A pale golden color and a uniform puff lure unsuspecting buyers to second rate croissants. Plenty of grocery stores and delis have them, but their flavor is bland and their texture dull and doughy. Their impressive disguise mimics the classic good looks and famous famous flakiness of the well-known French croissant, omni-present in the boulangeries and pastry shops of Paris.. But the blonder, more uniform imposters are missing one key ingredient: pure butter. For cost purposes, makers of industrial croissants replace much of the butter with cheaper, shelf-stable shortening. Shortening does not melt as easily as better and makes the dough easy to produce, but it does not impart the same magical flavor as pure butter. No silky melt, no peaks and valleys of fresh yeast flavor, no slightly carmelized base.
The smell of lightly salted butter and fresh yeast encase a real, handmade criossant - an alluring halo of authenticity. Real butter croissants have a wider range of color, starting with a crisp, warm brown on top because they are brushed with layer of "eggwah" before baking, a too-expensive luxury for the mass producers of faux croissants. The egg-wased top supports a paler level of soft pastry that gives way to a golden yellow, egg-infused interior. This palette is only possible when eggs are mixed with white fours and real, pale yellow butter. Shortening (a stable creation made from whipped oil, otherwise known as a "transfat") is florescent white, which accounts for the paler color of mass-prodeced croissants.. A real croissant looks a little rougher, offers an artistic palette of freshly-baked yellow-browns and its flavor is a burst of buttery sunshine.
As you might expect, real croissants are made by hand in small batches - part of the morning process for artisan bakers in food-focused American spots, France and other pastry-centric countries like Austria where the croissant originated. Much lore surrounds these little creseats, but little proof exists on when or why they became the signature pastry of France, but they did.. They were modeled after a poplular pastry from Vienna, the kipfel, which dates back to the Renaissance.
Croissants live in a family of French pastries called “laminated doughs” along with their cousins, Danish and Puff Pastry. Croissant dough relies on fresh yeast, an important factor in creating a true croissant's layered texture and flavor. Rich bread dough made from white flour, butter, yeast and water is lightly kneaded together, then folded around a square of pure softened butter. Through a series of careful folds intercut with long periods of “resting” where the dough sits idly in the fridge, layers of dough are “laminated” with layers of butter. Once the chilled, lacquered dough is ready to shape, it is cut into long triangles that resemble the Eifel Tower. Then each piece is rolled up to take the familiar crescent shape, allowed to "proof" or puff up as the yeast starts its work, carefully painted with eggwash, then baked.
In Gisslen’s Professional Coooking, the text book used by the keeper of the torch of French culinary techniques, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, croissants are given a 4 page spread. The recipe below is a simplifed version. The process of chilling the dough for 20 minute intervals along the way just does not have to dominate the day, but instead can be part of a productive kitchen session. The novice baker might be intimidated by the many steps and time lapses, and consequently appreciate the convenient, transfatty fakes from the grocery store. But with some planning, the croissant-making process is easy, and freshly baked croissants at home are rich reward.