Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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According to Raymond Calvel, croissants first made a splash at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair, where they were one of many kinds of Wienerbrod, or Vienna goods brought from the city that specialized in rich, sweet pastries. The original croissants were enriched yeast-raised breads shaped into a crescent. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Parisian bakers had the idea of forming them from a laminated dough, thus creating a marvelous pastry that is both flaky and moistly, richly, tenderly bready.

Croissants are made by preparing a firm but malleable dough with minimal kneading from flour, milk, and yeast; the proportion of liquid is 50–70 parts to 100 flour. Some butter may be added to the dough during mixing to make the dough more extensible and easily rolled out. In earlier times, the dough was allowed an initial rise of six to seven hours; today it’s only around one hour. The more time allowed for fermentation, the fuller the flavor and the lighter the finished pastry. The risen dough is deflated and chilled, then rolled out, covered with a layer of butter or pastry margarine, and repeatedly folded, rolled out, and chilled as puff pastry is, for a total of four to six turns. The finished dough is then rolled out to around a quarter of an inch/6 mm thick, cut into triangles, the triangles rolled up into tapered cylinders and allowed a final rise of about an hour at a temperature cool enough to prevent the fat from melting. When baked, the outer layers of the dough expand and dry out to form flaky, puff pastry–like sheets, while the inner layers remain moist and bake into exquisitely delicate sheets of bread, translucent and pebbled with tiny bubbles.