Tag Archives: instant yeast

Croissants (Buttery, Flaky, Delicious Croissants!)

I don’t bake croissants very often. Not because we don’t love them (oh, how  we love them!!),  but because I am always trying out new recipes for our cooking school, and with just two of us eating, it’s hard to justify making a batch of croissants  when I know we really can’t eat more than a few at a sitting… Freezing the rest just seems so sad! All that delicious butteriness, that perfect flakiness, FROZEN? Being a bread and pastry purist, I never freeze my desserts or breads unless I really don’t have a choice (like a sudden trip or WAY too much food in house).

Unlike most people who are signing up for gym memberships and vowing to eat less in the New Year, this week we decided that New Year’s Day was the perfect time to indulge in homemade croissants, and that freezing a few uneaten croissants was better than not eating any at all. Even if the thawed croissants would be a little less perfect than the fresh-from-the-oven croissants, I would make peace with that.

Making croissants at home is not difficult, but requires a bit of time and patience. The techniques used are drawn from bread-baking (the dough is yeasted) and puff pastry-making (the butter is layered between sheets of dough and the dough is turned repeatedly). The resulting croissants (when properly made) are a beguiling combination of crisp, bread-like exterior and soft, flaky, buttery puff pastry interior. Hence, I categorized them as both bread and dessert on this blog:  they are either a very rich bread or a somewhat lighter pastry… your call.

For best flavor, it is absolutely essential that you use good quality, unsalted European butter rather than domestic butter. French, Italian, and Danish butters all work well (they have a higher fat content than American butters and a deeper, creamier flavor). We tasted several imported and European-style butters last year, and determined that Lescure from France was our favorite brand. So before making croissants, seek out a  good European butter; it will make a huge difference.

One more thing: All of the recipes (with just one exception) I have ever seen for croissants  call for the dough to be made with milk. I have made croissants with both water and milk and we have decided that the flavor of the butter is more pronounced when water is used. Feel free to try milk, or half milk and half water, instead of water as below, and see what you think. Milk croissants will brown more quickly in the oven, due to the sugars in the milk.


Makes 10 medium croissants (or 6 large croissants if larger shapes are cut from the dough before baking)

For the dough:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 3/4 cup room-temperature water
  • Butter for greasing the bowl

For the butter paste:

  • ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 12 tablespoons (1 and 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted European butter (our favorite brand is Lescure)

To bake:

  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend with 1 tablespoon water

Make the dough: Mix the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl. Pour in the water and mix quickly until you have a soft, sticky dough; the dough will be ragged and not smooth. Don’t overmix or the dough will be tough; 1 minute is long enough. You don’t need to knead the dough, just gather it together. Place in a buttered bowl, turn to coat lightly with the butter, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 4 hours (but no more than 12 hours), as the dough is easier to handle when cold.

Make the butter paste: Pour the flour on a counter and place the chilled butter on top of the flour. Using a metal pastry cutter or dough scraper and working quickly to avoid melting the butter, cube the butter and incorporate it with the flour; be sure to avoid touching the butter directly with your hands or the butter will melt. Use the scraper to break up the butter into tiny pieces; any hard lumps will ruin the texture of the dough and force it to tear. When the butter is soft but not melted, there are no lumps or hard bits remaining, and it is uniformly mixed with the flour, shape it into a 5-inch square. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.



Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and place it on a lightly floured counter. Do not knead it or work it, or it will toughen. Using a rolling pin, roll it into a 12-inch square. Place the butter on the central portion of the dough at a 45 degree angle so it looks like a diamond on top of a square. Fold the corners of the dough over to  enclose the butter perfectly: you will now have a diamond-shaped package of dough encasing butter. If needed, wet your fingertips lightly with water to help seal the edges properly. No butter should be visible or oozing out of the dough package.

Turn the dough diamond so it sits like a square on the floured counter. Flip it upside down so the seam is underneath.




Using the rolling pin and working quickly so as not to melt the butter, roll out the dough into a 1/4-thick rectangle, about 20 inches long by about 4 inches wide. Flip the dough over a few times as needed to prevent sticking to the counter and dust lightly with flour as needed.

Fold the left third of the dough towards the center and then flip the right third of the dough over, to cover. Make sure the edges line up nicely and brush off excess flour with a dry pastry brush.

