Freshly-baked, deliciously flaky and buttery classic French Croissants, made from scratch in the comfort of your own kitchen… Could there be anything better? With their thin crisp layers, light chewy crumb and complex butter notes like no other, these iconic pastries are the star of all French breakfasts and likely one of the most sought after treats in the world.
Likewise, making classic French Croissants at home from scratch, has a reputation for being a lengthy and intricate process, with a few too many steps and baking skills to own. Poolish, laminating, proofing… these are obscure terms for some, and they often seem to be the reasons why making classic French croissants appears so daunting to most.
So if you were like me a few years back, contemplating making croissants at home but feeling a bit overwhelmed and not knowing where to start – this Classic French Croissants 101 Guide is for you. I am covering and explaining all the equipment, steps and tips you need to know before you start, to build the confidence you’ll need to make your own Classic French Croissants.
At the end of the article, you will also find links for 3 recipes: 1-day Classic French Croissants; 2-day Classic French Croissants; 3-day Classic French Croissants. But, make sure you read this 101 article first to get a grasp of the whole process, and then go to the recipe.
Making Classic French Croissants is an intermediate to advanced recipe; and with this article, my goal is to guide you through the process, giving you essential tips and recommendations for success and to show you that making croissants is in fact within reach for any baker!
- Stand Mixer (optional – easier for kneading the dough; but this can be done by hand too)
- Large working surface (ideally, cold marble top)
- Rolling pin
- Ruler or measuring tape (cm or inch)
- Pizza cutter
- Pastry Brush
- Two baking sheets; parchment paper
- Plastic film
- For 3-day version: a 8×8-inch (20.3×20.3cm) or 9×9-inch (22.9×22.9cm) square pan
- For 3-day version and 2-day version: 2 large air-tight containers (able to contain 6 croissants each).
Choosing quality ingredients will go a long way in creating this delicate pastry.
- The flour. In France, Flour Type 55 is best for making croissants. Alternatively, unbleached all-purpose flour is good too, which is what I use in Canada (I personally like Five Roses for making pastries or breads).
- The milk. Whole milk is best. I have however already used 2% and the recipe worked well. But avoid 1%, skim, or no-fat.
- The butter. Choose a good-quality unsalted butter. Using a block of butter (instead of 4 sticks) will make it easier later in the recipe too – when slicing it to create a large square.
A Poolish is comparable to a “wet sponge”, made before the dough, and typically made with the same ratio of flour and water, to which you can add yeast. This is considered as a pre-ferment. A poolish will need to set for a while, usually 1 or 5 hours (in this recipe, this is more of a “quick-poolish”, that sets for 30 minutes). A poolish will help the dough to extend and rise, and help the yeast to be well integrated into the final dough and do its job properly.
Once the poolish is combined into the dough, the dough should be kneaded enough so that the gluten will develop (by kneading) and the yeast will “get activated” in order for the dough to rise.
For this croissant recipe, it is crucial to knead the dough just enough to develop enough gluten but not too much! If the dough is kneaded too long, too much gluten will develop and the dough will be too stiff. If the dough is too stiff, the integration of the butter into the dough (by laminating) will be too difficult and the butter won’t be integrated properly. So make sure the dough is smooth and homogeneous, but still soft and not too elastic.
Laminating is probably the most essential step to achieving a croissant. Making a laminated dough means you are layering the butter in between the layers of dough. This is what creates the flaky and puffed character of the croissants. Laminating is achieved by folding the butter into the dough, and then folding and rolling out the dough repeatedly.
If you have never made croissants before, the laminating process is likely to be the most daunting step for you. This process can be overwhelming the first time, but the more you practice, the better and faster you’ll get – and this will seem very simple to do after a while. Just make sure you read each laminating step before you start, and have a timer/clock on hand.
Tips for laminating:
- Measuring the dough each time you roll it out is key – using a ruler or measuring tape is essential!
