers, working during the night, heard the noise made by the Turks gave the alarm. The assailants were repulsed the bakers who had saved the city were granted the privilege of making a special pastry which had to take the form of a crescent in memory of the emblem on the Ottoman flag.” —Larousse Gastronomique, Jenifer Harvey Lang, editor [Crown:New York] 1988 (p. 338)
It’s an interesting story. Is it true? Alan Davidson, noted food historian, expresses his doubts: “Culinary mythology–origin of the croissant
According to one of a group of similar legends, which vary only in detail, a baker of the 17th century, working through the night at a time when his city (either Vienna in 1683 or Budapest in 1686) was under siege by the Turks, heard faint underground rumbling sounds which, on investigation, proved to be caused by a Turkish attempt to invade the city by tunnelling under the walls. The tunnel was blown up. The baker asked no reward other than the exclusive right to bake crescent-shaped pastries commemorating the incident, the crescent being the symbol of Islam. He was duly rewarded in this way, the croissant was born. The story seems to owe its origin, or at least its wide diffusion, to Alfred Gottschalk, who wrote about the croissant for the first edition of the Larousse Gastronomique  there gave the legend in the Turkish attack on Budapest in 1686 version; but on the history of food, opted for the ‘siege of Vienna in 1683′ version.” —Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford Companion to Food: Oxford] 1999 (p. 232)
While the history of pastry dates back to ancient times, the history of the croissant [as we know it today], seems to be a relatively new invention. Part of the problem may be how one defines “croissant.” Food history sources confirm that crescent-shaped pastries were baked in Vienna during the 17th century that they migrated to France soon thereafter. They recount, but do not confirm/deny the story of the brave bakers who supposedly created the first croissants. This is what Mr. Davidson has to say:
“…croissant in its present form does not have a long history…The earliest French reference to the croissant seems to be in Payne’s book “Des substances alimentaires,” published in 1853. He cites, among the “Pains dit de fantasie ou de luxe,” not only English ‘muffins’ but ‘les croissants’. The term appears again, ten years later, in the great Littre dictionary  where it is defined as ‘a little crescent-shaped bread or cake’. Thirteen years later, Husson in “Les Consommations de Paris”  includes ‘croissants for coffee’ in a list of ‘ordinary’ (as opposed to ‘fine’) pastry goods. Yet no trace of a recipe for croissants can be found earlier than that given by Favre in his Dictionnaire universel de cuisine [c. 1905], his recipe bears no resemblance to the modern puff pastry concoction; it is rather an oriental pastry made of pounded almonds sugar. Only in 1906, in Colombie’s Nouvelle Encyclopedie culinaire, did a true croissant, its development into a national symbol of France, is a 20th-century history.” —Oxford Companion to Food (p. 228)
A mid-19th century French recipe for croissants
Almond Paste Crescents
Blanch, peel, pound 10 oz. of almonds; add 10 oz. of pounded sugar, moisten, to a stiffish paste, with some white of egg; Sprinkle a pasteboard with fine sugar; roll the paste on it to a 1/4-inch thickness, cut it out, with a 1 1/2-inch round cutter, into crescent-shaped pieces, 3/4 inch wide; Bake the crescents in a slack oven; , when cold, glaze them with some Glace Royale, flavored with Kirschenwasser; strew some coarsely sifted sugar on the top, dry them in the oven for two minutes.” —The Royal Cookery Book, Jules Gouffe, translated adapted for English use by Alphone Gouffe [Sampson Low, Sone & Marson:London] 1869 (p. 548)
Deconstructing the elements of the butter croissant
These delectable treats are composed of merely 6 ingredients: Butter, Flour, Yeast, Milk, Sugar Salt. I thought a good place to start would be to break down the hful of ingredients research their characteristics as used in France.
Butter: The butter used in France is unsalted Beurre Sec or dry butter. It has less moisture, so it withsts the folding period better without softening or melting too quickly. When purchasing the butter, go for a French br be sure to keep it in the refrigerator for optimum chill factor before using it. Very important to note that more butter doesn’t yield better tasting croissants, in fact, quite the opposite. There must be a good balance between butter flour volume.