To ensure a proper texture and plenty of puff, do not roll the rolling pin beyond the edges of the dough, or you will inadvertently seal the layers together and crush them, preventing proper puffing.

Turn the package 90 degrees so the spine (the closed edge) of the dough sits at the left. Roll out again into a 1/4-thick rectangle, about 20 inches long by about 4 inches wide. Fold again into thirds as before, then wrap the resulting rectangle in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours (or up to 8 hours). The dough has now been turned twice and has 9 butter and flour layers.

Place the rectangle of dough on the counter so that the spine of the dough sits at the left. Repeat the rolling out and folding process two more times, for a total of 4 turns. The dough now has 81 layers of butter and flour.

Wrap the resulting rectangle in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or as long as overnight.



To bake: Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Lightly dust a counter with flour and roll out the dough into a rectangle that measures about 21 inches x 7 inches; it should be 1/4-inch thick. Working quickly so the butter does not melt, trim the edges as needed (use the trimmings to make other pastries, such as almond croissants, as below) and cut into 10 triangles (to make 6 larger croissants, cut into larger triangles).




Dust off excess flour with a clean, dry brush.

Cut a small slit in the middle at the base of each triangle; this will help you get a better curvature to the finished croissants and will allow you to elongate the corners.

Gently stretch each triangle, especially at the base and tip. Roll each triangle, starting from the wide end and working towards the point, into a log, keeping the layers tight.

Fold the two corners down to create a crescent shape. Place the croissants on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart (they will rise dramatically in the oven so they need room to expand, or they will bake up pale and soft instead of golden and crisp if they are overcrowded).



Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature at least 2 hours, or until the croissants are almost doubled in bulk. If your kitchen is cold, the dough will rise more slowly; don’t rush the proofing step or the croissants will end up heavy rather than feather-light.

When the croissants are noticeably bigger, brush with the egg wash.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 degrees convection.



Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until golden all over and crisp; if underbaked, the croissants will be soggy in the center. Remove to a cooling rack.

Enjoy within minutes of baking if possible (or at the very least, within hours). Croissants can also be frozen once cooled, double-wrapped in plastic wrap and then sealed in freezer-safe plastic bags; to reheat, remove the plastic wrap, place on a baking sheet, and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until defrosted all the way through and crisp.


Take a look at the two photos below: one batch of croissants was left to proof until doubled in bulk before baking, and another was proofed just until the croissants grew about 50% of their original volume. The difference in the lightness of the layers is amazing once baked: the top photo (fully proofed) shows light, flaky, distinct layers, while the bottom photo (underproofed) shows  undistinct, cakey, thick layers.




croissantalmondtrio1And remember the leftover scraps and dough trimmings? Gather them gently, roll out into rectangles, and fill with a few pieces of bittersweet chocolate, some apricot jam, savory items like Gruyere cheese and sauteed spinach, or (our favorite) a combination of almond paste, butter, and sugar (I beat 1 and 1/2 ounces almond paste with 3/4 ounces butter and 1 tablespoon sugar until creamy and smooth to fill 3 rectangular croissants).  Spread the filling of choice on the dough, leaving a wide border all around, and wrap to enclose in thirds. Place seam side down on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, then proceed as above for glazing with egg wash twice and baking.

Einkorn Bread

I don’t know if you ever heard of einkorn. If you haven’t, you aren’t alone: most people have no idea what it is. Despite its name, it isn’t a variety of corn. It’s actually thought to be the oldest form of wheat, and supposedly has never been hybridized like modern wheat. Einkorn  means “one grain” in German, because it has only one grain per stem, while other varieties of wheat have several groups of grain.

I first heard of einkorn a few years ago, when I was researching farro. Einkorn is one of three main types of farro wheat, called farro piccolo (little farro) in Italian. It grows well in hardy climates, and has a much higher vitamin and nutrient content than modern wheat varieties. While it contains gluten, and is actually higher in protein than even bread flour (around 20% protein content as opposed to around 14%), einkorn may contain a type of gluten that some people with gluten intolerance can digest more easily. However, it was close to extinction until a few years ago, because harvesting and milling is much harder and more costly, and the yield is far lower, than with modern wheat varieties.

