Croissants – A La Julia Child
In honor of my culinary hero Julia Child and upcoming movie about her life Julie & Julia (where Meryl Streep plays Julia Child, and Julie Powell is played by Amy Adams) I decided to bake one of her recipes from her TV show The French Chef With Julia Child 2 – Croissants.
Although the process might sound intimidating it is in fact quite simple. Hey – if a rookie like Julia could make it, you can make it too! I will go with you step-by step as presented by Julia in her show. Read along – it is fun and delicious!
Julia Child, More Than A Character
As she goes through her rolling pins collection in the Croissants episode of her late 1960’s TV show The French Chef, where she flamboyantly throws one of them in the trash bin, concluding that “It’s good for nothing, I don’t know why I keep it”, or as she encourages you to take heart when you flip anything in a pan to do it with the “courage of your convictions”, while she spills most of her potatoes on the stove top, Julia Child – the pioneer of cooking shows, gives hope for cooking newbies like you and me who feel so small and intimidated while watching modern big-wig cooking shows where everything turns out perfect, manicured and shiny!
I was extremely excited to hear of the Julie & Julia movie and from what I’ve seen of the trailer, Meryl Streep does an outstanding acting in playing the role of this extraordinary woman! Can’t wait to watch it on 7th of August!
Considered the donut rival in America (and rightly so), the croissant gained quick popularity in every pastry shop, continental breakfast plate, and even in donut chains. Charles Dickens wrote about the Croissant in his 1872 All Year Round periodical, “the workman’s pain de ménage and the soldier’s pain de munition, to the dainty croissant on the boudoir table“.
But it’s humble origins are mentioned long before that year, when August Zang (an Austrian artillery officer) opened the Boulangerie Viennoise in 1838 in Paris featuring the popular kipfel, that inspired the French pastry chefs to roll out a nationalized version calling it Le Croissant, due to its crescent shape.
As intimidating (and cliche) as it probably sounds – if you can make a humble omelet, you CAN bake a beautiful batch of 12 Croissants. I mustered up enough courage by watching Julia’s episode on how to make Croissants, and being baking a couple of successful batches since then – well, one of them turned out more browner than needed as I left them in the oven too long [ahem!]. The nice thing about it is that the dough can be prepared ahead of time, and frozen so when you are planning on baking, all you need to do is to get your oven going and your appetite. There are a lot of Croissants recipes, I am sure, but just for the sake of celebrating the movie and the women who inspired it, I’ll stick with her version.
Probably the most important step in the recipe is to use the right flour type for this type of pastry. Julia suggests using a low-gluten flour so the dough can be easily rolled without becoming rubbery, etc. You could for instance use a mix of 1 part unbleached all-purpose and 2 parts unbleached pastry flour. She also adds tasteless oil to the mix, to help tenderize the dough.
Even if today’s dry yeast has a very small chance of failing to do its job, I will give it a chance to prove itself to be worthy of our croissant dough.
1 Tsp dry yeast
1/4 Tsp salt
1/2 Tb sugar
1/4 cup warm water (not more than 110 degrees, otherwise you’ll kill the yeast)
Start by mixing all these ingredients with the warm water until dissolved, and let it sit for 5 min. If the yeast is active (and it should) it will form a soft foamy mass on its surface:
No big secret here to be learned. Make sure that when you measure “1 cup of flour” you actually sweep off the excess with the edge of a knife so you will have a consistent quantity. The quantities given here are good for a batch of 12 croissants. I usually double it and freeze a half of the dough (after I have the butter in it).
2 Cups of your flour mix (see Flour Options above).
1 Tb sugar
3/4 Tsp salt
1/3 to 1/2 cups tepid milk
if using unbleached flour: 2 Tb vegetable oil (I used Canola)
if using bleached flour: 4 Tb vegetable oil
Blend all the above in a mixing bowl (don’t forget the yeast mix) with a spatula into a sticky mass, then out on the board:
Time for some punching – works well when you are mad. Julia suggests the lift-and-throw motion and as she talks and demonstrates the moves, the dough gets stuck to her pastry scraper and goes flying as she exclaims “Whew!” and goes on with her explanation without any trouble… Typical Julia Child! Love it. Un-edited fun!
