WARNING: my croissants are the cooking equivalent of "Weapons of Mass Destruction"
April 13, 2008 2:29 AM   Subscribe

So, is anyone else out there a frustrated wannabe Croissant Chef?

Yeh, well, I don't want to hear from you! Unless, of course, you'd like to commiserate.

But if you used to be a frustrated Croissant Chef, or never were frustrated by the creation of croissants can you please help out? With disastrous results I'm using a fairly basic recipe as follows :
  • 1 oz yeast
  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 1/2 cup honey (we don't use processed sugar, so I'm subbing for 1/4 cup white sugar)
  • A teaspoon of salt (reduced from two)
  • One cup milk (reconstituted from powdered milk, only mention this as sometimes I've made it a little stronger)
  • One pound unsalted butter
  • 1 egg

More flour used for dusting. Additional egg & milk used for glazing.

I'm trying to master a basic three turn croissant, and chilling the dough overnight. I previously was chilling after each turn anywhere between one and four hours. Pushed this out to overnight since I thought this was the problem but the additional time didn't really help.

Can you help me end up with more than a glump of tasty pastry after I'm done? I do all our cooking at home, and would like to add home made croissants to my repertoire and our diet.

Many thanks for your help!!
posted by Mutant to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I'm going to theorize that using a liquid sweetener instead of dry is having a big effect on the final product. You might try the recipe without the substitution once to get it working and then experiment with a better (dry) substitution option.
posted by loiseau at 3:22 AM on April 13, 2008

I'd also say to cut out the honey. The recipe I've had most success with uses just two Tablespoons for some taste. It could be omitted, I'm sure.

Also, is there a reason you're using powdered milk? Croissants are a luxurious food, and powdered milk isn't really.

Other than those two things, it's difficult to speculate about what's wrong since you don't give any information about either your method or the failure.
posted by OmieWise at 5:45 AM on April 13, 2008

Got this from America's Test Kitchen (although it's actually a Cooks Illustrated link):
Make sure the dough is thoroughly chilled before it is rolled out. If the butter becomes too warm, it will melt, making the dough difficult to roll and shape. If the dough becomes too warm and sticky at any time during the rolling and folding process, wrap the dough in plastic and chill until the dough becomes workable. This dough is best made in a cool kitchen; if your kitchen is warm, place a large tray of ice on your work surface to chill it down before rolling the dough.
So maybe your kitchen itself is too warm?
posted by nax at 5:47 AM on April 13, 2008

Yeah, it's almost certainly the honey. If your opposition to processed sugar is dietary, for something as delicate and tricky as advanced French pastries you may want to make an exception--I mean, think about how much butter you're about to eat, will a teaspoon of sugar push you over the edge? Health food stores carry unbleached sugar that works perfectly in place of white if you're concerned about the bleaching process.

Some other factors: What kind of yeast are you using? My croissant recipe seems similar to yours (although yours has about 4 tablespoons more butter) and it calls for instant (not active dry). Is your flour fresh and high quality?

Everything else comes down to technique & temperature. I couldn't do the whole envelope thing properly until I had someone show me in person and I built up the confidence to work quickly (yet without rushing). I'll send you a Cook's Illustrated recipe by mefi mail that has a pretty well-explained technique.
posted by bcwinters at 6:01 AM on April 13, 2008

You could try substituting some of the milk liquid with honey -- that way, the amount of liquid in the pastry will stay the same, which is important. Just add it all at the milk stage. Except you're probably dissolving the yeast in there, and the honey might kill the yeast or something... so figure out a different time to do it.

One other thing the sugar does, besides flavor, is brown the pastry as it's cooking. So you're going to wind up with very pale croissants if you leave out sugar entirely (not sure how honey browns).

Have you considered turbinado sugar? I'm not sure about how this will brown either, since it's already pretty brown, but it should help with the other aspects.
posted by amtho at 7:09 AM on April 13, 2008

I am curious as to how you arrived at the substitution of a half cup honey for a 1/4 cup white sugar. The National Honey Board has these recommendations for substitution, including "reduce any liquid called for by 1/4 cup for each cup of honey used and add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for each cup of honey used." I don't know about the baking soda, but your substitution of honey is definitely throwing the liquid/flour balance off.
posted by needled at 7:41 AM on April 13, 2008

You could try substituting some of the milk liquid with honey

It's not a problem with the amount of liquid, but how fast the mixture comes together, and how the gluten develops.