Since I love baking bread (if I could, I would bake every day… but being a family of just two, there is only so much bread we can consume!), I was intrigued at the prospect of baking with einkorn flour. Would the bread taste significantly different? Would it rise as well, or be leaden and heavy, like many undoctored whole wheat breads can be? I didn’t want to add more yeast than usual to make it rise higher, as an abundance of yeast gives bread an artificial taste and an overly light crumb. I didn’t want to add vital wheat gluten. I didn’t want to add sugar or fat or anything other than what I usually put in my bread dough: just flour, yeast, salt, and water. This way, I figured, I would really taste the difference between einkorn bread and bread made with modern wheat.

So last week, I baked my first batch of einkorn bread, using flour I picked up at my local market. (You can buy the flour as well as the whole berries from Jovial, the world’s largest producer of einkorn, online.) Since the gluten in einkorn is apparently not activated by kneading, I skipped the kneading step and simply stirred the dough a minute or two, then let it rise overnight at cool room temperature (if your kitchen is warm, refrigerate the dough). The bread rose very, very slowly at first, then picked up speed in the last few hours of rising. I took care not to deflate its air bubbles in the final stage of shaping, and let it rise again before slipping it into a moderately hot oven, and it emerged golden and fragrant 40 minutes later.

The result: Delicious, wheaty, sweet, moist, definitely worth repeating. It didn’t rise as much as bread made with modern wheat, but it had a pleasant chewiness and staled far more slowly than modern wheat bread: in fact, it was still good the next day (I propped it on its cut side so no air would compromise  the open crumb). Try the recipe below; it’s easy and rewarding, and you’ll be helping a grain once vital to humanity to flourish once again.

Makes 1 loaf (about 1 pound)

  • 2 cups einkorn flour, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup room-temperature water, plus extra as needed
  • cornmeal for dusting

Place the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Mix well with a wooden spoon. Add the water slowly, stirring constantly. When all the water has been absorbed, determine if you need to add a  little more water or not; einkorn flour absorbs water more slowly, and doughs made with einkorn should be somewhat sticky if the bread is to bake up light rather than heavy. The dough should feel sticky when touched, but not like a batter.

When you are satisfied with the texture of the dough, stir it a minute or two. Then cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place a plate on top of plastic wrap  to prevent light from filtering through (the bread can develop an orange hue if the  dough is exposed to light, due to the high amount of carotenoids in the flour; carotenoids are very good for us, as they are anti-oxidants, so the high amount of carotenoids is another good thing about einkorn).  Set aside to rise for 12 hours.

Uncover, and gently deflate and reshape the dough to redistribute the yeast (this helps bread dough to rise better). Cover again with the plastic wrap and the plate, and let rise again until doubled, about 12 more hours.

When you are ready to bake, place a baking stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees (preferably set on convection bake).  Line an upturned baking sheet with parchment paper and dust it with cornmeal.

Sprinkle your counter with cornmeal. Gently turn the dough onto the cornmeal without deflating it. Gently tug into a long rectangle, about 10 inches long by 4 inches wide; if the dough is sticking to your hands, wet your hands as you would if you were handling meatballs. Place on the cornmeal dusted parchment paper atop the upturned baking sheet and dust the top with flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour.

Uncover (the plastic wrap may have stuck here and there).  Dust the top again with a bit of flour for a rustic look.  Transfer to the baking stone using the baking sheet as a peel (don’t bake the bread on the baking sheet though, just on the parchment paper).

Spray 3 times with water during the first 10 minutes of baking. Bake for a total of 35 to 45 minutes, or until the bread is richly golden. The bread should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. Cool on a rack, removing the parchment paper first to allow air to circulate from  the bottom and prevent the bottom crust from getting soggy.

Cool completely before slicing. This bread is excellent spread with raw honey!



Crispy Polenta & Olive Fougasse

Fougasse is a ladder-shaped bread from Provence, similar in many ways to focaccia (even the name hints at shared roots). You can make fougasse with any type of yeasted dough; pizza dough or a simple bread dough enriched with olive oil work very well. It’s all about the shaping: several slits are cut into the dough after the second rising, so the bread bakes up crispier than usual thanks to the additional exposed edges.

My favorite fougasse includes fresh herbs such as thyme or rosemary. Lately I have been adding polenta to the dough, a nod to the cornmeal doughs made in Calabria and Abruzzo, which are typically baked until quite crisp and served floating in thick vegetable soups or passed alongside savory cheeses and salumi. Adding minced black olives to the dough gives it an addictively salty bite; you can omit the olives for a sweeter, more neutral taste and lighter color.

