When I first heard the word lamination, my mind immediately went to work-issued badges. It’s the technique of creating an end product by layering differing materials.
It’s a process that is also prevalent when it comes to cooking croissants, danishes and other flakey pastries by layering dough and butter (or another fat) to create thin layers that puff in the process.
I know what you are thinking: difficult, difficult, lemony difficult. In fact, we were of the same mind for the longest time. The time, effort and expertise that appeared to go into each flaky pastry seemed a bit more than we wanted to dedicate on a lazy Sunday morning.
That was until we read the recipe in Peter Reinhart’s “Artisan Breads Every Day: Fast and Easy Recipes for World-Class Breads.” The book itself is easy to follow and produces excellent results — even for us newbies.
Case and point, his croissant recipe (p. 181) was easy to follow and laid out the process that gave the impression it was doable. Often times, there are “triggers” in a recipe that can cause myself or my husband to put the kabosh on the idea to make them. The recipe may seem a bit out of our cooking comfort zone or the directions make the process seem a bit more intimidating.
Reinhart, the bread genius he is, made lamination and détempre (the plain dough before the butter is rolled into it) as simple as stirring chocolate syrup into milk. It didn’t appear daunting — and the end result was nothing short of amazing.
It does take time and isn’t something that can be whipped up on short notice. But it is well-worth the effort.
Yields: 14-24 croissants (depending on size)
Time: 2 days
- 4 2/3 cups unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 tsp salt, or 2 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp instant yeast
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp cold low-fat milk
- 1 cup cool water
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted or at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups cold unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp unbleached bread of all-purpose flour
- To make the détempre: combine flour, sugar, and yeast in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Pour in the milk and water, then add the butter. If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment and mix on the lowest speed for 1 minute. If mixing by hand, use a large spoon and stir for about 1 minute. The dough should be coarse, wet, and shaggy. If it’s very wet, like a batter, add a little more flour. If it’s firm like regular bread dough or stiff, drizzle in a little more water.
- Resume mixing with the paddle attachment on the lowest speed or by hand for another 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium-high or mix more vigorously for 10 to 15 seconds. The dough will begin to smooth out but should be very soft, supple, and sticky, but not batterlike. Add more flour or water as needed, but mix only until the dough has formed. It is important that it be very soft and pliable, and somewhat sticky. If it’s dry to the touch, it needs more water.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surfact and, with floured hands, form it into a ball. Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, and immediately refrigerate overnight.
- On baking day: Leave the détempre in the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the laminated dough, and make the butter block just prior to incorporating it into the détempre. Cut the cold butter into 16 pieces and put the pieces in a mixing bowl along with the flour. I recommend using a mixer, as it’s so much easier. Use the paddle attachment and mix on the lowest speed for about 1 minute to break down the butter into smaller pieces.
- Stop the machine and scrape down the bowl and paddle as needed, then mix again until the mixture is no longer lumpy. Increase the speed to medium-high as the butter pieces smooth out, and continue mixing until all the lumps of butter are gone and you have a smooth paste.
- Prepare a sheet of parchment paper, waxed paper, or a silicone mat by misting it lightly with spray oil. Use a bowl scraper or spatula to transfer the butter block into a pile in the center of the prepared surface. Mist the top of the butter with spray oil, then cover it with plastic wrap. Press down on the plastic wrap gently but firmly to spread the butter into a 6-inch square (you can also use a rolling pin to lightly tap and roll it into a square).
- If necessary, lift the plastic wrap and use a metal pastry scraper or bowl scraper to trim off uneven corners or sides, putting the trimmings in the center of the butter block or using them to fill any gaps. The butter block should be about 1/2 inch thick and smooth across the top, with nicely squared-off corners. If the butter block has warmed up or seems to be melting due to friction or hand warmth, place it in the refrigerator for a few minutes (parchment and all).
- To incorporate the butter block into the détempre: clear enough space on the work surface to roll out the dough (eventually) to a width of about 32 inches. Make sure the surface is completely dry, then dust it generously with bread flour or ap flour. Transfer the détempre to the work surface and sprinkle more flour over the top of the dough. Use a rolling pin and, with gentle pressure, roll out the dough to a rectangle about 12 1/2 inches wide and 6 1/2 inches long. Always begin by rolling from the center to the four corners, and then roll to the four sides to even it out. Check under the dough frequently, lifting it with a metal pastry scraper to see if it needs more dusting flour. (In addition to preventing sticking, the flour acts like ball bearings, allowing the dough to extend more easily.) Square off the sides and corners of the rectangle with the pastry scraper. The dough will be about 1/2 inch thick, the same as the butter block.
