Friends, last week I received the greatest gift one could ask for in the month of February. I know I'm not the only one who feels like the winter doldrums are in full effect during this month, and when you're handed not one, not two, but FIVE snow days, well it's like Santa sent you the best belated Christmas present ever!!!
Snow days are amazing for many reasons, but I particularly enjoy that snow days force us to slow down. They force us to relax, to spend some time delving into those little passion projects or hobbies that normally get pushed aside during the week because we're "too busy." It was such a lovely gift to be given a week where I wasn't expected to be anywhere or attempt to tackle my ever-growing to-do list. Ryan and I quickly mastered the art of sleeping in, cooked breakfasts we normally only have time for on the weekends, watched way too many episodes of Parks and Rec (we jumped on the bandwagon a little late, but I seriously want Ron Swanson and April Ludgate to be my neighbors and best friends), and took a few trips to the little market in our neighborhood to stalk up on necessities (aka milk for hot chocolate purposes...duh).
Midweek of our little snow-cation, I started thinking about all those recipes I’ve wanted to try, but never do because they seem SO incredibly time-consuming. One breakfast pastry that I’ve always wanted to attempt is croissants. However, after looking up the recipe a few months ago, I realized that these pastries are quite the labor of love. They require patience (not my greatest virtue), time, and lots of close recipe following – no ad-libbing allowed. Ain’t nobody got time for that!!
Until this week!
I must say that croissants are one of those things that you just don’t truly appreciate until you make them yourself. But they are totally worth every bit of effort. Just look how pretty they are! Added bonus: if you're as obsessed with Nutella as I am, go ahead and fill as many of these as you want with that chocolate hazelnut crack. And then while you're at it, you may as well finish them with a dusting of powdered sugar for the complete croissant snow globe effect.
I’ve written out the recipe below but didn’t include step-by-step pictures this time to guide you through the process. I’m happy to do so though if you read through it and feel like, “holy crap this is too hard!” Because it’s not, and the end result is buttery, flaky goodness that is amazingly delicious and perfect.
(recipe and method adapted from King Arthur Flour and Cook’s Illustrated)
For the dough:
2 eggs plus enough warm water to make 2 c (16 oz) of liquid
1/4 c sugar
5 1/2 - 6 c unbleached all-purpose flour (I always use King Arthur)
2 ¼ tsp instant yeast
1 scant tbsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
2 tbsp melted butter
For the butter:
1 7/8 c unsalted butter, cool but not right out of the fridge
3/4 tsp salt (skip the salt if using salted butter)
1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
To make the dough: Make a sponge by cracking the eggs into a 2 c liquid measuring cup and adding enough warm water to equal 2 cups. Beat until blended, and then pour into a large mixing bowl. Cover and set aside.
To make the butter inlay: While the yeast is doing its thing, make the butter inlay. Mix the butter and 1/2 c flour until mixture is smooth (no big lumps). If you’re doing this with a mixer, don’t blend on high – you don’t want to incorporate any air. Sprinkle a bit of flour on a piece of plastic wrap, place the butter mixture on it, and use a dough scraper to form into an 8-inch square (the measurement is important, as is making sure your edges are smooth). Wrap the butter and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
To finish the dough: Stir in the vanilla and melted butter. Add the remaining 2 1/2 c of flour, the sugar, and the salt. Mix until you have a dough that is smooth and tacky (shouldn’t stick to you when you touch it). Knead the dough for 4-5 min, either by hand or using your mixer. Add more of the measured flour if the dough is too sticky. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour, and sprinkle a bit of flour into a large plastic bag. Put the dough inside and pat it into a square shape (this will come in handy later). Put the bag in the fridge on something flat; refrigerate for 30 min.
To make the croissants: Before you get started, you'll need a 24" ruler, flour for sprinkling, a small bowl of water, a pastry brush, and a rolling pin. Ready? Here we go...dust your work surface with a little flour, and then roll the dough into a 12" square. Make sure your edges stay neat. Now put the butter square in the center, turned 45 degrees, so it looks like a diamond in the square (see picture above).
Take the top corners of the dough and fold them in towards the center, pinching together the seam (like you’re making a paper airplane). Repeat with the bottom corners so the butter is completely enclosed. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour, and tap it with your rolling pin, to encourage it to stretch out. Roll the dough into a rectangle 20” long by 10” wide, sprinkling your work surface with a little flour as you go along. Once the dough is long enough, fold the bottom edge of the dough 1/3 of the way up. Line up the edges neatly. Fold the top down. Now turn the dough packet 90 degrees, so it looks like a book you could open.
If the dough is still relaxed and flexible, repeat the steps you just took: roll out to a rectangle, fold in thirds, fold like a book. Once you’ve completed your second round, mark the dough with a couple of dimples to record that you’ve given it two turns. Put the dough back in its bag and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.
After the dough has rested, complete the steps above (roll out to a rectangle, fold in thirds, fold like a book) two more times. **Note: As you fold the dough, make sure you’re lining up the corners neatly so that the layers don’t slide around as you roll out the dough. After you’ve finished the two additional turns, refrigerate the dough for at least 4 hours. Refrigerating overnight is ideal.
Shaping the croissants: Take the dough out of the refrigerator and cut the dough in half. Roll out one of the halves to a 12" x 18" rectangle. Trim the edges of the dough using a ruler and pizza wheel. Cut the dough in thirds lengthwise and in half through the middle. This will give you six 4" x 9" pieces. Cut each 4x9 piece in half diagonally, and arrange them so the points of the triangles are facing away from you. It's okay to stretch them out gently to elongate them when you do this. Cut a 1/2" notch in the short edge of the triangle.
If you want, this is the time to place a teaspoon of filling (Nutella anyone??) at the base of the triangle. Roll the dough, starting with the notched edge and working toward the point. Make sure the point is tucked under the bottom of the croissant. If you have to stretch the dough a little to make that happen, it's okay. You can also use a drop of water on the tip to help it stay in place. Form the crescent by bending the ends of the rolled dough toward the center (if the ends look like Yoda ears, you’re on the right track). Place the croissants on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover and chill for 30 minutes. You could also freeze the unbaked pastries at this point.
To bake the croissants: While the croissants are in the refrigerator, preheat the oven to 425°F. After 30 minutes, take the croissants out and brush the tops with an egg (well-beaten) mixed with 1 tbsp of water. When the oven is hot, bake the croissants for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350°F and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. The croissants should be a deep golden brown, even where the dough overlaps; you don't want any raw dough in the center. Remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack.