How To Make Croissants: Viennoiserie at the NYCE

"Going to a pastry course always makes me wish I had paid more attention in chemistry class."

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[Photos: Chichi Wang]

Croissant Recipe

Here's the recipe (with illustrations) for Karen Bornarth's and Roger Gural's croissants.

Croissants may be a time-consuming endeavor, but every step of the process—from pounding the butter to incorporating it into the dough—is culinary manipulation at its finest. Led by pastry chefs Karen Bornarth and Roger Gural, the Viennoiseries class at the New York Culinary Experience was a comprehensive lesson in creating, shaping, and diversifying the basic yeasted dough used for croissants.

Working our way backwards in chronological croissant time, the class began with instructions on how to shape and form the pastries, covered the proper way to make the dough, and concluded with the involved process of layering blocks of butter into the dough. At the end of the course, the intensely buttery aroma caused by hundreds of croissants baking at the same time wafted into the hallway—attracting the appetites of everyone nearby.

Croissant fundamentals, and a photo tutorial, after the jump.

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Going to a pastry course always makes me wish I had paid more attention in chemistry class. The precision with which pastry chefs operate is a given; even more impressive is their knowledge of why ingredients behave in certain ways. When forming the dough—a simple mixture of all-purpose flour, milk, water, and yeast—Chef Bornarth explained why the addition of sugar must be delayed.

The term she used, hygroscopic, describes the tendency of sugar to attract water. In other words, when sugar is added to the dough, the sugar molecules draw some of the water out of the dough mixture. So an initial addition of sugar would interfere with the bonding of the flour's protein to water, whereas delaying the addition eliminates this risk. Bottom line: when adding the sugar to the croissant dough, wait until the dough is already cohesive.

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After the dough had been kneaded in the mixer and allowed to rise, the class turned to the all-important matter of lamination. The term refers to the method of layering the butter into the dough by a lengthy process of folding and rolling, folding and rolling. We were each given a pound of European-style butter (Plugra) to work with. In order to render the butter malleable, each student was given a giant wooden dowel with which to beat the butter into submission (by far, my favorite part of the class).

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Like origami, the folds that encompassed the butter into the dough had to be exacting. From three initial layers (dough, butter, dough), the rectangle of dough grew to seven layers, to twenty-five, and finally, to seventy-four layers. The lamination spanned two risings and resting periods, after which the giant blocks of dough were finally ready.

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Pastry cream, raisins soaked with rum, and chocolate were incorporated into the same dough, displaying the flexibility of the croissant formula. Once baked, the croissants and pastries crackled and shattered on the surface, retaining a tender and stretchy interior.

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For those of you looking to make croissants at home, know that the dough can be refrigerated following the initial forming and after the second resting and rising. Finally, following the actual shaping of the crescents, the unbaked croissants may be frozen for future use. To bake, defrost slowly overnight and let rise on the day of baking. In this way, one day's worth of effort can yield many, many batches of freshly baked croissants in the future.

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Lugging my heavy block of dough on the subway, I formed fifty croissants in my kitchen that evening, freezing the majority of them. Over the next few weeks, my mornings will be filled with coffee and the sweet, buttery perfumes of Viennoiserie.

Continue here for the croissant recipe »