The Universal Crescent: Croissants

Saturday February 20, 2016

The crescent emblem emblazed on the Turkish flag of the Ottoman Empire is immortalized in perhaps the most famous of all breads around the world, although the crescent is most certainly one of the oldest religious symbols. A favorite motif throughout ancient civilizations, the crescent symbol was first recorded in Neolithic cave paintings and later in the paintings of bull horns in pre-Hellenic Mediterranean temples.  In 340 B.C., Philip of Macedonia lay siege to Byzantium (modern-day Istanbul). Story tells that the siege was lost because the moon emerged from behind the clouds to reveal the army.  The crescent moon was the symbol of the city’s protective Goddess, Hecate, and the symbol was adopted to thank her for their victory.  The crescent moon remained as a symbol for Constantine when he moved the center of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, and stayed on later when the city became Turkish in the 1400s.

Les pains croissant has roots tracing back to a simple Viennese morning bun. It was shaped into the crescent-shaped roll known as a kipfel to commemorate the victory of Vienna (and Budapest) over Turkish invaders, ending a long occupation. Although the kipfel is said by legend to be designed as a symbol of the Viennese over the Turkish siege of 1683, it is said to have been invented in to be served in their coffee houses to ingratiate them to the invaders. When the Austrian princess Marie Antoinette came to the French royal court 100 years later, the kipfel was part of her baker’s repertoire.  The inventive French bakers then went to work evolving the crescent roll into the butter-layered croissant (the French word for crescent) using the roll in method, and we have been ever grateful for this remarkably flaky breakfast roll ever since.

Long the domain of the professional baker, croissants are made by following a logical set of simple instructions to create a dough with over 150 layers, the same technique used in creating Danish pastries, another Viennese invention.  When I review my past baking class schedules, I find that making croissants has been a top request from students for years; I have taught this workshop dozens of times with great success.  This recipe not only makes fabulous croissants, but the stuffed variations are worth the time.  This is a skill to be practiced many times, so if you feel gawky in the beginning, be assured you are on the right track.

Recipes

Croissants

Pain au Chocolat

Pain D’Amande

Fresh Blueberry Croissant Turnovers

Glazed Croissant Morning Buns

Croissant Sweet Cheese Puffs

there is a peak at the chocolate. beloved after school snack.

Pain au Chocolat (Bread with Chocolate)

Makes about 18 rolls

1/2 recipe croissant dough, chilled overnight

12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips or block chocolate, chopped

Cut the rolled dough into 3-by-5-inch rectangles instead of triangles.  Place the chocolate on the lower third of the dough.  Roll up to form a 3-by-5-inch rectangle and pinch the end seams.  Place seam down on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet about 1 inch apart for expansion.  Make 2 or 3 diagonal slashes across the top of the dough with a sharp knife.  Repeat to make about 18 rolls.  Let rise and bake as for croissants.

the divine almond paste filling

Pain D’Amande (French Almond Bread)

Makes 12 to 14 croissants

Almond Filling

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup ( 8 ounces) almond paste at room temperature

2 eggs

1/4 teaspoon each vanilla and almond extract

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 recipe croissant dough, chilled overnight and cut into triangles

Sifted powdered sugar for dusting

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and almond paste until smooth.  Add the remaining ingredients and beat until light and fluffy.  Place 2 tablespoons in the center of the base of each triangle before rolling.  Roll, let rise, and bake as for croissants.  Dust with powdered sugar before serving.  Store unused filling in the refrigerator up to 1 month.

sweet with fresh fruit or sandwich like savory

Fresh Blueberry Croissant Turnovers

Pepperidge Farm move over!  I also make these with other berries, such as raspberries, cherries, or chopped fresh apricots or plums.

Makes 20 turnovers

2 cups fresh blueberries

1/4 cup sugar, or to taste

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Glaze and Topping

1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1/2 recipe croissant dough, chilled overnight

1.  Combine the blueberries, sugar, zest, and cornstarch in a small bowl.  Set aside.  Combine the egg and sugar in a small bowl and beat until foamy.  Set aside.

2.  Roll out the chilled croissant dough on a lightly floured work surface to  a 20 x 20 inch square about 1/4 inch thick and of an even thickness; sprinkle some flour on top so that the rolling pin will not stick if necessary.  Using a ruler, cut with a pastry wheel into 4 1/2-inch squares.  You will yield 20 squares.  Brush the edges of all the squares with the glaze to help stick.

3.  Divide the blueberry filling among the center of the squares.  Fold one end of of the square diagonally over the other side, lining up the edges; seal by pressing the edges with your finger or with the tines of a fork.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet 1 inch apart to leave room for expansion.  Let rise, uncovered, at room temperature until puffy, about 1 hour.  The turnovers can also be refrigerated overnight and baked in the morning.  Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400º.

