Butter Croissants & Pain au Chocolat

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I will never get bored of the “I can’t believe I made that” magic of croissants. The whole process takes about 16 hours from start to finish, but it’s totally worth it for that buttery, flakey goodness. And, oh man, it makes your kitchen smell good.

Croissants are made from a laminated dough, which means that, rather than being mixed in, the butter is folded in-between layers of dough. When the butter melts in the oven, it creates steam, causing those characteristic pockets of air between the layers of pastry. Temperature is vital when making croissant dough: too warm and the butter will melt and mix in with the dough, creating a bready texture; too cold and the butter will break through the dough when you try to roll it. Make things easier for yourself and use a good quality Normandy butter if you can as it has a higher melting temperature.

Ingredients*

500g strong white bread flour
10g salt
10g easy bake yeast
80g caster sugar
300ml water
300g chilled butter
1 egg (for glazing)
100g dark chocolate, if making pain au chocolat (the great Mr Paul Hollywood swears by Bournville, and I do too)

This recipe makes 12 croissants – I made six crescent-shaped butter croissants and six pain au chocolat.

*As in Paul Hollywood’s How To Bake.

Method

Set up a standalone mixer with a dough hook and add your flour. Put the salt and sugar on one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other.

Add the water and mix on low (about 4 on a KitchenAid) for 2 minutes, then on medium (about 6) for a further five to six minutes. It will make quite a stiff dough so you could knead it by hand instead, though you might need to do it for a little longer than in a mixer.

Put a handful of flour into a clean plastic/freezer bag and (securing the top) give it a shake. Put the dough in the bag and pop in the fridge for an hour to cool and firm up.

In the meantime, tear two sheets of greaseproof paper about 40cm long. Put your cold butter in one block in the middle of one sheet and put the second on top of it. Use a rolling pin to bash the butter as flat as you can, and then roll it out into a piece about 40cm by 19cm. Pop your sheet of butter in the fridge, still between the greaseproof, to let it harden up again.

Once it’s been an hour, turn your dough out on a lightly floured surface and roll it into a rectangle about 60cm by 20cm, short end towards you. Take your butter sheet from the fridge and cut it into two squares, then peel back one of the sheets of greaseproof. Place the first square, butter-down, onto the middle of your dough and peel back the other sheet of greaseproof. Fold the top third of the dough down over the butter. Place the second square of butter on top of that folded-down third, then fold the bottom butter-less third up over the top. Press down on the open edges to seal, then put back in the plastic bag and return to the fridge to chill for anywhere between half an hour and two hours. That’s the most complicated bit, I promise.

Once your dough has chilled, turn it out onto your floured surface, taking care to maintain its square shape. Place it with the sealed fold end towards you, so that you will always be folding in the same direction. Roll it out, short end towards you, into a 60cm by 20cm rectangle. Fold the top third down over the middle third, then the bottom third up over that. Press down lightly to seal the edges again, return to the bag and then back in the fridge for another rest – again, between half an hour and two hours. Repeat this step twice more, then leave to rest in the fridge for at least eight hours, or overnight.

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Line three baking trays with greaseproof paper and set aside. Again, turn your dough out onto a floured surface and roll into a rectangle, this time about 30cm by 40cm. Cut it in half lengthways to give you two strips of dough, 15cm wide by 40cm long. I used one of these strips for plain croissants and one for rolled pain au chocolat, but you could just do one type if you prefer.

For the plain croissants, cut your strip into isosceles triangles with bases of about 12cm. You should get six, with two half triangles at either end – bin these. Take a triangle, hold down the wide base and pull the pointy end away from you to stretch out, then roll up from the wide end, tucking the pointy end under to seal. You can either leave them straight or curl the ends round to create crescents – personally I prefer the look of the crescent. Place on the baking trays.

For the pain au chocolat, chop up your dark chocolate into small pieces. Cut your strip of dough into 6 pieces, 6-7cm wide by 15cm long. Place about a tablespoon of chocolate in a line across the width of each strip, about 2cm from the end closest to you. Roll them up, starting by folding the 2cm end over the chocolate and then continuing, tucking the close under. Place on the baking trays.

(If you want, you can freeze some or all of your croissants, at this point, pre-prove, and then let thaw and rise at room temperature for two to three hours before baking anytime you fancy one.)

You now need to leave your croissants to rise at cool room temperature (20-24 degrees) until doubled in size, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Don’t let them get too hot; otherwise, the butter that you’ve spent so long carefully folding in will melt and leak out or soak into the dough.

Preheat your oven to 180°C fan. Once your croissants have puffed right up and the dough springs back almost immediately when you press down, you’re ready to bake. Beat the egg in a mug or small bowl with a fork, then brush all the exposed pastry to glaze. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown – if you can only fit two trays in your oven at a time, the third won’t suffer for being left out a bit longer – and tuck in as soon as they’re cool enough. If you manage to save some for the next day (the perfect thing to cheer up a Monday morning), you can bring a bit of life back to them by reheating in a hot oven for five minutes before eating.

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