How Traditional, Authentic Croissants Are Made in France

  • Be it summer or winter, there is nothing that warms your heart more than a freshly baked croissant.
  • But achieving these flaky, crunchy layers just can’t be done overnight; it takes days of preparation and butter — lots of butter.
  • We visit Frédéric Roy in his bakery in Nice, on the French Riviera, where he shows us how true artisanal croissants are made.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Claudia Romeo: Flaky layers, lots of butter, and a delicate crunch. These are what makes a freshly baked croissant absolutely irresistible. It’s a beautiful morning in Nice, on the French Riviera, and I can’t imagine a better way to start my day than having a croissant. I personally cannot imagine anything more French than a perfectly laminated dough and, if you know this series well, butter. Lots of butter. We’re going to find out more.

I know we promised you butter, and we’ll get to that in a bit, but aren’t you curious to learn how croissants get their perfect flaky layers? Sit tight, because it’s going to take three days. At least, that’s what happens in real life. Luckily for you, we’re here to speed things up. Day one is the day of the dough. We need sugar, salt, water, yeast, leftover dough, and flour.

Frédéric Roy: Here we have two types of flour. The one we call French tradition, which doesn’t contain any additives. And here I have some gruau flour. It is made from wheat that will give more strength to the dough, what we call strong wheat. It’s what will allow the dough to be more elastic, to have better stability during the kneading.

Claudia: Can you explain to me the difference between croissant dough and all the other types of dough? What is the peculiarity of the croissant dough? 

Frédéric: The croissant dough is part of what we call the family of fermented laminated doughs. It’s a dough that, on one hand, is going to give layers, crispness to the product we’d make with it. And on the other hand, we’ll have growth, fermentation, like bread.

Claudia: This dough contains 8 kilos of flour and will make about 240 croissants. And this is only one-third of the daily production here at Boulangerie Roy Le Capitole, where over 1,000 croissants a day are churned out during the weekend. Frédéric even supplies the most prestigious hotel in Nice: the Negresco. The dough kneads for 12 to 14 minutes, just enough to gain elasticity, but not too much to heat up and kick-start the fermentation process too soon. This, in baker terms, is called preserving the gluten network. It’s what Frédéric is showing me here: The dough is not breaking nor stretching. Once it has been divided into patons, which literally means “pieces of dough,” it is placed in the fridge and left until tomorrow. Day two is the day of the butter. Our favorite ingredient will take up as much as 30% of the croissant pastry, but butter is not mixed with the dough. The two have to be perfectly layered.

Frédéric: A layer of butter, a layer of dough, a layer of butter. So if the butter is too soft, it’ll mix with the dough. On the contrary, if it is too hard and the dough is soft, we’d have the same phenomenon, the reverse phenomenon, but everything mixes together. Claudia: OK. Frédéric: So if we have a dough with a relatively firm consistency and the butter is firm, nothing is going to mix and we’ll be able to keep the lamination layers as we progress with the work.

Claudia: This is how lamination works. The layers are achieved by, you guessed it, folding the dough and butter over and over again. To do that, there are two kinds of folds or turns. A single fold, where the dough is folded in thirds, like an envelope, gives three layers, whereas a double fold, where both ends meet in the middle and then are folded again, like a book, gives four layers. A baker can choose whichever technique they prefer. Frédéric starts with a single fold, single again, and then double.

Frédéric: So, there, if you have observed, when I started, I folded the dough with the butter at the center, which created three layers. There, I’ve just folded it in three. So three times three, it gives us nine. It means that there we already have nine layers. Dough, butter, dough, butter, dough, butter. We’re already at nine. Here, I’ve just added two. And there I’m adding another one, two, three, four. We have four layers. So I previously had nine, now four times nine, 36. We have 36 layers. 

Cinematographer: How many layers does a good croissant have to have?

Frédéric: Between three and four.

Claudia: OK. So 36 is –

Frédéric: There are some who give it 50. It depends. Me, I give a double fold and a single fold. Others would give three single folds. I have colleagues who do two double folds, and we don’t have the same number of layers at the end. The fewer layers we give, the thicker the layers of the croissants will be. Me, I want that when we bite it, it’s easy to eat. That the crust is not too hard. That the different layers are not too thick. That’s why I work this way.

Claudia: As the lamination process heats it up, Frédéric puts the dough in the fridge for half an hour to keep it cold. Keeping the dough cold and firm is essential for what comes next: cutting it in the tiny triangles that will be our croissants. Is there a precise thickness? 

Frédéric: Yes, absolutely. It means that when we make croissants, if I went too thin, there would be the risk of crushing the different layers of butter and dough. So it’d be less laminated. Here, for the croissants, I pass it at 4.5 millimeters two times. 

Claudia: And this allows you to stretch the croissant without breaking it. 

Frédéric: Absolutely.

Claudia: You don’t have a mold?

Frédéric: No, my eyes are the mold.

Claudia: Do you know why croissants have this half-crescent shape?

