My First Time Making Croissants
I've been dying to try making croissants for the past several years, at least.
Something about the challenge of the infinite, crunchy but airy layers, the golden crust and the gentle taste of butter they leave on your tongue has always captivated me. However, the mystique surrounding them is intimidating. Butter blocks, half turns, proofing the dough... all in all, croissants can take up to three whole days to complete, and the technical language alone has had this pastry amateur procrastinating for months.
But for my birthday this year, I was gifted an extraordinary present – a one-on-one croissant-making workshop through the Atelier Sucré in New York City, a concept by French chef Simon Herfray. So, I can finally cross this off my bucket list. Let me tell you all about it!
When I arrived for my ~3-hour lesson, Chef Jen greeted me, handed me an apron and showed me to my station, which was already stocked with prepped and measured ingredients – fresh yeast, flour, lots of butter... As croissants can take up to 72 hours to make, we were doing an expedited lesson. First, we would use a previously mixed and rested dough to roll out, stuff and shape our viennoiseries. Then, while those proofed and baked, we would mix a new dough, which another group would later then use in their class. First, Chef Jen demonstrated all the steps for me as I watched carefully and asked some questions. Then, it was time for me to get my hands dirty.
I had to roll out lots and lots of dough, and I will tell you something – pastry chefs must have incredible upper body strength. My forearms were killing me after all of that hard work. To make sure the dough is the right size, Chef Jen used a bench scraper. Two of them for the length, and one and a half for the width. Then, I rolled out classic croissants, ham and cheese-stuffed ones and even pains aux chocolat! I tried my hardest to be meticulous with the smooth, pillowy dough, and I was really happy with the result. After a quick egg wash, it was time for my own dough.
Fresh yeast bubbled up like I'd never seen, and we used a powerful KitchenAid to combine the flour, butter, milk and yeast mixture, sugar and salt. I then struggled with parchment paper and a rolling pin to create my rectangular butter block. This block then went on top of the dough, which was folded on top, rolled out, and turned 90 degrees. This marked the beginning of a process called lamination, which eventually gives the croissants those signature layers. These come from the butter and the dough being folded over on itself three times, each after 24 hours in the fridge. That's why it takes so long!
Finally, I got to enjoy the fruits of my labor. The croissants were nicely shaped, with a beautiful golden brown shell, and they were certainly flaky. The flavor was spot-on, although they weren't as perfectly light and airy as a seasoned professional's. Nonetheless, it was so exciting to see my own work resemble the ones I've seen in patîsseries all over France.
I cannot wait to try again and experiment with other exciting flavors, now that I've built up my confidence. Maybe one day that will be me in the chef's apron, teaching others how to make delicious food, helping them create something beautiful and recognize their own strengths.
Have you ever made your own croissants?