Today, croissants are one of the most popular yeast-leavened breakfast pastries anywhere in the world south of Scandinavia (there, the Wienerbröd or Danish pastry still reigns). In addition to the classic plain croissant, the French also bake them filled with chocolate, soft almond paste, or pastry cream. Instead of curving these pastries into the crescent shape, they are often left straight to signify that they are filled. In Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, bakers make a pastry called Plunder, which is sort of a cross between a croissant and a Danish pastry. The main distinction between Plunder, filled croissants, and Danish pastries is the amount of fat rolled into the dough. Genuine Danish pastry dough contains about twice as much fat as croissant dough and about twice as much fat as what I call the American-style Danish pastry. Most American-made Danish pastries are actually closer to Plunder than to the Scandinavian version of Danish. Another difference between these three is that a true croissant dough does not contain eggs, as a Danish pastry or Plunder dough does.
FORMING CROISSANTS: PRODUCTION SCHEDULE
Croissant dough is easier to work with if it is allowed to rest several hours between giving the dough 3 single turns and forming the croissants. Because you generally want to bake croissants early in the morning, here are two possible game plans, neither of which requires starting in the middle of the night. Make the dough in the morning a day ahead, leave it to rest until early afternoon, form the croissants, leave them overnight in the refrigerator, then proof and bake the next morning. An even better method is to prepare the dough the afternoon before, let the dough rest overnight in the refrigerator, then form, proof, and bake the croissants in the morning.
If your refrigerator does not keep a consistent temperature below 40°F(4°C)—in other words, a lot of traffic goes in and out—store the dough in the freezer instead. This is important to keep the yeast dormant; otherwise, the dough will start to proof in the refrigerator, lowering the quality of the finished product and possibly making it taste sour.
The instructions that follow assume that you will be making up all of the dough at once. If this is not the case and you want to freeze part of the dough to use later, roll the amount you are working with into a strip 10 inches (25 cm) wide, ⅛ inch (3 mm) thick, and as long as needed. After the dough has relaxed, cut triangles every 4½ inches (11.2 cm).