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Basic Butter Croissants

3 tablespoons warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon flour

1 3/4 cups all-purpose unbleached white flour
2 tablespoons sugar dissolved in 2/3 cup warm milk
scant 1/2 tsp salt
1 teaspoon peanut oil
3/4 cup unsalted butter

1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Place water in a small bowl or measuring cup. Check temperature
with a thermometer. Sprinkle yeast over water. Stir in 2 tsp
sugar and 1 tsp flour. Let stand 5-8 minutes until foamy.

Meanwhile, measure 1 3/4 cups flour into a 2-quart bowl by first
dipping measuring cups into the flour and then leveling off with
a knife. This method produces exactly the 1/2 pound needed for
the dough. Add the scant 1/2 tsp salt to the flour in the bowl.
Heat the milk and sugar mixture just to 100F. Check the temperature
with a thermometer. Add milk to flour mixture with peanut oil and
proofed yeast.

Stir with a spatula or wooden spoon just to blend all ingredients.
Do not overbeat or you will produce a rubbery dough. Just blend
until all ingredients are mixed. The batter will be a bit lumpy
and very sticky. Do not add more flour. Scrape out onto a work
surface and let the dough rest about 4 minutes so gluten formation
(elasticity) develops.

Meanwhile, rinse the bowl in warm water and dry it. A warm bowl
gives your dough a warm environment for rising. Using the scraper,
fold the dough in half from right to left. Then fold in half from
back (north) toward you (south). Flip the dough over and do the
same folding movements again. Do this double folding and flipping
four times in all. You are stimulating the development of gluten,
but do not overwork the dough or it will become unmanageable and
rubbery. The dough will be sticky and still a bit lumpy.

Place the dough in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and thick towel
and let rise a minimum of 3 hours to near triple in size.

Neatly scrape the dough out onto a floured surface. With floured
hands, press the dough into a rectangle 12 inches long and 5 inches
wide. Notice how smooth the dough has become during the first
rise. Using the scraper, fold the dough in thirds as if folding
a business letter; that is, fold the bottom third up over the middle
third and the top third down. Place the dough back in the bowl.
Cover as before and let rise 1 1/2 hours, until doubled.

Place dough in floured plastic wrap, flatten dough, wrap tightly,
and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or place in freezer 20 minutes.

Cut cold butter into 1/2-inch chunks using the scraper. Pound on
the pieces with a mallet, a rolling pin, or the heel of your hand
until the butter becomes a malleable mass that can be spread or
shaped, but is not oily or approaching a melted state. If butter
exudes water as you chop and spread it, sprinkle on and blend in
1 or 2 Tbsp flour. Set butter to the side of the rolling area.

On a floured cold surface (marble slab), roll the chilled dough
into a rectangle 14 inches long and 8 inches wide. The dough will
be about 1/4 inch thick. Make sure the rolling surface is very
cold so that the dough will remain cold and easy to roll and the
butter will not become oily or melt into the dough layer. Flour
the surface lightly as needed for smooth, even rolling. Use your
ruler to measure the rectangle exactly and your scraper to help
make the shape perfect.

Rapidly pinch off butter pieces and place on the upper two-thirds
of the dough; leave an unbuttered half-inch outer edge or border.
Using a scraper, rapidly and evenly spread butter over the upper
two-thirds of the dough; leaving the bottom third and the edge
unbuttered.

If you took a lot of time spreading the butter, and the dough has
become soft and unmanageable, refrigerate the dough directly on
the rolling surface for about 10 minutes. In the summer or in a
hot kitchen either refrigerate the dough on the rolling surface or
chill the rolling surface with a plastic bag filled with ice cubes
whenever needed.

Fold the bottom third up over the middle third. Fold the top third
down as if folding a business letter. This technique of rolling
out and folding into thirds is called "making a turn". You have
now completed the first of 4 turns that will create the multiple
layers of dough and butter, the essence of the croissant. If the
dough is soft, refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Give the dough a quarter-turn so that the flap of folded dough
faces your right side. Quickly, so that the dough will not soften
too much, flour the rolling surface and roll the dough into a
rectangle 16 inches long and 10 inches wide. