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Perfect Croissants: Fables, Folklore, and a Fabulous Recipe

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Making croissants is a day-long task, but it's a most rewarding one.

Making croissants is a day-long task, but it's a most rewarding one.

One Bite of a Croissant

I thought I knew what a croissant was. The bread at every Thanksgiving meal was that infamous roll of refrigerated dough. Smack the middle of the package smartly on the edge of the counter to reveal eight semi-triangles, roll each triangle from broad end to narrow, place on a baking sheet, curve slightly, and bake until golden.

Oh, how wrong I was.

My first true croissant was from Ronde des Pains on the corner of Rue Cler and Rue du Champs de Mars in Paris, France.

It is said that we first eat with our eyes, and the breakfast treat that accompanied my café crème was incredible in its size; the pastry glistening and deeply bronzed. The fragrance was both sweet and salty, yeasty, and definitely buttery. That first bite had a satisfying crunch, the exterior shattering into hundreds of crumbs. Then there was the indulgent feeling of (yes, again) butter, but it was not heavy. There was a cloudlike (dare I say angelic?) lightness. This was perfection—a true croissant.

Is It Folklore or Fakelore?

Fake news, also known as junk news or pseudo-news, is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media or online social media. Four years ago, this term was hardly heard of; now it’s become mainstream. But is it a new concept? Just for fun, let’s imagine this item in the daily newspapers of the 17th century:

Dateline 1686. Your Reporter in Budapest

Last evening Turks were besieging our beloved city. They dug underground passages but by the grace of God their rumblings were noticed by bakers working at night. Those bakers heard the noise made by the Turks and sounded the alarm. The invaders were thwarted. In thanks to those bakers who saved our city, the council has granted them the privilege of making a special pastry to commemorate this event. It will be in the form of a crescent to represent the emblem on our Ottoman flag.

Or perhaps this story is more to your liking:

The Culinary Creation Our Queen Cannot Live Without

It has been reported by a source that will remain anonymous, that our new queen, Marie-Antoinette-Josèphe-Jeanne d’Autriche-Lorraine, has such a fondness for the bread of her childhood (last year) in Vienna that she has employed the German baker from the Hofburg Palace to provide an endless supply of these “croissants” for her royal highness.

Flaky croissants

Flaky croissants

In his book August Zang and the French Croissant: How Viennoiserie Came to France, Jim Chevallier dashes cold water on this bit of gossip long-believed to be fact. He says:

"The Austrian-born Marie-Antoinette was perhaps France's most elegant and glamorous queen, and the oft-repeated idea that she introduced France's most elegant breakfast food has sufficient poetry to have endured. If, after all, one accepts the idea that Austrian bakers had only a century before invented the ancestor of the croissant, it is but a short step to imagine that this Austrian princess then brought it to France...But the claim only appears well after the eighteenth century, despite the fact that French queens in general, and Marie-Antoinette in particular, were closely watched and chronicled. Had Marie-Antoinette brought any food into fashion the fact would have been widely mentioned in the gossip sheets of the time. Yet the closest thing to a period reference for this tale is a tantalizing note by her maid...that the Queen had a particular preference for a sort of bread she was used to having since her childhood in Vienna."

Then, Who Really Did Create the Croissant?

Part of the problem of finding the “who” is borne by the “what?” Over the centuries there have been many crescent-shaped baked goods and confections, but they are croissants in form only, not in substance. The true croissant is a puff pastry with many, many flaky, buttery layers.

Layers and layers of flaky croissant-ness

Layers and layers of flaky croissant-ness

Puff pastry was supposedly created by French painter and apprentice cook, Claude Gelée, who in 1645 accidentally formed a laminated dough while trying to make a rolled butter cake for his sick father. His pastrymaster/boss exclaimed (probably not in English, and I wasn't there to record the exact conversation) something like this:

"Don't put that in the oven—all of the butter will melt out and create a disastrous mess!"

But Claude didn't listen, a beautiful-flaky-buttery bread was produced, the boss was amazed/delighted, and the result was a huge success. Claude moved to Paris with his genius recipe, made tons of francs, and lived happily ever after. (No one knows if the sick father was cured of his mystery ailment, however).

Does It Really Matter?

In the culinary world, the origin of puff pastry is significant; there are countless ways in which this genius of flour and butter have been used. But when we narrow our focus on the croissant, let's not concern ourselves with the who, when, or why but on the "how." Let's look at how to make the perfect croissant.

The ingredients for a croissant are really quite basic and few. Water, flour, yeast, butter, and a pinch of salt are all one needs from their pantry. It's all in the technique.

That technique, however, requires many hours of rolling, folding, waiting, and then hit the repeat button again, and again, and again. If you are investing that much time into (what will be) a beautiful masterpiece, don't you want to use the best of ingredients? This is what you will need.