The bulk of this dough is polenta, with just a little wheat flour to provide gluten and lift, so the fougasse bakes up crispy outside and a bit dense and cakey on the inside. It tastes like an old-fashioned bread should: hearty, rustic, and full of character.

Makes one 12-inch fougasse (serves 2 hungry people or 4 more reserved eaters)

For the dough:

  • ¾ cup stone-ground coarse polenta
  • ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed
  • ¾ teaspoon instant yeast
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ cup pitted black olives, such as Kalamata or Gaeta, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon warm (100°F) water, plus extra as needed

To bake:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt

To serve:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Make the dough: Place the cornmeal, flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Mix well with a wooden spoon. Add the olives and olive oil, and mix again. Pour in the water, adding enough to make a soft dough that gathers around the spoon.

Add a little more water if the dough is dry or a touch of all-purpose flour if it is sticky. Turn out onto a lightly floured counter and knead for 10 minutes, or until smooth and silky and elastic. It is fine if the dough sticks a little bit to the counter; the faster you knead it, the less it will stick; and the less it sticks, the less flour you will add, resulting in a lighter fougasse once baked.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Shape into a rough ball, and turn to coat with the oil. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until almost doubled, about 1 hour. At this point, refrigerate the dough overnight so the dough develops a deep, sweet, complex flavor. (You can skip this step if you are in a rush, but the fougasse will taste more flat.)

A few hours before you are ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator, place it on a very lightly floured counter, and knead it a few times. Return it to the bowl and cover again with the plastic wrap.

One hour before baking, preheat the oven with a baking stone in it to 425°F (preferably set on convection bake).

Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured counter and stretch it into a 12-inch long by 6-inch wide rectangle. Transfer to a piece of parchment paper. Place the parchment paper on an upturned baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes, or until starting to puff a bit.


Using scissors, cut decorative slits into the dough, creating a ladder shape. Stretch each aperture created by each slit with your fingers so there is more crust exposed.

To bake: In a bowl, whisk together the olive oil and water. Brush over the fougasse. Sprinkle with the coarse salt.

Slip the fougasse (still on the parchment paper) onto the hot baking stone, using the upturned baking sheet like a pizza paddle to push off the parchment paper. Immediately close the oven door.

Bake on the baking stone in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown all over and crispy around the edges, spraying the oven floor with ¼ cup of water 3 times during the first 10 minutes of baking.

To serve: Cool on a rack 10 minutes, brush with the olive oil, and cut into wedges before serving.


Filoncino (Italian Baguette)

This bread is the Italian cousin of France’s baguette. Made with just flour, water, yeast, and salt, it has a light, airy crumb with small air bubbles. Be sure to allow for the overnight rising in the refrigerator, so the bread acquires a deep, rich flavor.

Makes two 14-inch loaves

  • 3 and 1/2 cups bread flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups room-temperature water, plus extra as needed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal

Combine the flour with the yeast and sea salt in an 11-cup food processor. Process for 5 seconds. Slowly add 1 and 1/2 cups of room temperature water through the feed tube while the processor is running; the dough should come together, forming a somewhat sticky, smooth ball. Add a little more flour if the dough is wet or a little more water if it is dry.

Once the dough forms a ball around the blade of the food processor, process for 45 seconds (do not overprocess or the dough will become too hot and you will compromise the formation of the gluten strands).

Turn the dough out onto the counter, knead by hand for a few seconds, shape into a ball, and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl; turn it to coat with the oil on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 30 minutes, then refrigerate for 24 hours. The dough will double in bulk.

When you are ready to bake, return the dough to room temperature.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Cut it into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball, making sure you don’t press out all the air bubbles that have developed (leaving air bubbles intact ensures a lighter texture once the bread is baked). Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven with a baking stone in it to 450 degrees (preferably set on convection).

Pat 1 ball of dough into a flat 1-inch high rectangle measuring about 4 inches x 5 inches. Fold the side furthest from you over toward you and seal the seam using the heel of your hand. Turn the rectangle 180 degrees, and fold the side furthest from you over toward you; seal the seam using the heel of your hand. Fold the resulting log in half lengthwise, sealing the edges with your fingertips. Roll into a 14-inch-long cylinder with slightly tapering ends. Repeat with the remaining ball of dough. Cover with a towel and set aside to rise at room temperature for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Slash each cylinder diagonally at 3-inch intervals with a razor blade. Sprinkle lightly with flour. Place on a baking peel that has been sprinkled with the cornmeal; slide onto the baking stone. If you don’t have a baking peel, place the loaves on a reversed baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal and slide them into the oven. Be sure to leave plenty of space between the loaves as they will double in the oven.