The sugar is important for feeding the yeast; the salt keeps the yeast from getting out of control. The only times I've used honey in bread is with high gluten flour. I'm not sure it works with white flour.

Speaking of flour, are you using organic flour? Organic flour is wonderful, but it often needs some rye or wheat mixed in.

Pastry is not forgiving when it comes to proportions. I routinely reduce the amount of sugar in batters, and often substitute honey, because I love it, but dough is not batter. May I suggest trying a classic recipe and then adjust only one element at a time? I have a hard time following recipes, too, but but each kind of dough has its own feel and texture. I wouldn't worry about 1/4 c of sugar being a slippery slope. I only use sugar in baking.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:53 AM on April 13, 2008

Honey is an invert sugar and as such is both sweeter than regular sugar and will also make something more moist. You don't really say what the problem is with your rolls but if they are all soft and gooey the extra moisture you add with the honey and the honey's ability to trap that moisture in the final product (invert sugar is what makes Soft Batch cookies soft) can ruin an otherwise good roll. Try the exact same recipe with plain white sugar and see if it makes a difference.
posted by caddis at 8:19 AM on April 13, 2008

I've had good results using Nancy Silverton's recipe; she uses whole milk, light brown sugar, active dry yeast, all-purpose flour, kosher salt and unsalted butter. I think most croissant recipes do not have egg in the dough; it's only used for glazing.
posted by violette at 8:33 AM on April 13, 2008

Couldn't resist linking to this honey croissant recipe in food service quantities (makes 66!).
More seriously, it might be useful for gaining an idea of ingredient ratios.

Some rules of thumb on substituting different types of sweeteners can be found here - e.g. white and brown sugar can be substituted on a 1 to 1 basis, but "to use honey in place of sugar, use 7/8 cup for every cup of sugar, and reduce the liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons."
posted by needled at 8:51 AM on April 13, 2008

the honey, of course. A little sweetener is good to get the yeast going, but that's a lot, and I'm sure it's doing bad things to the consistency. A few other thoughts to optimize croissant baking:

- try to work on a dry, cool day - or in an air-conditioned room;
- try bread flour in place of the all-purpose; I find the higher gluten content allows the layers to rise higher;
- are you using straight butter for the butter mass? Mixing it with some flour first (and then chilling) really helps keep it malleable but manageable;
- make sure your dough/butter mass isn't too cold when you're rolling out. Broken shards of butter won't separate the laminated layers of dough the way continuous sheets will;
- DON'T OVERPROOF! Seriously, this was my biggest problem my first few times making croissants - proofing until the yeast is almost exhausted, resulting in leaden lumps. If you proof judiciously, you can time it so you catch the croissants on the rise and they'll swell and flake mightily in the oven;
- Don't expect your home croissants to be squishy and soft inside and out. A proper croissant should be well-cooked, dark-crusted, and shatteringly crisp and flaky for the first few layers.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:39 AM on April 13, 2008

Yet another voice saying it's almost certainly the honey. Chemically, honey is a very different bit of business than white sugar. It's very hydroscopic, which is maybe the enemy of dry, crispy layers.

Also, as needled said above (who said to use 7/8 the quantity), I'm almost certain that honey provides more sweetness than sugar. In the episode of Good Eats about honey ("Comb Alone." Heh.) he makes an orange cake with honey instead of sugar, he says you can should use 20% less honey than sugar. You also need to lower the amount of liquid in the recipe because honey is also 20% water (so remove 3 tablespoons of liquid for every cup of honey) and add a pinch of baking soda since honey is more acidic than white sugar.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:42 AM on April 13, 2008

(I include that last note because I was so used to giant flotation device-like croissants from restaurants and bakeries that I didn't realize when I'd gotten the exact product home recipes promise to make......)
posted by peachfuzz at 10:43 AM on April 13, 2008

I remember hearing that honey by volume, was twice as sweet as sugar, and so you needed about half the amount of honey as sugar. Looks like here you used twice as much.

I imagine you could use Sucunat or a similar variant rather than honey. For recipes like this the balance of moisture and sugars is probably way, way more important than how long you chill the dough or how cold your surface is.