Bread flour for baking croissants

Bread flour for baking croissants

Flour

The process of making croissant dough involves kneading, rolling, folding, etc., etc., etc. Only a sturdy flour can endure all that handling and that sturdiness comes from gluten. I'm sorry, but this is not the place for all-purpose flour.

If I decide to bake a batch of biscuits to go along with our evening meal of stew, or make some chocolate chip cookies, or make simple pancakes or waffles for breakfast, I'll grab the canister of all-purpose flour. It's reliable and consistent. All-purpose flour is a blend of two different grains, hard wheat, and soft wheat.

But what if you want to make a delicate chiffon cake? Would all-purpose flour "work." Yes, it would, but if you had the chance to compare your AP flour cake to one made with "cake flour" you would notice a subtle difference. The cake made with cake flour would have a more delicate crumb and would seem a bit lighter.

And, what about baking a crusty loaf of artisanal bread or a batch of croissants? That's when you want to take advantage of "bread flour." What's the difference? Bread flour has a higher proportion of hard wheat flour; it's sturdier and develops tighter strands that support a crunchy crust and laminating (the process of repeated folding and rolling).

So, what's the unifying thread? Each of these flours has a different amount of gluten.

Type of FlourAmount of Gluten

Bread Flour

12.5 to 14%

All-Purpose Flour

10 to 12%

Cake Flour

7.5 to 9%

Percentage of Protein in Brands of Bread Flour

  • Bob's Red Mill: 13.8%
  • Gold Medal Better for Bread: 10%
  • King Arthur: 12.7%
  • King Arthur high gluten: 14%
  • Milliard: 14.2%
  • Minnesota Girl Bakers Flour: 11.5%
  • Pillsbury: 12.9%
  • Regal Organic Bread Flour: 12.7%
  • Tesco Very Strong Canadian Bread Flour: 13.6%

Yeast

I feel the best results come from dry yeastnot cake (fresh) yeast, and not instant or bread machine yeast. Purchase standard dry yeast but please pay attention to the expiration date. If your yeast is old it will not perform. Yeast is (believe it or not) a living thing and, like all of us, it has an expiration date.

How to Test Your Yeast

The Red Star yeast company has put together this handy reference to help you determine if your yeast is still viable.

European butter

European butter

Butter

The flavor of a good croissant comes from the butter. Please do not for one nanosecond consider using margarine, and the grocery store generic butter also will not suffice. Most American butter on your grocer’s shelf contains around 80 percent milk fat, which means it’s about18 percent water and 2 percent milk solids.

For the best results, flavor, and texture, look for butter with high fat content and no additives. A higher fat ratio means less water and water is the enemy of the perfect croissant. A European (but not Irish) butter is the way to go. (French boulangeries use butter with a fat content of 85 to 87 percent.)

Salt

You might be wondering why we need salt? First of all, because it strengthens the gluten and increases the absorption of water. And second, because it slows down the activity of the yeast. In the case of croissants, you don't want the dough to ferment during the whole process; salt helps us to slow down fermentation.

You've watched the video, now here's the recipe and detailed notes by Sara, the creator/genius behind the blog Buttermilk Pantry. I have researched croissant recipes and can testify that no one has put as much thought, consideration, and detail into explaining the step-by-step process of making the world's perfect croissant that Sara.

Sources

© 2021 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 23, 2021:

Thank you Brenda. I would think that your yeast is probably still viable. As for baking bread, on a scale of 1 to 10 of difficulty, croissants would be a 10. Give yourself a break and just opt for a simpler (but still wonderful) loaf of bread. Google "How to Make a Perfect Loaf of Bread" and you'll find my article.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 23, 2021:

Peggy, perhaps we can indulge in them in Heaven?

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 23, 2021:

I enjoyed hearing the back story about croissants. They are a treat to eat. I rarely do so, however, because of the calories.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on March 23, 2021:

This one has my mouth watering! I absolutely love fresh bread.

In the beginning of this Covid-19 era I purchased some yeast & was going to attempt to make my own...but after seeing how difficult or timely it is I decided to put that on the back burner.

I do still have the yeast..but as you say, it might be expired by now.

Needless to say though, mine would not have been delicious.

I had no idea that I needed to use special flour.

After reading your article I do understand that it takes a special flour and time to make these.

Still loving the idea though & yes....you can dare say angelic.

Great article.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 23, 2021:

Flourish, if one is going to invest an entire day (or more) making these things, why cut corners on the ingredients and save perhaps $5.00? Yes, technique matters too (which is why those croissants in Paris are so Heavenly) but they also use the best butter in the world.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 23, 2021:

My husband and I have traveled to Paris several times, and there is nothing like the bread there. The croissants are divine. The last time we went, my family stayed several nights at the Waldorf Astoria Versailles (what a dream - paid with points!) and we had the most amazing croissants (I of course had to put butter on them, omg) and a full breakfast. I still remember it. I'd go back just for their bread. I don't have the patience, however, to make them myself. I'd be so bummed if they didn't turn out picture-perfect after all that work. You prove that the brand you pick really does matter. Their products are different and hence the chemical makeup.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 22, 2021:

Dang it, sis, I was puttering along just fine and then I saw your comment (mentioning butter twice in one sentence) and now I'm hungry.