Lower the oven temperature to 425 degrees (preferably set on convection).

Bake the bread for 25 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp, misting with water from a spray bottle 3 times during the first 10 minutes of baking. (Close the oven door quickly each time to prevent heat from escaping.)

Cool the bread on a rack and serve at room temperature; alternately, freeze the bread in plastic freezer bags for up to 2 weeks and reheat for 10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.



Everyday Bread

This is the sort of bread you crave when you need comfort. Not too airy, and certainly not dense, it has a moist crumb, pleasantly sweet taste of wheat, and a thin, crackling crust. The addition of a bit of sugar and milk yields a browner, sweeter crust; the olive oil results in a moister, cakier crumb. I prefer the bread baked from dough that has had a chance to mellow overnight in the refrigerator: its flavor is more complex, its air bubbles somewhat larger.

Here I baked the bread as a boule (or large sphere); but the same dough can be baked flat with olive oil and sea salt, for focaccia; or flattened into a slipper shape for a decidedly unrustic take on ciabatta; or rolled thin into baguette…. depending on the shape you choose, the bread will take different amounts of time to bake through, as a taller dough takes longer than a flatter one. But to have a bread with a properly chewy crust, you need to bake the loaf at least until it sounds hollow when thumped from the bottom.

Makes 2 large loaves (About 12 ounces each)


  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, plus 1/8 teaspoon for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup 2% or whole milk, plus 1 tablespoon for brushing
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons room temperature water, plus extra if needed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl
  • 2 tablespoons coarse cornmeal

Place the flour, yeast, sugar, and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of the salt in a large bowl. Mix well with a wooden spoon.

Add 1/4 cup of the milk and all of the water, and stir well. Add the olive oil and stir again. If the dough is too dry to gather around the spoon, add a bit more water by the teaspoon until the dough gathers into a soft mass around the spoon. If the dough is sticky, add a bit of flour by the teaspoon until it forms a cohesive, soft mass.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead vigorously for 10 minutes, or until it is very smooth and elastic. Try to add as little flour as possible to the dough as you knead it; the more flour you add, the denser the bread will be. It is all right if the dough sticks to your hands a little; knead it faster and it will tend to stick less. The dough is kneaded sufficiently when it is smooth and even in texture all the way through, and when it springs back when poked with a finger; it will also stretch about 6 inches without tearing when pulled apart with two hands.

Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in it. Turn it to coat with the oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature for 1 hour, or until starting to increase in volume. Refrigerate 12 to 24 hours (a 24 hours rise yields a tastier dough). Return to room temperature when you are ready to shape the dough and bake the bread.

One hour before you are ready to bake the bread, and after it has returned to room temperature, preheat the oven with a baking stone on the bottom rack to 425 degrees (preferably set on convection bake). Remove the two other racks so that you have room to slide the two loaves onto the hot baking stone later.

Turn the risen dough out onto a very lightly floured counter and cut it into 2 even pieces. Shape each into a round, taut ball. I do this by cupping the dough between my two hands and rotating it a little at a time while putting pressure on the bottom and squeezing my hands together on the very base of the dough. Place 1 piece of parchment paper on an upturned baking sheet (in other words, the baking sheets will have the rims facing down to facilitate sliding the loaves into the oven) and dust each piece of parchment paper with cornmeal. Place one shaped dough ball on each cornmeal-dusted parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Uncover, slash each loaf diagonally with a sharp knife three times to score the top (this allows the crust to expand without tearing and looks nice), and brush with the remaining tablespoon of milk. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of salt.

Quickly slide the loaves into the oven and onto the hot baking stone, one at a time, using the upturned baking sheets as paddles. Close the oven door very quickly.

Using a plant mister, spray the loaves three times with water during the first 10 minutes of baking. Be sure to close the oven door quickly each time or else the oven temperature will drop.

Bake a total of 30 minutes, or until the loaves are a deep, golden color flecked with brown, and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. Cool on racks and serve at room temperature. The loaves can be frozen, well wrapped in plastic and placed in freezer-safe bags, for up to 2 weeks, then thawed and reheated in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.