- Because we are handling a lot of butter and a delicate dough, the laminating process should be done in a cool environment (cold days are best) and ideally on a cool surface (ie. cool marble top).
- Do not rush the chilling process between each step. Working with a well-chilled dough and butter is key, and much easier – the dough is easier to roll out when chilled, and the butter will remain firm and won’t spread everywhere.
- Be quick! During each folding and rolling out, try to work as fast as possible so the dough and butter remain as cold as possible. These steps might need a bit of practice, so you will get faster and faster everytime your make croissants. If the dough or butter get too warm, place them back into the freezer for a few minutes and wait until they are cold enough to work with again.
- When you roll out the dough, make sure it is even (one side shouldn’t be thicker than the other). Apply an even pressure on the rolling pin as you work the dough.
Like the laminating, you need a ruler/tape measurer to measure out the dough and make sure you cut out even triangles. Work your way quickly, it is far easier to shape the croissants when the dough is chilled, rather than at room temperature. Make sure your hands are clean, dry and not too warm.
Proofing is the period of time right before baking when the shaped croissants need to rest in order to set all the layers properly and expand a bit more. A perfect and timely proofing is essential to achieve flaky, airy and evenly-buttered croissants. If you rush the proofing, you will end up with flat layers and the butter is likely to be oozing out of the croissants too much while baking.
Coincidentally, the quicker the recipe for the croissants, the longer the proofing time needs to be; as your dough hasn’t had enough time to rest and develop yet. So the proofing time is the longest for the 1-day recipe (3hrs) and the shortest for the 3-day recipe (1hr). This may sound counter-intuitive at first, but proofing is even more crucial for a dough that didn’t get any time to rest overnight and ferment yet. Proofing isn’t something that can be rushed – you can have a perfect croissant recipe that won’t work out if the proofing isn’t done properly.
Steps to proofing and what to look for:
- The day of baking, place the shaped croissants on parchment paper on a baking sheet, leaving enough space between them (at least 2 inches) that they won’t touch when they expand, and then when they bake. Apply the first brushing of egg wash.
- Keep the tray at room temperature (ideally, between 72.4°and 79°F/ 24°C and 26°C), in a draft-free environement (no windows open near-by).
- After 30 minutes or so, look at the croissants from the side and you should start seeing the layers (dough/butter/dough/butter/etc…).
- At the end of the proofing time, you should know the proofing is done when the layers are nice and visible, when the croissants have expanded (not significantly, but enough that it is noticeable), and they jiggle slightly when you shake the pan. You can now apply the second (and final) brushing of the egg wash and bake the croissants.
- Make sure you keep an eye on your croissants during the proofing period. A too-long proofing time will dry-out the croissants and/or miss the optimum “peak” of the croissants expansion, and will end in flatter croissants once baked.
- Keeping the shaped croissants in the refrigerator overnight can be a way to slow down the proofing process – in order to enjoy the croissants freshly-baked in the morning. I am explaining you how to do so in the 3-Day recipe version and 2-Day recipe version.
For baking such delicate pastries like croissants, it is important that you know your oven well. Some ovens are higher in temperature than what they indicate and some are lower. Some ovens are not even in heat : more heat can come from the back (in that case you might need to very quickly rotate your baking sheet during the end of the baking process so the croissants are evenly baked and even in color), more heat can come from the top (in that case, you might need to place your rack in the lower-half, rather than in the middle), etc… Knowing your oven comes with practice. The more you bake, the more you’ll get to know your oven ( for this reason, your first batch of croissants might not be perfect).
My oven is a non-convection oven. My perfect baking time is: 390°F (199°C) for 9 minutes, followed by 370°F (188°C) for 8 minutes. This gives dark-gold, crisp croissants, with an airy inside (slightly chewy but not too much).
Steps to baking, and what to look for:
- The first few minutes of baking are when the croissants will rise and expand the most.
- After the first 3-4 minutes, the croissants will start to slightly ooze some butter (don’t worry, this is normal).