I've made many goofs in my kitchen--to date, none of them have created anything memorable (at least, not in a good way!)

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on March 22, 2021:

I love warm, flaky, buttery croissants with a little bit of butter on top. I'm glad my grocery store's bakery makes them because they look like a lot of trouble to make from scratch.

I'd love to have one right now!

It's true that some of the best recipes are the result of accidents in the kitchen. Apparently, croissants are no exception!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 22, 2021:

And good morning Manatita. I've not had a croissant in I can't remember when. I'm glad you enjoyed this little culinary journey.

manatita44 from london on March 22, 2021:

Linda, you take me through a fabulous culinary adventure with the croissant. Yes, I eat with my eyes, long before I taste the stuff. It is alluring, tempting ... but it seems also protective, to me.

I've had the crispy or flaky, (I think you said), type with the butter added yes, and they are delicioso! Trouble is, I've eaten in so many countries I don't remember. France - including the countryside - I have been to several times! Great videos!

Ann Carr from SW England on March 21, 2021:

Paris is the only city I really love. Pavement café in Montmartre... great!

Ann

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 21, 2021:

Ann, right now I'm trying to imagine sitting at a cafe in Paris with you eating fresh croissant(s) and planning a fun day. I will never forget Rue Cler.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 21, 2021:

Oh, John, I know they could never be an everyday treat (I'll bet even in France they don't indulge on a daily basis). Perhaps in Heaven.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 21, 2021:

Misbah, we can dream of them, right?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 21, 2021:

Char, I can't imagine taking the time to make my own butter (especially since I have such good-quality butter available to me). It reminds me of something we did in grade school. The teacher poured whole milk into a large Mason jar, screwed on the lid, and we passed the jar around, everyone having their turn at giving it a few shakes, until (tada!) there was real butter!

Char Milbrett from Minnesota on March 21, 2021:

Hmmm, I'm inspired. I will bet that making the butter yourself would really hit the mark...heavy cream, then shake, shake, shake, ... Thank you for your instructions!

Ann Carr from SW England on March 21, 2021:

I love croissants. When we go to France, it's a staple breakfast, a must-have. Nowhere in the world does croissants like the French. As you said right at the beginning, it's the shape, the smell, the richness of taste and the sheer tradition of that particular food with a strong black coffee, French style. Even their own supermarkets can't make the taste right - they have to be from the local baker's, straight from the baking shelf, still warm and a little greasy. They sell them here in Britain and they don't even come close, even from the bakery.

By now, you will realise that I like pure French croissants!

Great hub. I'm sure your recipe is superb but (especially with my cooking) I wouldn't even attempt it. I'll be off to France at the earliest opportunity this year and that will be one of the first things I'll eat when I touch French soil!

Thanks for this strong memory of my favourite foreign country and of my wonderful French friends.

Hope you're keeping well, Linda.

Ann

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on March 21, 2021:

I too love croissants...for a treat though, not regularly. The history behind them was a delight to read. Thank you Linda.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Rebels. on March 21, 2021:

Linda, The article is very informative and detailed

I love eating croissants a lot, especially when they are oven-fresh hot

But I am bad at making them

THANK YOU for sharing this delicious recipe with us.

Blessings

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 21, 2021:

Pamela, you always make me smile. As I said, croissants are a true labor of love, and unless you can tolerate being on your feet for a long time, they probably aren't something to attempt. I'm glad you enjoyed the history. This was a fun one to write!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 21, 2021:

I love, love croissants! The history in this article is very interesting.

I appreciate the specific information you gave us about the ingredients. I have never made them and probably can't, but f I was only younger. LOL I have purchased croissants or eaten them in a restaurant, but never attempted to make them. This is a wonderful article, Linda.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 21, 2021:

Genna, I do think you sell yourself short. With the proper amount of time (right now I'm thinking "being snowed in by a blizzard") one could find the hours to do this. I'm glad you liked the MA story.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 21, 2021:

Bill, unless you go to a high-end bakery (in other words, not Wal-Mart or Safeway) the croissants you find will be a pathetic rendition of what these flaky treats are meant to be.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on March 21, 2021:

I could never master the art of making these yummy treats...thank you! And reading about the origins was so interesting -- especially the note about Marie Antoinette. :-)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 21, 2021:

This is just something I rarely eat, not because I don't like them, because I do, but just because . . .

They are delicious when made properly, which I'm sure you do.

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