Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The thing about croissants is...

... they are very hard to make properly. I think I have spent a good amount of time during the past five years trying to perfect them (and all Vienoisserie style laminated dough, such as Danish... will post on that eventually), almost obsessively. It all started back in Bouchon, in 2004. I was (and still am) mostly a pastry chef, with bread and savory inclinations. At that time I had no idea how to make a croissant. I had only received TK's directive as to what constitutes a great croissant. I honestly don't remember what he told me, but it was the search for those qualities that pushed me to produce, in my opinion, the best method and recipe for it.
This is what a great croissant should have in order to be great (and it may in fact have been what TK told me... in any case, this is what I believe about croissants and their quality):
.An even dark golden brown color throughout. Not the wimpy beige or even yellow croissants. Those babies are soft, soggy and 100% disgusting. A dark browning of the crust (Maillard) translates into a flaky, crisp crust with a deep complex flavor.

.Flaky crust. Yes, I know I mentioned it above, but this is what we like about this pastry. It has to be flaky to the point of being brittle. The gentle pressure from your hands will make the crust shatter into many small flakes. This should also leave a little buttery residue on your fingertips.
.It should feel lighter than it looks. Many people remark that our croissants are too big, when in fact they are only about 100 g each; light as a feather.
.The interior should be light and fluffy, almost not there. We determine the quality of the crumb by something that is called the "honeycomb", which is named that way because it looks like a honeycomb. Kind of. It is hard to describe a proper honeycomb, because it is an irregular shape, and not really as symmetrical and even as a bee's honeycomb. I think it is better to just look at the picture all the way above for a better understanding.
.The flavor should be mostly butter, with a background of yeasty fermented dough. If you use a pre-ferment (typically a pate-fermente, collected from the previous day's dough), the flavor will be even better, but you can have very good results without one, and using yeast alone.
We go though many pains to ensure that it always meets our standards and that the qualities mentioned above are present in each croissant. To me, there are four things a baker should know how to make well before he can call himself that: a sourdough bread, a baguette, brioche and a croissant. If you can do those things well, you are in fact a terrific baker.

The thing also about croissants and lamination is that I have often thought of them as something that is almost in its own category. I have grouped it with other baker-type items, but doesn't a pastry chef need to know how to laminate as well (puff pastry)? So where does it fall... bread or pastry? I have to conclude that it is its own entity.

The whole dissertation on croissants, the recipe, the production and all of the details you need to know to make a wonderful product will be included in my upcoming book: The Modern Cafe, due out in January 2010. Not to tastelessly push my book, but I can't put all of that information here.


  1. Back in school, Croissants were part of bakery (Viennoiserie), but unyeasted puff pastry was a thing of both Pastry and bakery classes...