Photo by the writer
Photo by the writer

While synonymous with the French, the croissant’s story starts in Austria. The Austrian pastry, kipferi, from which the croissant is descended, can be traced back to the 13th century and came in various shapes and fillings. It is speculated (but not confirmed) that kipferi, in turn, has Egyptian roots.

While one can’t even imagine a French breakfast without a croissant, kipferi wasn’t even introduced to France until 1839. This was when August Zang opened an upscale bakery, Boulangerie Viennoise, which specialised in baked goods from the Austrian’s native city of Vienna. The boulangerie proved to be very popular, and soon competing French bakeries were trying to imitate the pastries and baked goods Zang sold. Over the decades, kipferi evolved into the croissant we love and know today — the first written record of the recipe for the contemporary version of the pastry, however, first appears in 1915 and was written by the French baker Sylvain Claudius Goy.

Pastries similar to the croissant can be found elsewhere in Europe such as cornetto in Italy (which has less butter in the pastry and is usually filled with custard or jam) and St. Martin’s croissants in Poland (made from puff pastry and filled with raisins, poppy seeds and nuts). In Spain, xuixos, a deep-fried pastry filled with crema catalana is popular while in Turkey, ay çörei, a crescent-shaped pastry generously stuffed with cinnamon, walnut, hazelnut, cacao and raisin, can be found.

Butter Croissants

Croissants are time-consuming and they can be intimidating to make but at the end of the day, they are worth the effort. Given that they take more or less two days to make, it’s a good idea to set aside baking these croissants for a weekend. They can be made ahead and stored for 18 hours in the fridge (make sure to cover them with cling wrap if you do). While this is the basic recipe, you can experiment and add any filling you like such as chopped almonds or shredded chocolate or your favourite jam — the possibilities are endless.

While this classic pastry can be intimidating to make, it’s worth the effort

Recipe (Makes 24 croissants)

Ingredients

4 cups all-purpose/white flour 1 ½ cups unsalted butter (chilled) 3 ¼ teaspoon instant dry yeast ¼ cup granulated sugar 1 ½ cups milk 1 tablespoon salt 1 egg

Method

  1. Before you start on the dough, activate the yeast. Warm the milk slightly — the milk should be lukewarm; if it’s too hot it’ll kill the yeast. Add the sugar and yeast to a mixing bowl and add the warmed milk slowly. Let it stand for a few minutes. The mixture should get bubbly if the yeast has begun growing.

  2. Make the dough. In a separate mixing bowl, add the flour (about three-and-a-half cups), salt and the yeast mixture. Stir well. Keep on mixing till the crumbly texture forms into a dough. Add the remaining flour a little at a time till the dough is only slightly sticky. Sprinkle some flour on your hands and the dough to prevent sticking. Knead the dough. If you’re using an electric mixture, use a dough hook and mix all the ingredients on low speed for about 5 minutes.

  3. Sprinkle some flour on a flat surface. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it a few more times. Roll the dough into a ball and place back in the bowl. Cover the bowl with cling wrap or a lid and chill in the fridge for one hour.

  4. While the dough is chilling, prepare the butter layer. Lay a parchment or wax paper on a flat surface and scoop out the butter. Place another piece of the paper on top and roll the butter flat into a roughly 8-by-5-inch rectangle. Place in the fridge to chill until needed.

  5. Laminate the dough. Take out the chilled dough, place on a flat surface and roll out into a rectangle that is twice as large as the size of the flattened butter (around 16 by 10 inches). Sprinkle the dough with flour if it’s sticking to the rolling pin. Take out the rolled-out slab of butter from the fridge and place in the middle of the dough. Fold the surrounding dough: fold one-third of the top of the rectangular dough as well as the bottom one-third of it over the butter.

Turn the dough so the shorter side faces you and roll it out once again into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle. Fold into one-thirds again, cover with cling wrap and chill for an hour. This is one ‘fold’. Repeat this step five more times. After the last fold, refrigerate for eight hours or overnight.

  1. When the dough has been chilled, take it out and split it into two. Roll out one-half into a 1/4-inch-thick rectangle. Divide the rectangle into three squares. Divide and cut each of the squares into triangles. Repeat with the second half of the dough.

  2. If you’re adding any filling, do so now — leave a small space from the edge and scoop the filling closer to the wide end of the triangle. Roll out each of the triangles: start from the wider part of it and move to the tip. Bend it slightly, by pulling the two ends, to form a crescent shape. Whisk an egg in a bowl and brush the top of the croissants with the egg wash.

  3. Line a tray with baking paper. Place the croissants one to two inches apart on the tray. Leave in a hot corner of the kitchen for an hour — this will activate the yeast and cause the croissants to rise.

  4. Preheat the oven to 200oC. Once the croissants have arisen, bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Eat just like that or with butter and/or jam. Serve with piping hot tea.

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 29th, 2023

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