When I was a teenager, I came across Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the book section at the grocery store (a favorite spot) and immediately ambushed my dad to buy it for me. I had just started taking French in school and was becoming slightly obsessed with all things Française: the language, the culture, and, of course, the food.
I didn’t actually know that much about Julia Child except for recognizing her booming personality from Dan Ackroyd’s incredible parody on SNL. Then there was the movie Julie & Julia, where Meryl Streep did her thing and absolutely nailed her impression of Julia. But I’m now discovering that there’s nothing quite as good as the real thing and, thanks to Youtube, I’m becoming borderline addicted to watching episodes of her show, The French Chef.
I’m endlessly entertained by her bold, breathless joy in the kitchen. I love that she’s not finicky or precious about food, she’s got her sleeves rolled up and she’s ready to do the job. Her confidence and humor in the kitchen is such an inspiration to me. She helps to remind me, crucially in an age where people take their food so seriously and business-like, that food is just food. Mistakes are not the end of the world, good food tastes good even if it doesn’t look perfect.
My baking “bucket list”, for lack of a better term, has nearly reached unrealistic proportions so I decided I needed to get to work checking some things off. I’ve never made croissants, so I decided Julia, queen of at-home french cooking, would be the perfect person to learn from. Happily there is a Youtube video showing the segment of her show where she makes them and I basically followed her step-by-step with a few very minor adjustments (noted in the recipe).
I didn’t end up with the kind of croissants you might get from a bakery in Paris but that wasn’t the aim, anyway. I followed Julia’s direction precisely and my croissants looked really similar to what she shows at the end of her segment so that’s a win in my book. These croissants may not be exactly authentic, they don’t shatter into a million layers and they have a more traditional bread-y texture and flavor (maybe due to the amount of milk in the recipe). They are, in Julia’s words, “lovely, buttery, flaky, tender delicious things.” I couldn’t agree more.
Croissants à la Julia Child
Mix together in a small glass bowl and let stand 5 minutes until foamy:
- 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 cup warm water (about 105°)
Meanwhile, heat on stove until warm to the finger:
- 1/2 cup milk
Mix together in a large bowl:
- 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup cake flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
You will also need (later on in the recipe):
- 1 stick (4 ounces) good-quality unsalted butter, cold
Pour yeast mixture and warm milk into dry ingredients. Stir to combine. Dump out onto lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes until the dough no linger sticks to your hands and springs back when gently pressed. Place into clean bowl and use scissors to snip an “X” into the top of the dough to help it rise. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge). Once risen, punch down dough and re-cover and chill for 30 minutes.
Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat until softened but still cold. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and roll out into a circle shape (about 10 inches in diameter) spread butter into a square shape in the middle of dough (about 5 inches across). Fold both sides and top and bottom of dough up and over the butter (try not to stretch or pull the dough too much) and pinch closed to form a little dough package. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
The rest of the process is repetitive and easy, but time consuming. You will need to roll and fold the dough out 4 times, or turns. The dough will need to rest in the fridge after each turn. This process takes about 5 hours.
Note: This is the only point in the recipe where I deviate from Julia. She does not chill the dough after the first and third turn but I find chilling it for just 30 minutes makes it much easier to handle.
Roll the dough out into a roughly 15 x 5 inch rectangle. Use a firm and even pressure to prevent butter from bursting out of the dough. Fold the dough like a letter, into thirds, and rotate one-quarter turn. Press your finger to make 1 dot at the top of the dough. This is your first turn. The dot will help you remember the orientation of the dough for the next time you need to roll it out.
Wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
Keeping your first dot at the top of the dough, roll out dough again into 15 x 5 inch rectangle. Fold like a letter, rotate one-quarter and mark two dots at the top of the dough.
Wrap and chill 2 hours.
Roll out again, fold, rotate, mark three dots at top.
Wrap and chill 30 minutes.
Roll out, fold, rotate, mark four dots at top.
Wrap and chill 2 hours.
Lightly butter two baking sheets and set aside. Roll the dough out into a 20 x 5 inch rectangle. Cut in half. Place half in fridge to keep cold while you work with other half.
Shape the half into a 12 x 5 inch rectangle and cut into thirds. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife and cut each piece on a bias. You will now have 6 triangles. They will have a right angle edge so you need to take a rolling pin and feather out the base of each so that the triangles have a shape more like this: Δ. Get the bottom rolling and then use a flat hand with firm but light pressure to quickly roll the dough. Place croissant evenly on baking sheet. Repeat the same steps with other half of dough and fill another baking sheets.
Place small juice glasses or shot glasses on baking sheets so that you can lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the top and not have it touch the dough. Leave to rise until they are doubled in size (about 1-2 hours.)
Preheat oven to 475°. It is very important that this temperature is accurate so give your oven plenty of time to preheat and use an oven thermometer if you have one (my oven was about 20° off!). When oven is ready and croissants are raised, brush tops with:
- 1 egg + 1 teaspoon water
Bake for 10-12 minutes (I baked one tray at a time so I could monitor them and not have to shuffle them around the oven halfway through). Serve warm, with jam if desired.