- Lift the parchment with the butter block and set it down atop the dough on the left side to check the sizing. The butter should cover only half of the dough, with just a 1/4 inch border on the left, top, and bottom. If it covers more than that, remove the butter block and roll out the dough a little wider or taller, as needed. If there’s more than 1/2 inch of dough around the border, shrink the dough by scooting in the edges with the pastry blade or a sturdy ruler.
- When the dough and butter are properly matched, remove the plastic wrap and flip the butter block over onto the left half of the dough, again with a border of about 1/4 inch on the left, top, and bottom. Carefully adjust it into place before removing the parchment.
- Lift the right half of the dough and fold it over the butter block to envelop or sandwich the butter. Stretch the dough along the top rim to seal the butter inside by pressing the top rim of dough to the rim of the underside and pinching them together to create a seal. You now have three layers – dough, butter, dough.
- To laminate the dough: lift the dough, one side at a time, and toss more dusting flour underneath it. If the dough sticks to the work surface, use the pastry scraper to break the contact. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour, then tap the rolling pin over the top of the dough to work out any air bubbles and spread the butter evenly into all four corners. Working from the center to the four corners and then to the four sides, gently roll out the dough into a rectangle, dusting under and on top of the dough with flour as needed. Continue rolling until you have a 1/2 inch thick rectangle that’s about 16 inches wide and 9 inches long.
- Square off the sides and the four corners, then fold the dough as if folding a letter: Fold the right one-third of the dough to the left, and as you lay it down be sure to square it off so that the top and bottom edges are perfectly aligned with the underlying dough. Then fold the left one-third of the dough to the right in the same way. Use the rolling pin to press out any air pockets so that the folds lay flat, then gently transfer the dough to a lightly floured sheet pan and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes so the gluten can relax. If the butter seems very soft, you can put the pan in the refrigerator for this resting period.
- Transfer the dough back to the floured work surface with the open seam facing away from you and the closed side facing you. Gently roll out the dough to a rectangle about 16 inches wide by 9 inches long, then once again fold in thirds. Gently transfer back to the floured sheet pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
- After the second resting period, once again transfer the dough to the floured work surface, closed side facing you, and gently roll it out and fold it as before. Transfer back to the floured sheet pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 20 minutes. You have no completed three “turns” and have created 81 layers of dough and butter.
- For the final roll and shaping: Transfer the dough back to the floured work surface and gently roll it out, first from the center to the corners and then out to the sides, until the dough is just under 1/4 inch thick and forms a rectangle 24 to 28 inches wide and 9 inches long. Be careful not to put too much downward pressure on the dough as you roll it, or the thin layers could break, but you do need to be somewhat firm, yet patient, as you roll. You may have to stop and dust with flour underneath the dough from time to time or give the dough a short rest if it starts to resist or shrink back. Square off the sides and four corners with the pastry scraper or ruler.
- To make crescent-shaked croissants: Begin by cutting out triangles. For full-size croissants, cut triangles about 9 inches long by 4 inches wide at the base. Use a ruler or yardstick to measure and, starting at the left side, place a small notch at 4-inch intervals along the bottom edge of the dough with the pastry scraper or a knife. Repeat this along the top edge, but mark the first interval at 2 inches from the left end, then continue measuring at 4-inch intervals from that point on.
- Use a pizza cutter or a metal scraper to cut a line from the left bottom corner of the dough to the notch in from the left at the top, then simply connect the marks to cut off the dough triangles. When all of the pieces are cut and separated, cut a 1-inch notch into the bottom center of the triangle base of each piece. Spread the bottom as wide as the notch will allow to create winglike flaps.
- Start with the flaps and begin rolling up the dough as if it were a rug. Gently pull out the top point (the nose) of the dough as you roll the bottom toward it, but be careful not to squeeze the dough or the layers will break. Stretching the nose will elongate the dough a bit as you roll it up. Repeat with all of the dough triangles
- Place the croissants about 1 1/2 inches apart on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat, with the nose of each one positioned underneath so that it’s anchored. As you pan each croissant, give the end flaps a slight curve inward, facing the same direction as the nose is pointing, forming a crescent shape.
- (If you don’t want to bake all of the croissants at this time, place the extra croissants on a pan or in individual freezer bags and chill or freeze them.)
- Cover loosely with plastic wrap and proof at room temperature for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The croissants will rise slowly and swell noticeably in size, but they won’t double.
- About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 F. Applying egg wash is an option at this point.
- Place the croissants in the oven and lower the temperature to 375 F. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the pans and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until the croissants are a rich golden brown on all sides, without any white sections in the visible layers. Allow the croissants to cool for at least 45 minutes before serving; an hour is even better. If served while still hot, they’ll appear to be greasy because the butter hasn’t yet firmed up and been fully absorbed into the pastry.