Lamination: The Art of the Perfect Croissant
ASK 20 PASTRY CHEFS, "What's your favorite croissant?" and you'll receive 20 answers that span the globe, from Du Pain et des Idées in Paris to Path restaurant in Tokyo, Lune Croissanterie in Melbourne, Australia, to Coco Safar in Cape Town. (We know this because we asked.) Since its debut in Paris in the 1830s, the croissant has become a truly global phenomenon, embraced by pastry lovers the world over. And whether you have one in Cape Town or Tokyo, all croissants have one thing in common: They are made from laminated dough. Lamination is the process of folding and rolling butter into dough over and over again to create super-thin layers. These layers, which alternate between butter and dough, are what give croissants their signature honeycomb interior structure and their fabulously flaky texture (see "The Science of Croissants," below).
Over the course of three months, F&W recipe developer and pro baker Paige Grandjean made 45 batches of laminated dough (that's 38 pounds of butter, if you want to do the math) to develop this ultimate method for making homemade laminated dough in all of its buttery glory. Grandjean dug deep into the technique of lamination and came up with five epic recipes that use the same classic croissant dough as a base. From there, the possibilities are endless. You can add a few sticks of chocolate for Pain au Chocolat, build a show-stopping laminated loaf, use the croissant leftovers for crunchy tuiles, or turn that dough into a cover-worthy Danish. —Nina Friend
The Science of Croissants
How do you achieve that perfect balance between flaky exterior and airy interior in an ideal croissant? It all has to do with the reaction between butter and heat. Butter is composed of butterfat, milk solids, and water—the last of which accounts for 14 to 18% of butter's volume. As a croissant bakes, the water in the solid butter quickly vaporizes into steam. This rapid change in state puffs up the pastry and creates steam pockets between the layers. Once the water evaporates completely, it leaves behind an open honeycomb structure, an airy yet stable interior that gives croissants their delicate mouthfeel. The butterfat then begins to essentially fry the layers of dough, creating a crisp, flaky pastry with a rich, buttery taste.
The exterior layers caramelize to reveal the striations developed during lamination, giving croissants their glossy, stripy appearance. The milk solids also help with caramelization, adding a toasty, nutty flavor. When making laminated dough, it's crucial that the butter remains solid. Butter is an emulsion of fat and water; if it gets too warm and starts to melt, the emulsion will break, and the water from the butter will get absorbed into the dough, producing croissants that are bready instead of flaky. To do it right, just follow the instructions below.
If you're ready to make your own all-butter croissant dough at home, we have good news: You're also on the way to the best pain au chocolat you can imagine. The only other thing you need? Top-notch chocolate. Read More.
Danishes get an upgrade with our Miso Caramel-Apple Danish, which uses a classic All-Butter Croissant Dough for its buttery, flaky crust. The miso caramel, both sweet and savory, has a tang reminiscent of the cream cheese that typically fills classic Danishes, and apple slices make this pastry feel like a grown-up taffy apple. Read More.
The beauty of this cookie-brittle hybrid is that you can make it with any croissant—homemade or store-bought. To get thin, even slices, freeze the croissants for about 15 minutes before slicing. To ensure a crispy tuile, let the croissant slices bake until they are a deep, golden brown to give the sugar in the syrup time to caramelize and harden to the perfect texture. Get the Recipe.
The Best Butters for Laminated Dough
Échiré, the gold standard of French butter, is produced in wooden churns in the village of Échiré in western France. With 82% butterfat, it is elastic yet firm, even at room temperature, which makes it easy to work with.
Échiré Unsalted Butter, $21 for 8.8 ounces at amazon.com
Isigny Sainte-Mère comes from grass-fed cows in Normandy and is available in blocks and pre-formed sheets for easier laminating. It contains 82% butterfat and has a slightly less complex flavor than Échiré.
Isigny Sainte-Mère Butter, $9 for 8.8 ounces at murrayscheese.com
Beurremont, a French-style butter that has 83% butterfat, is made in Vermont—and it happens to be the official butter used by Team USA in the biennial Bocuse d'Or competition. This butter's firm yet malleable texture makes for flawless lamination and crisp layers.
Beurremont Butter, from $10 for 1 lb. at amazon.com
This American-made butter from Minerva, Ohio, contains 85% butterfat. It is slow-churned in small batches, and the butter itself is super-creamy. However, the high butterfat percentage means it gets soft faster, so work quickly for best results.
Minerva Dairy Butter, $35 for 2 lb. at amazon.com
Plugrá, which contains 82% butterfat, is a European-style butter made in the United States by Dairy Farmers of America. It is affordable and easy to find yet can be brittle when very cold, so let it warm slightly to prevent shattering.
Plugrá Butter, $21 for 16 ounces at amazon.com
Level Up Your Lamination
Roll It Out
Konbi, the Los Angeles café known for Japanese sandwiches and French pastries, churns out 80 croissants each day using a clay slab roller. According to Akira Akuto, Konbi's co-owner, a slab roller—designed to thin out slabs of clay quickly and easily—is ideal for home cooks who want to take their lamination game to the next level. The two stainless steel rollers apply consistent pressure to the dough, moving the dough quickly without warming it up. The versatile device works just as well for croissants as it does for tarts, pies, or even cookie doughs. The roller requires very little maintenance (just oil it occasionally with WD-40), and it folds up easily for storage.
Shimpo Mini Slab Roller, $550 at sheffield-pottery.com
Proof of Concept
Bakeries typically have temperature- and humidity-controlled chambers for proofing pastries. When making laminated pastries at home, you can create your own makeshift proofing box by placing a bowl of hot water in a contained space, such as an oven. This gently raises the temperature and increases the humidity of the space, ensuring that the dough stays elastic as it rises and doesn't dry out and form cracks.
Using a perforated baking sheet is a cheap, easy way to make sure your croissants are evenly cooked. The holes in the sheet help with air circulation, which is especially important in conventional ovens (bakeries typically have convection ovens); they also prevent the bottoms of the croissants from getting too dark.
Artisan Professional Perforated Aluminum Baking Sheet Pan with Lip, $16 at amazon.com
It's a Wash
A narrow brush makes it easy to apply egg wash with precision, preventing any drips that might pool and burn on the pan. We like the 1-inch-wide option from Carlisle, with boar bristles and a hardwood handle. It also works well for brushing flour off the dough.
Carlisle Nylon Bristle Pastry Brush, $11 at amazon.com
While a chef's knife will get the job done, we prefer the gliding blade of a pizza wheel for clean, precise cuts
OXO Good Grips 4" Pizza Wheel, $14 at amazon.com
Roll With It
A classic French rolling pin, like this 20-inch handle-free maple version by Fletchers' Mill, allows you to feel the firmness of the dough. The tapered ends make it easy to adjust pressure, ensuring straight edges and square corners, which results in precise, even folds.
Fletchers' Mill French Rolling Pin, $26 at amazon.com