Keep on being rough with your dough for about 3 minutes – it’ll be somewhat sticky at first but after a good rapid fold and knead with the heels of your hands it will become elastic, smooth and will not stick to your hands anymore:
Time to rise. Plop the dough into a bowl and do a criss-cross scissors snip on its surface to help it rise. Then cover it with a plastic wrap, and let it rise until it becomes double in bulk:
Rising time depends on the room temperature. I found that if I do this in the summer, rising is faster than in winter. About 1 to 1-1/2 hours at say 75 degrees will suffice. Don’t keep it in temperatures higher than 85 degrees or longer that needed (over-rise) since that wll impart an unpleasant taste. At this point you can retard the rising by placing the bowl in the refrigerator:
Then, punch it down into a flat circle, wrap it in wax-paper and chill it for about 20-30 minutes. The chilling is important as it makes working the dough much easier:
Rolls, Turns and Chills
If the croissant recipe would be considered a somewhat complicated procedure, than this particular step would probably be the one that will need more attention. What makes this basic yeast dough (good for bread, etc.) become a croissant dough is a good old stick of chilled butter. It is butter that makes the world turn. And it is butter that will make the 82 dough layers for our croissants:
Time is now to beat the daylight out of this chilled butter with your rolling pin. The idea here, my friends, is to work the butter into a malleable consistency, free of lumps and very fast, to keep the butter cold – working with melted butter is just not fun:
Then finish this procedure by pushing the whacked butter bits by bits out with the heel of your hand, so it is completely lump-free:
Lovely, huh? Having fun yet? Now, press your dough (I roll it) into an approximate 9″ diameter circle, then form the butter into a 5″ square (square-ish in my case) and place it on the top of your dough (centered):
Now gently flip the dough edges (without ripping it!) over the butter and seal in the butter by pinching the dough:
Voila! now you have a nice package of dough with a stick of butter inside, ready to be massaged into many layers. For that, flour your rolling pin and both sides of your dough, place it on your board with the seal side up and start gently rolling back and forth from the center towards the edges to form a rectangle of about 15″ long and 5″ wide. It doesn’t HAVE to be exact, but try to at least get close to that dimension. If there are butter bits that poke through, just pinch the dough over that spot to re-seal it. Also, if the dough became too rubbery (read warm), chill it again for about 20 minutes and continue from where you’ve left it. What you want here is to evenly spread the butter between the two dough layers (this gets you ready for your next step):
Turns #1 and #2
Okay. What’s a turn in culinary lingo? Julia Child defines it as having the dough folded like a business letter in 3 even layers. And really, that’s exactly what it is. Gently fold the bottom of your rectangle to the center of the dough then fold the top flap over it the same way. That’s defined as turn #1:
Then once again, roll out the dough to the initial 15″ long and 5″ wide rectangle to prepare it for turn #2 just as before. Keep the edges as straight as possible (I re-align them with the rolling pin). You will see that it will look more like a rectangle than before. Rinse and repeat – you got it right?
By this time (after turn#2) your dough needs some chilling to be able to roll it another 2 turns. Leave it folded as a business letter, flour it lightly, wrap it in wax-paper and place it in the fridge for about 1-2 hours:
Turns #3 and #4
After the time spent in the fridge (1 to 2 hours) the dough is relaxed and ready for turn #3 and turn #4. Really nothing special here. Just repeat the same process as for the previous two turns – two rollings into the 15″ long and 5″ wide rectangle and two business letter style folding. You will end up with 81 layers of butter between 82 layers of dough. Again, by this time the dough is probably getting to rubbery to work with, so back in the fridge it goes for a 2 hours chill.
