WHAT IS A CROISSANT?
This puff pastry was invented in Paris by Austrian Chef August Zang in the 1800s. A descendant of the Austrian kipferl, this viennoiserie (means “things of Vienna”) pastry is a yeast-leavened dough. In between each layer is an additional layer of butter (called lamination). During baking the butter solid becomes gaseous, forcing the dough layers apart as they solidify. This is what gives croissants their buttery and flaky texture. Traditionally in France there are 2 styles, curved (made from margarine) and straight (butter). However with industrial production straight ones are easier to produce. So this rule is sporadically followed at best.
HOW ARE THE BEST CROISSANT MADE?
A good croissant has a paper thin hard outer shell that crumbles to the touch. There are basically three key factors. First the quality of the butter (European butter has a higher fat content) is important. Second chefs let the dough rest in a refrigerator overnight. And finally croissants are best consumed not too long after coming fresh out of the oven. The difference between a good and bad croissant isn’t subtle. If you get something that tastes like a brioche, someone screwed up. Also a popular trick among Parisian bakeries is to sell croissants to tourists that are burnt on the bottom. That way they don’t lose their everyday customers but still profit from the worthless ones.
WHAT KIND OF FLOUR AND STARTER SHOULD I USE?
Pastry flour (T45) is highly recommended. It has a finer texture and lower protein content. This in turn means that the strength of the gluten bonds are weaker, allowing your croissant dough to stretch more easily under the pressure of the gaseous butter.
HOW SHOULD CROISSANTS BE STORED?
Wrap in paper or aluminum foil to keep them from drying out and they’ll last 1 to 2 days at room temperature. Pop them into a hot oven for a few minutes to bring back a bit of their former grandeur. Like any bread, you can freeze a cooked croissant. Make sure you seal it in a zip lock bag to prevent freezer burn. When warming them back up, don’t put them in the refrigerator or at room temperature to gradually thaw. Instead put them straight into a pre-heated oven for the best results.