Warning: long post. I go over every step in my process, hopefully to give people as many clues as possible as to what could be wrong.
I work at a bakery, and have been having trouble with croissants turning out consistently good. I’ve read a bunch already from this forum (including txfarmer’s [iirc] excellent posts), read the chapter on them in Advanced Bread & Pastry, and generally looked up stuff online.
Suggestions from all of these have helped but no silver bullet yet. The good news is I get amazing looking croissants coming out more often than before- but occasionally I’ll bake an entire batch of 46 or so and none of them turn out. Or what happened today – I baked 46, and randomly half of them came out great and half of them came out of the oven flat. All of these were laminated, shaped and proofed by me from the same batch, so it’s odd that some are great while others are not. This wouldn’t be so bad if I had any clue why this was happening.
My boss hasn’t been much help. He’s a bit set in his ways and likes to rush certain steps a lot of time, being more focused on production/yield in favor of results. Not that he doesn’t strive for great results – it’s just that production trumps. His expertise in croissants amounts to reading the AB&P recipe and taking a workshop on shaping, so I’ve kind of taken helm.
The issues I have had today that are often regular problems, and I’m not entirely sure how to fix:
1. Half of the croissants I baked came out flat despite expanding well initially. My boss is 100% convinced it’s because I over proofed, but I find this odd when we only proof for 1.25-1.5hrs at the most (from what I’ve seen online, 2-3hrs is typical). He is also convinced I let the butter get too warm when folding but if that was the case then wouldn’t the whole batch be affected? I also doubt this too because we usually do our folds with the laminated dough cold to avoid melting the butter. I honestly think he is so concerned with warm dough that he does rolling/folds with the dough too cold.
2. I leaked a lot of butter today on some croissants during the baking process. Again a sign of under proofing, but our results suggest that they might be overproofed (flattened)?
3. Sometimes, and this was the case with the batch my boss made, sections of the croissant will brown solid and dark like you would expect from a bread crust despite egg washing. This occasionally happens across the entire croissant, which causes the inside to collapse while the outside holds its size (AKA big gaps between layers). That didn’t happen this time fortunately, but still didn’t get that flakey, crispy surface that is desirable.
So with that, maybe someone who’s very experienced with this process can chime in on our process and note problem points.
1. Dough is made the day before by another employee, refrigerated overnight. Consistency when ready to work with is slightly firm but still extensible and soft enough to work with.
2. Lamination. 8lbs of dough, 2lbs european 83% butter made into an 12mm thick butter pad, roughly 11×14″ in size, portrait orientation. I get the dough out of the fridge to warm up a little, usually about 20-25 minutes. After 10-15 minutes I get the butter pad out of the fridge to warm up as well. I typically roll the dough out to 18mm which is enough to encase the butter pad completely evenly. Our sheeter is very narrow (34mm clearance) so it has taken me a lot of trial and error to enrope the dough without having to trim a ton. Once the dough has encased the butter, I slowly hand roll it down to 34mm thickness so it can fit into our sheeter.
3. I then sheet down to 11mm. I used to have big issues with the dough going way over the butter requiring me to trim at this step, but by doing the above method (rolling out to 18 then hand rolling till it fits) I can typically keep the butter going edge to edge for the first fold, making no trimming necessary. I make the first fold (letter fold), rotate 90 deg, and put it back through the sheeter. By going down to 11mm, the dough is thin enough to just make the clearance of our sheeter after a letter fold.
4. After the first fold, I roll it again down to 11mm. This time I trim the short ends, because I usually have a big chunk of non laminated dough. I try and trim until I hit the first sign of butter. My boss never likes this, says that if you can see butter you trimmed too far (“That’s money!”). I’m pretty sure he’s wrong, so I end up trying to do my trimmings behind his back. The trimmings end up taking off about 0.5-0.75 lbs of dough. I then make the 2nd fold, making sure everything is nice and even. I often have to use my roller and stretch the dough a little since rarely does my dough roll out perfectly square (despite putting it in the sheeter rather square).
[the entire process of doing the first two folds and refrigerating takes maybe 10-15 minutes, not counting warm up time]
5. Cover dough up, refrigerate usually for 30-60 minutes depending on what else is going on.
6. Time to do the third fold. Take dough out of fridge, put into sheeter, sheet down to 9mm to get the dough to not be so narrow. Typically at this point the dough is rounded at the ends, with these ends having noticeable banding. It is hard to describe, but basically what happens is that while I’m rolling the dough down after it has had two folds, the middle of the dough gets pushed out farther than the outside a small bit. I would LIKE to trim this entire rounded end off, but typically avoid because it is a good 1lbs worth of dough lost if I were to do this. This rounded end does have laminations all the way to the edge, but I’m willing to bet not as many. I typically instead push these ends in some while rolling the edges out to square it off better. Then the third letter fold is completed.
7. Dough wrapped, put into the freezer to cool for 30-60min. I freeze at this stage because our kitchen is very warm (80F) due to two ovens being on the whole time. I’ve never been able shape croissants from refrigeration temp because the dough just gets too warm by the time it is rolled out and ready to shape.
8. With the dough cold but still pliable (not frozen), its ready to roll out and shape. I put the dough into the sheeter with the long side going in first, so I can widen the dough to the correct width (16-17inches or so). It typically takes me down to 18mm before I get to this width. Then, I rotate the dough long ways so I can roll it out proper, 2mm at a time until I get to 10mm. After 10, I go down 1mm a time until I get the dough down to 5mm. Then I transfer dough to bench.