4.  Brush with the glaze and sprinkle with the almonds.  Pierce the top in one place with the tip of a sharp knife to allow for steam to escape.  Double pan and bake in the center of the oven about 15 minutes, until flakey, crisp, and golden brown.

shaped and baked in a muffin tin

Glazed Croissant Morning Buns

The La Farine bakery in Berkeley, California, was a mecca for foodies in the 1970s and 80s.  One of their specialties was this cinnamon roll fashioned from croissant dough; it became famous in local bakeries. This is my version.  After the bun is baked into a puffy mushroom shape, the sugar and butter pool to the bottom of the mold to make the ultimate slightly crunchy glaze.  Just try to resist these!

Makes about 2 dozen

Filling

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 recipe croissant dough, chilled overnight

1.  Combine the sugars and cinnamon in a bowl.  Set aside.

2.   Grease 2 standard 3-inch muffin tins.  Gently deflate the dough and place it out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Roll out with a rolling pin into a 14-by-26-inch rectangle about 1/2 inch thick.  Sprinkle the surface of the rectangle evenly with the brown sugar mixture, leaving a 1-inch border all around the edges.  Roll up, jelly-roll fashion, from the long end.  Using a serrated knife or dental floss, cut the roll crosswise into 24 equal portions, 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick.  Pull the end flap of dough around to cover the spiral; this will be the bottom.  Place in the muffin cups and press gently to flatten each swirl slightly and completely fill the cups.   Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature 45 minutes (will take double the time if the dough has been refrigerated overnight during the rising), just until puffy.  The unbaked rolls may also be refrigerated at this point to rise overnight and transferred from the refrigerator directly to the preheated oven.  Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400º.

3.  Bake in the center of the preheated oven until golden brown, 30 to 35  minutes.  Invert to remove and cool, glazed bottom side up, on a wire rack set over a piece of parchment to catch the drips.   Let stand until just warm before eating or let cool completely and freeze in individual freezer bags up to 1 month.

sweet or savory

Croissant Sweet Cheese Puffs

Makes about 30 puffs

You will need a miniature muffin tin with the diameter of 2 1/4 inches for this two-bite pastry.  Good for breakfast or on the tea table.

1 pound natural cream cheese

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 recipe croissant dough, chilled overnight

Sifted powdered sugar or vanilla powdered sugar for dusting

1.  Using an electric mixer or food processor, cream the cheese and sugar until smooth; add the egg and vanilla.  Chill 1 hour.

2.  Roll out the chilled croissant dough on a lightly floured work surface to  a 18 x 18 inch square about 1/8 inch thick and of an even thickness; sprinkle some flour on top so that the rolling pin will not stick if necessary.  Using a ruler, cut with a pastry wheel into 3-inch squares.  You will yield about 30 squares.  Place a scant tablespoon of the filling into the center of each square.  Bring all the corners together into the center and pinch to close to form a puff square.  Place the puffs in ungreased 2 1/4-inch diameter muffin cups.   Let rise, uncovered, at room temperature until puffy, about 40 minutes.  Twenty minutes before baking preheat the oven to 375º.

3,  Bake in the center of the oven  25 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown and the filling is set.  Cool 10 minutes in the pan and then remove to a cooling rack.  Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Basic Old-Fashioned French Butter Croissants

cross section of the layered dough ready to roll out and form into crescents

This is a classic recipe for les pains croissant au beurre.  It is a must for every serious sweet bread baker to master.  They are shaped into a curved crescent, but traveling in France it might be a more tapered shape, as the degree of curve tells the buyer if the boulangerie has made it with butter or margarine.  Use unsalted butter, as it has a superior flavor and stays cold longer than salted butter, which contains a higher percentage of moisture.  The oil in the dough works as a tenderizer and the egg adds leavening, flavor, and texture.  The most important advice in working with a folded dough is to keep the dough and butter cold, but not hard, and work as quickly as possible every step of the way.  Serve with coffee or tea le matin.

Makes 18 large or 28 small croissants.

Ingredients

1 1/2 tablespoons (1 1/2 packages) active dry yeast

1/4 cup sugar

the perfect texture

1/3 cup warm water (105º to 115º)

1/4 cup light olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup cold milk

1 extra-large egg

5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided

2 cups (4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, set out at room temperature 30 minutes before mixing

1 egg mixed with 2 teaspoons water, for glaze

Instructions

step by step in a nutshell

1.  In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of the sugar over the warm water.  Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

2.  In a large bowl with a whisk or the work bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the oil, remaining sugar, salt, milk, egg, and 1 cup of the flour until smooth.  Beat until smooth.  Add the yeast mixture and exactly 3 1/4 more cups of the unbleached flour.  Stir until the dough comes together into a shaggy mass and the flour is just absorbed with no dry patches, switching to a wooden spoon as necessary if making by hand.  Do not knead.  Add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time as necessary to prevent stickiness, but do not add more than a total of 4 tablespoons; this dough should be very soft.

