Sourdough Croissant Adventure

Last year, I lived in a basement in the Bronx. I tried to catch a good sourdough starter. All of my bread tasted like feet. In February, I caught a new beasty yeasty in my current Brooklyn apartment. Ground level. This starter is great. The sour flavor is mild, which is good for me because I don't actually like sourness. I do like the idea of never having to purchase yeast again though. So for the past month, I've been experimenting with the totally wheaty sandwich bread in last month's Cook's Illustrated. I don't know if my starter has enough rising power for a good sandwich loaf, but I do make a mean honey wheat loaf now. I'll post that recipe once I feel that I have it down 100%. Then over Spring Break, I decided to try adapting a regular cinnamon roll recipe to fit my sourdough starter. That was a success. Even more recently, I was in Williamsburg and given an almond croissant. Every now and then, I eat a pastry that opens a door. A door to indulgence (and non-stop fatness) and kitchen experimentation. This almond croissant opened that door.

In college, I had tried making croissants with traditional yeast. I just remember it being tough work with satisfying results. Now, forty croissants into my baking rampage, I realized I had made several mistakes. I didn't roll the butter out separately before adding it to the dough. This really helps achieve proper lamination. I also chilled my dough too cold. It really only needs to be in the refrigerator, not the freezer. Anyways, before running blindly into my sourdough croissant creating adventure, I decided to do a quick google search.This is the recipe I settled on. However, I do science and precise measurements all day at school. I don't like to do them in my kitchen. I don't weigh my baking ingredients. I have no idea what hydration level my dough is at. And I don't think I want to. I like the idea of leaving the science at work. Well, not completely. I am still pretty much a nerd. But I do draw some lines. Like weighing flour. Or buying special bread flour.

Anyways, first I will walk you through the process. Then I will list a shortened version of the recipe that minimizes my witty commentary. So, I made my starter with 2 cups of flour and 2 cups of water. When I bake with my starter, I pour off the hooch and then use half of whatever is leftover. I feed my yeast baby one cup of flour and one cup of water, give her a good stir, and put her back in the fridge. To start the croissant dough, I took half of my yeast baby and kneaded in 1 cup of all purpose flour. This makes a firm dough ball, and it takes a little bit of work to work all of the flour in. My idea here was that I wanted my yeasts to "be fruitful and multiply," in the Biblical sense. They've been sitting in the fridge. Why not give them a whole bunch of food and some warm time to themselves? So I leave the yeasty dough ball, covered in plastic wrap, at room temperature overnight.

Yeasty Dough Ball

When I wake up, I remove the plastic wrap from the yeasty dough ball. It's slightly warm, and there are some bubbles in it. These are good signs. This means the yeasties have been getting busy while I was sleeping. Again, be fruitful and multiply. That was my plan the WHOLE TIME! Then I add the rest of the flour, some sugar, salt, milk, and half of a stick of butter to the ball and work it into a dough with my hands. This dough will be softer and stickier than the yeast ball was. I actually used 3/4 cups of whole wheat flour because I ran out of all purpose flour. These were my "healthy" croissants. This dough then gets covered in plastic wrap and stuck into the fridge. For at least an hour. Maybe a few hours, or overnight, depending on your schedule.

While the dough is chilling, take out two and a half sticks of butter. Take out a lot of plastic wrap, and lay a big sheet of it down on your counter. Arrange the butter on the plastic wrap, and fold the plastic wrap over it. Take your rolling pin (my rolling pin is an empty wine bottle) and start pounding that butter. The idea is to create a butter slab, so pound and roll. When you've created a beautiful sheet of cold butter, put the sheet in the refrigerator and pull out your dough. Now flour your surface and roll your dough out. You want to create a sheet about twice as large as your butter sheet. My dough sheet fell a bit short. Then remove your butter from the fridge and place it on your rolled dough.

The beginning of something beautiful

Next, you want to fold your dough over your butter. I fell short on this, but it's okay.

I convinced my dough that size doesn't matter

You may have noticed that my dough is still sitting on top of plastic wrap. I cheated and rolled it out on plastic wrap the entire time. It helps with folding the dough. Folding the dough? So, croissants are nice and flaky because of lamination. Lamination is basically thin layering of dough and butter. Butter really does make everything better. Except maybe bacon. Anyways, fold one third of the dough in, and then repeat on the other side. It's like folding an envelope.

imperfect envelope

If your dough is still cold enough, you can roll it flat again and then fold it into an envelope again. If your dough isn't cold enough, it will get sticky and difficult to work with. At this point, cover it in plastic wrap and stick it back into the fridge for at least an hour. Repeat this 4-5 times. After the final hour+ chill, you are ready for the final roll and shaping. I cut my dough in half and work with it one piece at a time while the other piece stays chilled in the fridge. Cutting the dough in half also allows you to see the results of all of your folding and rolling.