After the 2 hour chill, out of the fridge the croissant dough comes and onto a lightly floured board. This time roll it into a 20″ long by 5″ wide rectangle. Try to keep the edges as straight as possible:
Next, make a middle crosswise cut and chill one half:
Now, roll the one half of the croissants dough into a 12″ long by 5″ wide rectangle and cut it in thirds and chill two of the thirds:
Now take one of the thirds and roll it into a 5-1/2″ square and cut it on the bias. Mine here doesn’t look terribly square-ish but you get the idea:
Roll the triangles out to extend to about 7″ long and shape it as much as you can into a isosceles triangle (where two sides are equal in length). Now starting at the base, roll up the dough towards the tip of the triangle, then bend it into a crescent moon form, and place it on a buttered 12″ x 14″ baking sheet (not too close to each other so they don’t fuse together while rising and baking) with the tip of the triangle on the bottom so that it wouldn’t unwrap during baking. Form the rest of the dough the same way into a total of 12 croissants, and let it rest for an hour covered with a plastic wrap. This might be a good time to get your oven going – set it to 475 degrees (mine takes about 45 minutes to heat up). You can freeze the risen croissants for later baking and pop them in the oven while frozen:
Glazing and Baking
Again, no rocket science here. Simple egg-wash. Paint the risen croissants with one egg beater mixed with 1/2 Tsp water:
Then pop them in the pre-heated 475 degree oven and really – keep an eye on them because they bake very fast. Usually something between 10 to 15 minutes depending on how dark brown you want them to look. Don’t do any other activities during this fast bake – you will forgot about the oven like I did so many times. I tend to leave them in until they turn dark-brown. Let them cool on a rack for about 10 minutes and resist the temptation of eating – the are HOT!:
Julia mentions in the episode that she could eat Croissants in the morning, for lunch, for dinner, mid-morning or mid-night snack and so on. And I don’t blame her. These evil Croissants are so wicked delicious that can be enjoyed throughout the day. I tend to like them in the morning and for lunch, as a sandwich, or simply with any sort of jam or marmalade. Too bad we don’t have Le Figaro, the French news paper that Julia grabs at the end of the show while sitting down and enjoying her caffé au lait, and freshly baked croissant.
211 thoughts on “Croissants – A La Julia Child”
Hi! I really love your recipe and all the awesome pictures you’ve posted, very helpful!
But I must say I always seem to have my butter oozing out in small areas of the dough during lamination and have large air bubbles after rolling the butter in.
How can I prevent or fix this?
This is my 2nd time making croissants and my 1st try didn’t have much layers. Also, is proofing the croissants before baking them a necessary step at all?
I am making this and its coming along great! I plan on filling a couple with chocolate 🙂 so we will see how they turn out!!
The recipe was easy enough. But it didn’t taste like an airy croissant from panera or my grocery store. They didn’t hold their shape well (the layers separated). It tastes like Pillsbury flaky layers biscuits. 🙁
Sorry to hear Kim. There are so many variables that play into this, specially flour type that one cannot guarantee the outcome. Mine were super flaky though…
Thanks for this – I had watched the Julia Child episode on youtube and it was great to have all the measurements! Currently in the “turning” stage getting ready for croissants for breakfast!
A good tip I read about was to place the butter in a sandwich bag (the plastic type with the zip lock top) – you can beat the lumps out of the butter with a rolling pin and you end up with a perfect square of butter ready for the lamination part!
Dear Julie , I realize these post are old, but just watched the movie for the tenth time, I always cry at the end of the movie, makes me think of how sad it is that Julia and Paul who loved each other so much
And were so full of life are not here, just memories. I have Julie’s 1965 addition of “”The French Chef”
Found it at a used book shop, was so thrilled….. I guess she inspired a lot of us, myself now 50, my grandparents gone, get sentimental when I pick up her book, it teleports me back to the warmth of the kitchen , homey smells wafting from it, the love and peace I felt there, I think Julia would have
Approved. I don’t know Julie if you will see this, but loved what you accomplished with your goal of working thru Julia’s book, she will never know me either but little would she know that I grew up loving
Her, excited to try something as a young man and share w those I love. I made your croissant recipe today it turn out good, thx jp.
Just finished my first batch. Delicious!
As a first time backer, I would do a couple things differently next time:
1. Put stick of butter in the freezer for a few minutes before smashing to give slow down the melting process
2. Roll the dough a little thinner before rolling into croissants
Thank you for posting!
I made these croissants last weekend and they were a huge hit! They turned out so perfectly flakey and moist, well worth the time and effort! I had a bit of trouble rolling them into the perfect shape but finally got the hang of it! Thank you for the step by step instructions and photos! I will definitely be making these again soon!
Firstly as a head chef I am very suspicious
Of recipiesthat are to simple……well didn’t
You showed me….easy,light ,flaky …well
Thank you má liga…I Love that you explanations ! I , finally, got it after years of making croissants, delicious but not like the real French! God bless you!
Thank you, Julie! I finally got it after years of making croissants, delicious but not like the real French!