Flour: The flour used in France is type 55 flour which is stard, hard-wheat, white flour like our all-purpose flour. Some bakers also mix in type 45 flour is an exceptionally finely-ground flour like cake or pastry flour. As the pastry flour bread flour are too fine to make croissants, some bakers mix A/P (all purpose) with pastry flour with ration of 2.5:1. Also, having come across the blog site of Ms. Glaze’s Pommes d’amour: Culinary adventures life in Paris, she speaks of her pastry course at Cordon Bleu in speaking to the head chef about this issue, was advised of a technique. As there is no exact equivalent of Type 55 flour in the N.A., the trick is to modify the A/P flour with a pinch of pure ascorbic acid or vitamin C Powder. Once I have tested either method, I will journal the difference in results.
Yeast: I have also confirmed that the French use compressed yeast for their croissants. Fresh yeast, also known as compressed or cake yeast, is an active yeast which yields to good rising qualities produces excellent-tasting bread, croissants Danish pastries. Compressed yeast is usually sold in blocks at bakery or fine food shops which must be kept chilled used within 2 weeks.
Milk: The French use milk versus water for making their infamous croissants. The milk must be whole milk, which by N.A. stards, would be equivalent to 3.25% – 3.5% fat content, creamlike / unhomogenized milk. The fat content lends to the sweetness of the croissant, as well as the tender texture gives it a richer flavor.
Sugar: French use caster sugar, but I’ve also seen some use brown sugar.
Salt: Good quality fine kosher sea salt is preferred.
For the croissant curious, I also found this article by Aïda Mollenkamp which I though would clarify the differences in flour types
French Flour types equivalents
You Say Farine, I Say Flour
By Aïda Mollenkamp
There’s a difference between French American flour. Croissant-makers beware!
If you’ve ever tried to bake from a French cookbook, you know you’ve got two challenges: First, finding a metric measuring cup. Second, dealing with the difference between French American flour (ours is higher in gluten protein).
American flour is classified by use (bread, cake), while European flour is usually classified by ash content. “The number indicates the amount of ash that is left after the flour has been incinerated in a lab,” says chef Rupert Spies of Cornell University. What’s more, “region, humidity, temperature all play a role,” says John Kraus of The French Pastry School in Chicago. In other words, flour, like wine, reflects terroir.
So can you bake a croissant with American flour? Yes. Substitute the same amount of the type indicated below. Le Cordon Bleu chef Herve Chabert’s says often chefs blend different American flours—usually bread pastry flour—for better results.
American: Cake and pastry
Approximate French equivalent: Type 45
American: All-purpose & bread
Approximate French equivalent: Type 55
American: High gluten
Approximate French equivalent: Type 65
American: Light Whole Wheat
Approximate French equivalent: Type 80
American: Whole Wheat
Approximate French equivalent: Type 110
American: Dark Whole Wheat
Approximate French equivalent: Type 150
Key Techniques to Keep in Mind
1st round of rest will determine the croissant’s depth of flavor. The longer the rise, the richer the flavor. Although many recipes recommend a rest of 1-2 hours, I found that a minimum of 8 hours or overnight rest will yield a better tasting croissant.
The initial cutting butter into the flour like pâté brisée, the butter must be cold yet resilient, but not warm. If the butter melts, it will undoubtedly yield a mushy, oily crust. The idea is to cover or coat the slab of butter with the dough.
I’ve also found that 4 turns will yield the ultimate layers in order to ensure good results, to freeze the dough for 1-2 hours between each turn. Or you can do 2 turns chill the dough for 2 hours, do another 2 turns chill it again for another 2 hours.
Using marble for the counter surface is mostly recommended because it has the tendency to keep cool. As is recommended that you prepare the croissants in a cool kitchen. If you want to be safe, you can fill a tray with ice place cold tray on the counter to chill it before working the dough on the surface, continuing to do so as necessary.