Hot lamination

Here is where you need to be on your rolling game. This is not the time to be nice. Look at the dough. Now think about that douche bag. The one who gets the girl. And then breaks her heart. By cheating on her...with her mother. Then breaks her mother's heart. By cheating on her...with YOUR mother. After running this or another equally infuriating scenario through your head, you are ready to roll the dough. You want to roll this thin, like half a centimeter thin. You can do it. I did it with a wine bottle. After your dough has been rolled and you've relieved yourself of some pent up rage, cut the dough into squares. Then diagonally cut those squares into triangles. I should have taken pictures of this part, but I didn't. I guess I was still a little pissed off. Take each triangle and roll up, from base to tip. It's like putting on an anti-condom. You can curl them into crescent shapes if you'd like. I don't because I'm lazy and find it offensive towards Muslims (this is a true, fun history fact). Lay your shaped croissants on your prepared cookie sheet. You can use parchment paper. I use foil because it's recyclable, and I'm a hippy like that. Let the shaped croissants rise for a few hours. I let mine rise overnight, and I had freshly baked croissants for breakfast.

raw, shaped croissants

The croissants didn't look like they had risen much overnight, but when I poked them, they were squishy, which indicates air bubbles. They do rise more when being baked. Right before baking, I brushed them all with an egg/milk wash while the oven pre-heated. I got a good crumb and some layery flakiness. I did a second batch using all all-purpose flour, and the flaky layers were much more noticeable. I do not have pictures, as I used all of those to make almond croissants using one cup of almond meal from Trader Joe's in the filling. I like the Chocolate and Zucchini version because it does not require any specialty ingredients like almond paste. I do not have pictures of those because I ate them all. I suggest using all all-purpose flour. Croissants are not health food.

Frozen Croissant Results!

A peek through my oven door

Crumb and finished croissants

Now for the recipe

Sourdough Croissants
Makes 16-24 croissants, depending on size

half of sourdough starter, hooch poured off, fed at a ratio of 1 cup flour and 1 cup water
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour, separated
2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3 sticks unsalted butter, separated
1 Tbs sugar

Egg wash:
1 egg
1 Tbs whole milk
1 tsp sugar

1. Knead 1 cup flour into the sourdough starter. This will make a firm dough ball. Cover in plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature for several hours to overnight.

2. Add salt, milk, 1/2 stick of softened butter, and sugar to the starter ball. Mix this until smooth and gloopy. Add and knead in the remaining 2 3/4 cups flour. This dough will be quite wet and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Can chill overnight if necessary.

3. Arrange the remaining 2 1/2 sticks of cold butter onto plastic wrap and cover in plastic wrap. Beat then roll with a rolling pin to make a sheet of cold butter. Chill in the refrigerator.

4. Roll chilled dough to a 1 cm thickness. If you can't roll it that thinly, it's not too important at this point. Place the chilled butter sheet on the chilled dough sheet. Fold the dough over the butter and pinch to seal if possible. Fold one third of the dough butter sheet in, then fold the opposite third over the part you just folded in. You now have a dough butter sheet envelope. Roll this sheet flat. Try to get to a 1 cm thickness. Fold into thirds again. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

5. Remove dough butter envelope from the refrigerator and roll out to 1 cm thickness. Fold into thirds and chill for at least one hour. Repeat this step 4-5 times.

6. Roll dough butter envelope to 1 cm thickness. This time, it's important to roll the dough as thinly as possible. If you can get it to half a centimeter, you're a rock star. Cut the dough into rectangles, and cut these rectangles in half to form triangles. Roll the triangles from base to tip to form croissants.

7. Arrange formed croissants on a baking sheet and allow to rise at room temperature for several hours to overnight.

8. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Make the egg wash by beating together egg, milk, and sugar. Brush egg wash over each croissant before baking. Bake for approximately 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool. Eat, but don't eat them all!

There you have it. My non-hardcore-sourdough-baker's version of sourdough croissants. I am also experimenting on freezing pre-baked and post-baked croissants and almond croissants. I will let you know the verdict once I have recovered enough to eat more croissants. Also, if you are in the Brooklyn area, I would be willing to share my sourdough starter. I really enjoy its mild flavor, and I've had pretty good luck with it. I've also heard you can dry starter and then rehydrate it later. I would be willing to try this if someone would like to trade starters by mail.


  1. damn Bethany. This is very impressive!


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