Frédéric: Yes, of course. It comes from Austria, when there was an attack from the Ottomans. It was a baker who was working during the night who sounded the alarm and prevented the invasion. To celebrate this, they created some kind of bread with the shape of a moon. The shape looks like a croissant, but on the other hand, it’s not at all the croissant we know today. It’s the French who created this laminated dough with the butter that has become the croissant that we know today.

Claudia: It’s only the shape that stayed, but the laminated dough, the butter – so you believe it, the story that the croissant comes from Austria. You have no problem saying it on camera. 

Frédéric: No, not at all.

Claudia: Is there a particular technique to roll a croissant?

Frédéric: There are two techniques. Either you roll it like I’m about to, like this. Or the other way, some would take it this way and would roll it out. There is only one important thing: the result.

Claudia: Of course.

Frédéric: The result is important. 

Claudia: I take one from here?

Frédéric: Yes, wherever you like. You have to pull it like this to stretch it, going down with the hand like this. That’s it. And then we lay it, we separate it, and we roll.

Claudia: Eh! It’s pretty. It has some ears. I have butter on my hands.

Frédéric: Yes, it’s normal. 

Claudia: You have to be fast, otherwise the croissant —

Frédéric: The heat of the hands melts the butter. 

Claudia: And you always want to keep the dough cold. Actually, it’s very cold.

You may think the croissants are ready to be baked, but we actually need to wait another 15 hours for that to happen. Following Frédéric’s step-by-step process really made me appreciate how much time and energy goes into producing the perfect product. Do you remember the baguette tradition? This type of baguette, by French law, has to be made on-site with simple ingredients. Well, for the last four years, Frédéric has been campaigning to get croissants the same protection.

Frédéric: Because in France, we have a law on bread. If you are labeled as a bakery, bread must be kneaded, shaped, and baked on the spot. On the other hand, nothing exists for pastry making. I called out the French prime minister on the need to create a “traditional” designation for artisanal croissants. The croissant is the French emblem of pastry making. If we had the same thing [as the baguette], it’d be a way to recognize artisans and a guarantee of quality for customers. We absolutely have to identify real artisans and make people talk about them.

Claudia: It’s day three of our croissants. Three, like how they grow three times their size when they’re baked. 

Frédéric: There, they are now ready to be baked. But before putting them in the oven, we’re going to glaze them. It’s a mix of egg yolks and water that will allow the croissants to have a bit more crispness, but especially a golden crust. This allows them to shine.

Claudia: So they rested at warm temperatures. Not really in the oven, but at warm temperatures, because we see a bit of the butter that — 

Frédéric: That melted slightly, absolutely. Because for 10, 11 hours they were kept cold at 4.5 degrees, and then we went up to 25, 26 degrees. Because the yeast is going to react to the action of heat. It’s the yeast that is going to eat the sugar and all the sweet bodies inside the croissants and produce carbon dioxide. It’s the little holes that we then see inside, be it in bread or croissants. It’s the natural mechanism of fermentation. 

Claudia: So you have to wait a long time and progress the temperature slowly.

Frédéric: As soon as we work with yeast, it’s time that will make the quality of a product.

Claudia: It’s a pizza peel!

Frédéric: Ah, this is a baker’s paddle. Frédéric: Ah, this is a baker’s paddle. This is used to put the trays right to the back of the oven. We can put four trays. 

Claudia: Four trays, that’s it. How many croissants are there on a tray? 

Frédéric: 15, so there we’ll put 60. 

Claudia: At what temperature are you setting the oven?

Frédéric: We’re at 215 degrees, and we’re going to let them cook between 15 and 17 minutes. 

Claudia: It’s much longer than a pizza, actually.

Frédéric: Much longer. But the pizza oven is much hotter. 

Claudia: Yes, it’s true. But the technique is the same. 

Frédéric: Yes, a paddle push.

Claudia: Here, we’re in Nice. It’s close to Italy, so we share a bit. 

Frédéric: Absolutely, they’re our neighbors.

Claudia: They are very, very pretty. 

Frédéric: Here, I’m quite satisfied.

Claudia: Quite.

Frédéric: If we take a croissant, what we have to look for is crispness on the outside and softness on the inside. So if we look and we listen — 

Claudia: Wow. 

Frédéric: We have a good lamination and also very good softness. It’s crispy, it’s soft, so we have a butter croissant that the customer is really going to treat themselves with. Because, there, we have a good crumb, nice and yellow, well buttered. I’m happy. 

Claudia: Can I try the other side?

Frédéric: You want to try the other side? Go on.

Claudia: Of course.

Frédéric: It’s good when it’s warm. 

Claudia: It’s true, it’s warm. It’s fresh.

Frédéric: This is royal, just out of the oven.

Claudia: Mmm. Fantastic. So, it’s 9 a.m., but you haven’t really started your day with a croissant. 

Frédéric: These are finished, so now it’s time to start the ones for tomorrow. Because tomorrow’s will be made today to have at least 15 hours of production before baking them. They will have rested for at least 15 hours. And it’s the advantage that artisans have on industrial manufacturers, who don’t have any time. So they would never equal the taste of an artisanal croissant, nor the nutritional values, be it bread, croissants, or pastries that we make. Because we take the time to make things really as they should be made. This is important: time. It’s all a matter of time.

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