3.  Lightly dust an ungreased baking sheet with flour.  Place the dough on the sheet and, with your fingers, spread the dough to lay flat in a large freeform rectangle about 1 inch thick.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap, making certain all the dough is covered, to avoid forming dry patches.  Refrigerate in the coldest part of the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled, about 45 minutes.  If you’re in a hurry, place it in the freezer for 10 minutes.

4.  Using an electric mixer, quickly combine the cold butter with the remaining 1/2 cup of the flour until smooth with no hard lumps.  (Or, to make by hand:  With a spatula, smear the butter on a work surface, dump the flour on top, and use a chopping motion to combine; knead quickly just until the flour is absorbed into the butter.  There should be no lumps of flour.)  Form the butter into a rough perfectly square block shape by throwing it potter-style on the work surface.  Pat or roll quickly into a fat rectangle.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate if at all soft or sticky.  The butter should be chilled, but pliable.  This step is much easier than it sounds.

preparing the dough for the butter package

5.  Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface.  Roll into a 10-by-20-inch rectangle about 1/2 inch thick.  Divide the butter into 2 equal portions ( I find doing this on a floured slab of marble the easiest) and quickly roll each into a 6-by-8-inch rectangle.  Place half the butter in the middle third of the dough.  Pull one third over from the side to cover.  Seal the edges to encase the butter.  Place the remaining butter on top and fold over the remaining third of the dough.  Pinch the edges to seal completely.  Place the folded edge of dough at 12 o’clock.

the butter package

6.  First Turn:  Roll the dough into another large rectangle using firm strokes and fold again into thirds.  Replace on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 15 to no longer than 30 minutes to chill.  (If chilled longer than 30 minutes, the butter may harden too much.  The chilling period rests the gluten and firms the butter to allow continued rolling to create a layered effect.)

7.  Repeat the process of rolling out and folding into thirds 2 more times.  Take care not to tear the dough or allow the butter to get too soft.  Remember to adjust the corners as you are working, to keep the dough square, and to move the dough constantly to avoid sticking.  Use a soft brush to dust off any excess flour.  These are the second and third turns.  Chill the dough at any point that it becomes sticky, and remember to keep the folded edge at 12 o’clock.  If you can work very quickly and the temperature of the dough has not warmed up and started to melt the butter, you can do as many turns as you wish at one time.

8.  Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap, replace on the baking sheet to refrigerate overnight, or up to 48 hours.  At this point, the dough also may be frozen for up to 1 month.

after the folding, an overnight rest

9.  Unwrap the package and gently press the dough to deflate it, and cut it in half.  Rewrap and place one half back in refrigerator.  Place the other half on a lightly floured work surface and roll it out into a rectangle about 15- by 26-inches.  The dough will be about 1/4-inch thick.  Keep lifting and moving the dough to prevent sticking or tearing.  Roll the dough on a diagonal to achieve an even width.

the bottom split allows for a perfect crescent shape

10.  With a large knife or pastry wheel, cut lengthwise to create 2 long strips.  Cut triangles of desired size, taking care to cut cleanly and not pull on the dough.  Guide to Sizing: For small croissants, cut 3-by-6-inch triangles, for medium cut 4-by-8-inch triangles, and for large cut 5-by-10-inch triangles.  Slash a cut no more than 1 inch deep into the center of the base of each triangle.

risen and ready to bake off

11.  To shape, pull the points of the triangles to correct their dimensions, if necessary.  With the base of a triangle facing you, spread the slit and tightly roll the base up towards the point with one hand, while holding the point and stretching it  slightly.  Place each croissant on a nonstick, greased, or parchment-lined baking sheet with the tip on the bottom, and bend it into a crescent shape by curving the tapered ends towards the center until they are about 2 inches apart.  Do not crowd the croissants on the baking sheet.  Formed croissants may be frozen at this point for up to 1 week.  Repeat with the second half of the dough.  Let rise, uncovered, at room temperature until double in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

12.  Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425º.  When light and springy to the touch, brush with the beaten egg.  Place another baking sheet of the same dimensions under the pan with the croissants to “double pan” and protect the bottoms from burning.  Bake in the center of the preheated oven for 15 to 18 minutes.  Remove to cool on racks for 15 minutes before eating.

a beautiful sight out of the oven. dont crowd. be sure to cool completely so they dont squish when you bite.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


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