- After 7-8 minutes, the croissants have risen significantly, dried out on the outside and start to show the signature crackly and bubbly top.
- After 9 minutes, the croissants will turn sightly golden – that is your cue to turn the temperature down (370F/188C).
- Between 9 and 17 minutes, the croissants will set and turn from light golden to dark golden. Keep an eye on them. Once the croissants start to darken, it can go very fast and you don’t want them to be too dark. Depending on your oven, you might need 1 or 2 minutes more or less, to achieve the perfect baking and perfect color.
- Know what kind of croissants you want: I prefer darker, crisp croissants – but you might prefer paler croissants with a chewier inside (in that case, less baking time is recommended).
- Take the croissants out of the oven when done, leave them on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, and then carefully and transfer them to a cooling rack.
Enjoying the croissants
Like most bakery-style pastries, croissants are best enjoyed within a few hours of baking.
Ready for making Classic French croissants at home?
Now that you have gained some serious knowledge on making croissants at home, it’s time to get baking. As per their reputation, making croissants is a lengthy process and it is very common to make them over 3 days. That said, in our modern and busy lives, I think that having two other alternatives (2-day recipe or 1-day recipe) is sometimes needed.
The three recipes include the exact same steps (the 3-day recipe isn’t any harder than the 1-day version), but the chilling times are different. The three recipes give 12 absolutely delicious croissants, and it is up to you to pick which version you want to do, depending on the time you have on hand. Here are a few notes:
- The 3-Day version (left on the photo) will give you the best croissants. Over three days, the dough has the appropriate time to build texture and develop a rich and complex taste. The 3-day croissants will have big, airy “holes” in the middle, a crisp outside and a perfectly-balanced buttery taste – close to the one you get in French bakeries.
- The 2-Day version (middle on the photo) will give you middle-sized air pockets and a nice buttery taste.
- The 1-Day version (right on the photo) will give you smaller air-pockets, a denser/chewier crumb with a rich buttery taste (slighlty less subtle than the 2 or 3-day versions).
Note that the 3-Day version may be done over 3 days, but it is the one that requires the least “active time” (4 hours); while the 1-day version requires 7 hours.
Another important note: As a French, having a croissant after 11am simply feels odd to me. Croissants are for breakfast only, in my world. So it was really important to develop at least 2 versions of this recipe where you will get freshly-baked croissants in the morning. Only the 1-Day version will give you croissants for later in the day (unless you wake up 6 hours before breakfast time…).
(ie. Start Friday evening, and get freshly-baked croissants for Sunday morning)
Day 1: In the Evening (30 minutes active time, total)
Make the poolish and dough. Refrigerate until Day 2.
Day 2: Late Afternoon/ Evening (2 hours 30 minutes total, inc. 1 hour 30 minutes of chill time)
Laminate the dough and shape the croissants. Refrigerate until Day 3.
Day 3: Morning (1 hour of proofing and 17 minutes of baking)
Proofing and baking of the croissants
Total: 4 hours, over 3 days
(ie. Start Saturday afternoon and get freshly-baked croissants for Sunday morning)
Day 1: Late Afternoon (4 hours, inc. 2 hours 30 minutes chill time)
Make poolish and dough (30 minutes), refrigerate (1 hour)
Laminate the dough and shape the croissants (2 hours 30 minutes; inc. 1 hour 30 minutes chill time)
Refrigerate until Day 2.
Day 2: Morning (2 hours of proofing and 17 minutes of baking)
Proofing (2 hours), baking (17 min).
Total: 6 hours, over 2 day
(ie. Start Sunday morning and get freshly-baked croissants for Sunday afternoon)
Step 1: Make poolish and dough (30 minutes), refrigerate (1 hour)
Step 2: Laminate the dough and shape the croissants (2 hours 30 minutes; inc. 1 hour 30 minutes chill time)
Step 3: Proofing (3 hours), baking (17 min).
Total: 7 hours, over 1 day