Croissants, crescent-shaped, buttery and flaky, are perhaps the most well known pastries in the world. You'll find them for sale across the globe from Chicago to Paris to Tokyo and from high-end pastry shops and restaurants to delis and fast food joints.
The croissant is categorized as a viennoiserie — a flaky or “feuilleté” pastry that may have originated in Vienna. No one knows for certain where the first croissant was baked, but everyone agrees that French bakers mastered the formula. The widely recognized croissant has several romantic accounts of its origin.
The most popular story is that one night in 1683, Turks attempted to invade Vienna by tunneling under the city walls. Bakers beginning their day's work heard the peculiar noise underground and sounded the alarm, preventing the Turks from overtaking the city. To celebrate, the Viennese bakers created bread in the shape of the Turkish flag's emblem, a crescent moon.
Other sources describe a similar story of a Turkish invasion thwarted by bakers in Budapest in 1686. It is possible that the croissant was popularized in Paris at the Universal Exposition in 1889 with Viennese bakers' participation; however, the flaky croissant we are accustomed to was described in French literature as early as 1853.
For more than a century, bakers have been laminating their bread dough with butter in order to obtain a flaky, buttery pastry. The basics of laminated dough are simple: fermentation and “feuilletage” or laminating the layers of dough with fat. The fat used for croissants is butter and constitutes 25 to 30 percent of the total weight of the dough. For example, 1 kg of dough requires 250 to 300 g of butter for laminating.
While baking, the water and butter in the laminated dough turn into steam that tries to escape. The fat gives the dough the necessary strength and protection to withstand the pressure of the steam, and also encourages gluten development. The imprisoned steam causes the dough to inflate between the layers and gives volume to the product.
Making a successful croissant requires using cold and pliable butter. The dough and the fat should be as close to the same texture as possible. Three single turns produce an optimum product from this formula. Your customers may decide that yours are the best croissants they have ever had.
Step one: Sheet the dough into a square. Place the square of softened, but still cold butter on the dough, and fold the dough over the butter. Return to the cooler.
Step two: Roll the dough into a rectangle and give two single folds. Refrigerate overnight before giving the dough a third single fold.
Step three: Sheet the dough into a rectangle. Divide it into two strips and cut into even triangles.
Step four: Make a small cut at the base of the triangle. Stretch each piece slightly prior to rolling the croissant.
Step five: Place the rolled croissants on sheet pan, four rows by five. Lightly egg wash the croissants, and proof. Egg wash again before baking.
Step six:Bake at 356°F for about 6 to 7 minutes.
Chef John Kraus, pastry chef and instructor at The French Pastry School at City Colleges of Chicago teaches his students the art of pastry that includes advanced bread techniques. In 2005 and 2006, Chef Kraus was named one of the Top Ten Pastry Chefs in the United States by a national magazine. For more information on The French Pastry School, visit www.frenchpastryschool.com.