Another snowy weekend, another desire to bake. This time, I went with something a little more difficult than biscuits, and something I've only dreamed of making - croissants. I've always thought that croissants must be this time-consuming, nit-picky endeavor, since it is so difficult to find a truly delicious specimen. But as I started to tackle this recipe, I was astounded to discover that each step is fairly easy and short - it's just the waiting period between each step that makes this seem to take forever.
True, it took almost 24 hours to complete the croissants, but active time was under an hour. The result was exactly what I was looking for - buttery, flaky, light-as-air pillows of dough that practically dissolve on your tongue. I'm very happy to know that when I want the real deal, I can now make them at home, instead of driving all over, looking for something that may or may not sate my craving.
And since this was an experiment (I didn't even know if they would turn out at all - better to have low expectations when trying something "difficult," I feel), I opted to try both plain and chocolate croissants. Both turned out splendidly, and I actually liked splitting the batch in half so I could have both flavors. If you do split your batch, use only about half the chocolate I listed below, and save any chocolate that doesn't get folded into the dough for melting and drizzling.
3 cups plus 2 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp instant or rapid rise yeast (about 1 1/2 packets)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup warm milk
3 sticks unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (optional)
In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine 2 3/4 cups flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. With the mixer at low speed and the dough hook installed, slowly add milk and mix until the dough begins to pull together, about 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium-low and mix until dough becomes sticky and elastic, about 8 minutes. If the dough isn't forming roughly into a ball by about 5 minutes, add 1/4 cup more flour, 1 Tbsp at a time. Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl and put the dough into a lightly greased bowl. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Lay out a large sheet of parchment paper on a counter. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp of flour on the parchment, then lay the 3 sticks of butter side by side on the flour. Sprinkle 1 more Tbsp of flour on top of the butter, then top with another sheet of parchment. Working with a rolling pin, gently pound the butter until it is softened and the flour is incorporated. Roll butter into a 12-inch square. Keeping the butter in the parchment, refrigerate for 1 hour.
On a floured surface, roll out dough so that the butter square will fit diagonally in the center. Place the butter in the center of the dough in a diamond shape, with the corners of the butter at the middle of the sides of the dough. Fold the dough over the sides of the butter so that they meet in the middle and press to seal shut. Roll the dough out to a 14-inch square, sprinkling on more flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Once dough is rolled out, fold the square into thirds, like a letter, to form a rectangle, then fold that rectangle into thirds to form a small square. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Roll out the dough again, lightly dusting with flour to prevent sticking. Repeat the previous folding process, folding the dough into a rectangle and then a square. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper (rimmed baking sheets are best). Roll the dough into a 20-inch square. Cut the dough into two halves down the middle.
For regular croissants, cut each half into 3 rectangles, then cut each of those pieces diagonally into 2 triangles. Cut a small slit into the wide end of the triangle, then gently roll the dough, starting at the wide end and moving towards the point. Place the croissants on the baking sheet and curl the arms around to form the crescent shape.
For chocolate croissants, cut each half into 6 even rectangles. Place a tablespoon of chopped chocolate at one end, then roll the dough up around it into a log shape. Arrange on the baking sheet with the seam on the bottom.
Loosely cover shaped croissants with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 to 16 hours.
Preheat oven to 400°. Brush the croissants with egg wash and place the sheets in the oven, using both racks. Bake until golden, 18 to 22 minutes. Rotate and switch the baking sheets halfway through baking. Serve warm or at room temperature. For chocolate croissants, wait until the croissants have cooled, then drizzle with melted chocolate.