9. If I did this right, the dough is exactly 16 inches wide and roughly 4-5 feet long at exactly 5mm after relaxing the dough several times. The ends are almost always bowed inward, and I usually either trim them off or use the roller to straighten them by hand. Occasionally I don’t get the width I want and have to use the roller several times to widen. I really don’t like doing this because the dough is usually not very extensible at this point. This is why I instead widen it to the width I want on the sheeter first.
10. I fold the dough over on itself hot dog bun style, trim the two sides and the bottom edge, make a crease in the top edge. Fold the dough back out, then I cut along the crease. Result: two 7-8inch wide strips that are squared off.
11. I then stack these two strips, and mark every 4 inches along its length. Using a standard kitchen knife, I cut triangles out from these marks that are 4″ wide at the top, and 7-8″ long. I then cut a small 0.5 inch notch in the tops of all the triangles.
12. For shaping, I pick up the triangle, gently run it through my finger+thumb to elongate (especially if the triangle came out short), then pull it apart at the top where the notch is. When rolling, I press down moderately to create an initial crease, then gently roll the rest of the croissant. I know the goal is to get 7 peaks, but I almost always end up with 5 instead. My boss insists it is because I’m not creasing far enough on the initial roll.
***While we do make croissants for same day, typically I like to keep ahead one day to account for orders and how time consuming the process is. After shaping, croissants are put into the freezer to chill. When I finish my shift a few hours later, the partially frozen shaped croissants are put into our fridge to defrost so they are ready to proof as soon as we walk in about 18hrs later. They are typically not frozen solid but still hard-ish and very cold by the time I put them into the fridge to defrost.
13. All croissants shaped. They are placed onto sheet pans with liner, 12 to a pan, diagonal to each other and several inches apart. Plenty of space between each one. Into the proofer. Proofer is set at 80F. It is supposed to have humidity control, but this function doesn’t work. Instead, soon after placing all croissants into the proofer, I usually opt to place a pot of water into the proofer that I had boiling during shaping to create steam/humidity.
14. After about an hour or so, humidity has left the proofer (especially since we are still taking things in and out of it as the shift goes by) so I’ll gently spray each of the croissant trays with water to keep them from drying out too much. I’ve found that putting another pot of boiling water in there if often overkill and gets the croissants “sweaty” instead, which I don’t think is desired.
15. After 1.25-1.5 hours, we usually begin baking. I’ve tried to get him to push our proof time up per prior research, but he just won’t have it because he’s convinced our issue (flattening at the end of the bake) is over proofing. And honestly… some of the best croissants we’ve made were done with this proof time, so I’m just not sure.
16. Before going into the oven, I lightly eggwash the tops of the peaks of all the croissants, made with an egg wash done with roughly 1 tbs of water per egg. Our oven is a convection oven that can’t produce steam, so typically what I’ll do is lightly mist the croissants at this point if they feel a little dry – but it is hard to tell how much is too little steam or too much.
17. Into the oven – fan set to high, vent closed, oven set to 325F before I typically lower it to 300F after around 5 minutes (my boss just does them at 300F though). Halfway through baking, I rotate the croissants. If this seems low, its because I’ve noticed our oven cooks unusually hot. It needs calibrated, or worked on, or something. Typically speaking, 300F on high fan in our oven = the baking power of 350F in a conventional oven. We bake scones/cookies/etc at 300F on our oven and they come out in the desired time color. I have tried baking at 335F or even 325F all the way through in our oven and I just find the croissants get way too dark on the outside (especially the ones at the edges of our oven), while the inside doesn’t bake much at all. At the same time, 300F all the way through gets it done but it takes easily 25 minutes of baking before they are even close to dark enough. This seems way longer than the 15-17 minutes I typically read it should take. All in all, it still takes me 20ish minutes to finish baking.
18. The reason I’ve started the oven out at a higher temp is because I’ve noticed it might help with the initial expansion, but this is just a wild guess.
60-65% of the time doing all the above I get the following result: the croissants expand very nicely in the first 5 minutes of baking, then after 15 minutes into the process I’ve noticed they have flattened. Often times, not dramatically (only slightly), but they simply don’t keep that nice volume they developed in the first 5 minutes. Or what happened this time – half of them kept their volume, and half of them flattened to roughly half height.
The other 35-40% of the time? Perfect. Kind of. I think they come out too light but my boss is really afraid of burning. And frankly I don’t blame him – the croissants that sit on the outer edges of the sheet pan cook much much darker than the inside ones. But for the most part, perfect. Cut into it and you get that perfect honeycomb crumb throughout.
I feel like we keep doing one or two things wrong that keep us from getting perfect results every time. Or are missing a step. Frankly, I’m wondering if our proofer setup (that can’t keep humidity up on its own) and our shitty oven (that isn’t calibrated right and doesn’t cook evenly) is keeping us from forever getting results that match up with what all the research I’ve done says we should be getting.
Is it because they are too hydrated when proofing and too much steam produced when going in? Are they really underproofed despite collapsing in a way you’d expect them to do when overproofed? Am I pushing down too hard when doing the initial curl while shaping?
I know this kind of stuff is really hard to troubleshoot using only text without someone coming in and seeing the whole process start to finish. But on the off chance those here who’ve consistently gotten good croissants made see an obvious problem point, I’m all ears!