My husband and I visited Paris 5 years ago and I still love to remember the delicious pastry they have there. The quality is so much higher than anything you can find here in the US. I'm not sure if it's the ingredients, the freshness of the product, the water (as Parisiennes like to claim) or a combination of or none of the above, it doesn't matter, their baked goods are superior. One of my cooking bucket-list items was to make croissants that closely match (as much as possible) the treats I had in Europe; while these are not the exact twin of my culinary experience in Europe, they are VERY, VERY good. Time consuming, but if you are determined enough to see it through, they are worth every second of effort.
1/3 c. warm water
1 pkg. active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
1 1/3 c. warm milk
1 lbs. (about 3 1/2 cups) all purpose flour, plus more for work surface
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 1/2 sticks (14 oz.) chilled unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1. In a liquid measuring cup, combine water, yeast and 1 tsp. sugar. Stir to combine. Let stand 5 minutes to allow yeast to proof. In a second measuring cup, dissolve the remaining 2 tsp. sugar, salt and milk.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the flour. Add the yeast mixture, milk mixture and oil. Blend everything together by cutting and pressing with a rubber spatula, being sure all the flour is incorporated. The dough with be very wet.
3. Turn dough out onto a well floured work surface. Let stand for 3 minutes to allow the dough to absorb some of the liquid. Start kneading by lifting near the edges, with a bench scraper, and flipping it over onto the other side. Rapidly repeat the movement from one side to the other, and end over end, until the dough feels smooth and begins to draw back into shape when pushed out, 8 to 10 times. Do not over-knead.
4. Transfer dough to a clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down the dough, and turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using lightly floured hands, pat and push the dough out into a rectangle about 12X10 inches. Fold the dough in three, like a business letter. Place on a lightly floured baking sheet or plate; cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. This second rise can be done in the refrigerator, overnight.
5. Punch down dough. Cover the dough again with plastic wrap, and transfer to refrigerator for 20 minutes; this will allow the gluten to relax, and make rolling out the dough easier.
6. Place butter on a lightly floured work surface and beat with a rolling pin to soften. Then smear it out with the heel of your hand until it is of spreading consistency, but still cold; it must not become soft and oily, refrigerate if necessary.
7. Place dough on a lightly floured work surface, roll it out to a 18X10 inch rectangle. Spread butter as evenly as possible over the upper two-thirds of the dough, leaving a 1/4 inch border. Fold the bottom (unbuttered) third of the dough up to the middle. Fold the top third down to cover it.
8. Lightly flour the top of the dough, and work surface. Turn the dough so the edge of the top flap is to your right. Roll dough into a rectangle, about 18X8 inches. Roll rapidly, starting an inch from the near end, and going to within an inch of the far end. Fold again in three, as above. Wrap in plastic wrap, and transfer to the refrigerator for 1 hour.
9. Remove dough from refrigerator. Sprinkle lightly with flour, and deflate the dough by tapping lightly with rolling pin. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 8 minutes to relax gluten, if necessary. Repeat rolling and folding process twice more, as above. If the butter has hardened and congealed into flakes, beat the dough with light firm taps going from one side to the other until butter has softened. It must be able to extend the length and width of the rectangle inside the dough as you roll it out until it has softened. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. If refrigerating overnight, cover with a board and a 5 lbs. weight. Resting overnight will facilitate shaping.
10. When shaping the croissant, keep the dough that you are not working with refrigerated. Place chilled dough on a lightly floured work surface. Deflate dough. Roll the dough out to a 25X12 inch rectangle. (If at any time the dough becomes too elastic to work with, cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate, and let rest 10 minutes to relax gluten.) Cut in half lengthwise. Working with one piece of dough at a time, using a pastry wheel or a croissant cutter, cut into triangles with a 5 inch base.
11. Roll the triangles out to enlarge slightly. Roll towards the tip, creating tension by using your other hand to stretch the top of the triangle away from you. The dough should overlap 3 times with the tip sticking out from underneath.
12. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet leaving 2 inches between croissants. Curve the ends of the croissant inward, forming a crescent shape. Repeat with second piece of dough. Cover lightly with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place until very spongy and doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
13. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolk and heavy cream, and lightly brush over the tops of croissants. Open the oven door, spritz the oven heavily with water from a spray bottle, and quickly close the door. Place croissants in oven, and spray bottom of the oven with water once more. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 15 minutes. After 10 minutes, rotate pan to ensure even baking. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees and continue to bake until cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes before serving.