Before you even attempt the Honey Croissant recipe cited above, I would find a trusted variant of the recipe that either uses grams and milliliters or cups and teaspoons/tablespoons. It is way too confusing and dangerous to use a recipe that calls for oz if you don't know if they mean "volume" or "weight" (who the hell weighs out honey?)
posted by Deathalicious at 1:30 PM on April 13, 2008

Okay, here's a good looking croissant recipe using honey. Notice that they use 1.5 T honey in their recipe of 3.5 c flour; you used around 5x as much, which is probably why your recipe ends up gunky.

Best of luck with your croissants!
posted by Deathalicious at 1:33 PM on April 13, 2008

Apologies for not hopping back into this thread sooner; we wandered off to see the marathon this afternoon, and we're only now getting back to "usual" Sunday activities. And thanks for all the tips and especially for taking the time to MeFiMail; much appreciated.

It seems the consensus implicates the honey primarily, and perhaps secondarily powered milk. I only use the former to avoid processed sugar but point taken about pastry and sugar and especially the butter. Point also taken about the powdered milk; I'm frugal, purchase this stuff in (large) quantity, but Mrs Mutant discovered while talking about this thread that I purchase powdered skim milk, so that's no doubt a double negative (I never really noticed I was purchasing skim milk before).

And I am using organic flour ... curious this point was raised as well.

Anyhow, I'll take the very good advice about rebaselining the recipe to to standard ingredients then (perhaps) substitute only after I have mastered the pastry.

Just to close this out, I'll recap my process; apologies for not including it the first time around.
  • I put yeast, flour, sugar, salt and the milk (reconstituted) and mix by hand until I get elastic dough
  • Then I use a mixer until very smooth.
  • Drop the dough onto a (lightly) floured board, cover and let it sit for about thirty minutes.
  • Then I rolll the dough into a ten by ten inch square about one half an inch thick
  • Wrap the dough square in plastic and pop into the fridge (this was one of the variables I was perturbing; started out two hours, then also tried overnight)
  • Next I create a square of butter eight by eight inches.
  • Drop dough on a floured board, and work into a ten by sixteen (or so) and thinner, perhaps one quarter of an thick rectangle
  • Place butter on top, fold dough over so the butter is in the middle of the dough (visualise three layers, dough / butter / dough)
  • Push down HARD to insure uniform contact across the dough/butter layers
  • Roll dough / butter layer back out to ten by sixteen inches
  • Next fold each end back to the middle - this completes the first step
  • Chill the dought overnight - repeat rolling & butter two more times (note: another variable - I started out with a two hour cilling, then pushed out overnight as I continued to fail)
  • Finally roll out to about twenty four inches by twenty four inches
  • Cut out triangles, roll up with a small piece of dough in the middle
  • Brush with egg and milk mixture
  • Cook - twelve (or so) minutes at 425F
  • Behold my LUMPS of pastry (not really golden either)
Gosh thanks for all the tips! Mrs Mutant loves croissants and as there ain't nothing better than fresh cooked baked goods, I'd really like to master this pastry.
posted by Mutant at 1:40 PM on April 13, 2008

Then I use a mixer until very smooth.

I assume you mean dough hook. Even when I use the dough hook I always finish kneading by hand as it lets you feel when the dough has come alive (you'll know it when it happens). You don't want to knead it too much. Just get a good gluten developed.

Everything else seems about right, although I don't know about proportions. The sugar content seems a bit high. Also, I think I used to do that first rise basically in the fridge. (I don't make these anymore because they are no longer allowed in my diet, woe, and when I cheat I would rather cheat with one from a bakery rather than a dozen from the oven) If it isn't working I really think it must be the honey and liquid because as far as breads go croissants are pretty forgiving. They are tons of work, but they don't usually fail. A baguette on the other hand can take a lifetime to perfect. That recipe that Deathalicious found looks good on first glance. You really don't want much sugar in these anyway. You will add jam or honey or whatever, as well as more butter, when you eat them. :) Someone was talking about the sugar being necessary for the yeast, not really. You don't need to add any, but a tsp is nice, and for the croissants you could add some more for flavor.
posted by caddis at 3:01 PM on April 13, 2008

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