Trouble Shooting Problem Solving for Croissants
|Butter/margarine breaks through the dough||Butter/margarine too coldDough too softHarsh sheeting reduction||Condition butter to 57-60 °FReduce water in the doughGradually reduce sheeting|
|Butter/margarine oozes out from the dough||Butter/margarine too warmDough too warmDough too tight||Condition butter to 57-60 °FChill doughIncrease water in the dough|
|Butter melts||Insufficiently laminated Room too warm||Work in a cooler room, or at a cooler time of dayApply more folds, minimum of 3 half folds|
|Pastry sticks||Insufficient dustingRoom temperature too warm||Use more dusting flourWork in a cooler room, or at a cooler time of dayReduce dough temperature|
|Flattened, wrinkled after baking||Baking sheet or pan knocked in the oven, or before entering the ovenBaked in too hot an oven for too short a time||Shorten rising timeBe careful when placing in the ovenAdjust baking temperature|
|Small in volume, heavy dense in texture||Under proofed (rise)Lack of humidityOven too cold||Proof longerIncrease humidity in prooferIncrease oven temperature|
|Loss of sweetness, open texture lack of crust color||Proofed too longExcessive retarding time||Reduce proofing timeReduce retarding time|
|Loss of flakiness a bread like texture||Room too hot, causing butter to meltOven too coolOver proofed||Work in a cooler room, or at a cooler time of dayIncrease oven tempReduce proof time|
|Blisters on baked product product flow excessive||Excessive humidity||Reduce humidity or bake on a cool, dry day|
|Pale, moist heavy after baking||Under baked in oven||Increase baking temperature|
|Tough baked product||Too little layering butterToo little dough butterBaking temperature too low||Increase roll-in butterIncrease dough butterIncrease baking temperature|
The flakiest, most buttery croissant au beurre recipe
These croissants are perfectly crispy, utterly flakey with a deep golden brown exterior blistering from the layers of butter tucked underneath. It flakes as you bite into the dough giving way to layers of tender, buttery, utterly moist, sweet interior which springs back after you take each heavenly bite.
I am now eternally comforted knowing that whenever I feel like enjoying a perfectly French, authentic, buttery croissant, I can make it myself be assured that I’m getting EXACTLY what I would expect in a croissant. Brilliant…perfectly brilliant. I can taste Tabarini’s croissants again! Well…as close to it as I can get.
1-1/2 cups (12 fl. Oz.) whole milk, heated to 105F – 110F
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp PLUS ¼ tsp active dry yeast
3-3/4 – 4-1/2 unbleached all-purpose flour
2-1/2 tsp kosher salt
1-1/2 cups (340.50g) unsalted butter, chilled
Make dough (30 min plus 1 hr)
1.) In kitchen aid mixer, with dough hook, mix together milk, sugar, yeast; allow to foam for 5-10 minutes
2.) Add 3-3/4 cups flour salt; mix on low @ 7 minutes or until smooth very soft
3.) Knead by hand with more flour, if necessary, until soft slightly sticky
4.) Make rectangle 1-1/2” thick wrap in plastic
5.) Chill for 1 hour until cold
Prep butter (after 1 hour of dough in fridge) (30 min)
1.) Butter should be malleable but cold
2.) Place blocks of butter in plastic roll to 8” x 5” rectangle
3.) Wrap chill
Roll out dough … 4x 3 folds, 30min, 1 hour chill in between = 3 hrs plus overnight
1.) Fold I: Roll out into 16” x 10” place butter in center. Brush off access flour…fold like envelope. Wrap chill 1hr.
2.) Fold II: Roll out into 15” x 10”…fold like envelope. Wrap chill 1hr.
3.) Fold III: Roll out into 15” x 10”…fold like envelope. Wrap chill 1hr.
4.) Fold IIII: Roll out into 15” x 10”…fold like envelope. Wrap chill overnight (no more than 8 hrs)
Shape croissants (post overnight chill) (40 min + clean up)
1.) Cut dough in ½ – making 2 rectangles
2.) Chill one ½
3.) Roll out the other ½ into 16” x 12” rectangle – brush excess flour TRIM
4.) Short side towards you, cut in ½ horizontally – making 2 rectangles
5.) Chill one ½
6.) Cut other vertically into 1/3 rds – yielding 3
7.) Cut each of the 3 diagonally yielding a total of 6 “/\”s
8.) Place each “/\” with tip opposite you, cut small slit in centre of base stretch to 50% increase
9.) Roll each “/\” overlapping 3X w/ tip sticking out from underneath
10.) Place, 2” apart, tip side down, on parchment-lined baking sheet
The rise (2-1/2hrs)
Cover trays and allow to rise for 2-2-1/2 hrs or until spongy to touch
Bake (20 min)
1.) Preheat oven to 425F
2.) Glaze tops with egg wash for a shiny finish