The recipe for croissants in the Tartine Bread cookbook by Chad Robertson is a whopping nine pages, six of them full of step-by-step illustrations. If anything, this made me even more determined to make them.
It has been years since I last attempted croissants. These are labor-intensive little rolls, to be sure. First you prepare a basic yeasted dough and then you laminate it with butter in a long series of folds. There are long stretches of time while you wait for dough to rise or butter to chill. In the end, even the most basic croissant recipe can take two solid days to prepare.
But the result of all this work and patience is a shatteringly crisp pastry with a delicious chewy interior that practically melts in your mouth. Outside of a very few bakeries dedicated to following the whole procedure, you're not likely to find anything close.
The recipe from Tartine is no exception to the notion that croissants are hard work. If anything, it even takes things a step further by using both Tartine's signature sourdough leven and an overnight poolish as part of the croissant dough. The advantage of these two ferments over straight yeast is a more controlled rise and a subtle and complex flavor in the finished rolls.
Other than this, the method for mixing the dough and then laminating it with butter is the same as bakers have been doing for centuries. (A link to how to make and shape croissants is below.)
I had the most difficulty with pounding the cold butter into a pliable mass, a necessary step so that it folds with the dough rather than shatters. The Tartine recipe has you cut the cold butter into cubes before starting to pound it with a rolling pin. As I went at it, the cubes flew everywhere, usually onto the floor. In culinary school, we simply pounded whole sticks of butter for this step and the whole process was quicker and less messy. If I make these again, I'll go back do doing that.
I also had trouble getting my dough to roll out thinly enough, both during the turns and for the final shaping of the croissants. I'm not sure if my butter was too cold and resistant or if the dough was simply springing back on me, but it took every ounce of my strength to roll it even close to the recipe's specifications.
In the end, none of this mattered because the croissants were incredible. Don't tell my baking instructor, but these were light years above those we made back in school! They very literally shattered in my mouth, the flakes of pastry melting on contact with my tongue. But then the interiors were soft and springy, with a delicious sweet and yeasty flavor. The croissant was fantastic all on its own, and even better with a little jam spread on each bite.
I give a lot of credit to that leven and poolish at the beginning, and then long periods of resting and rising throughout the process. The dough had plenty of time to develop in both flavor and texture. This was immediately evident as I took the pastries out of the oven and bit into the first one.
I wish we had the space and permission to share the entire recipe with you here! This Tartine Bread cookbook is one of the best ones on bread and pastry baking that I've come across in a very long time. It's well worth picking up a copy of your very own.
(Image: Emma Christensen)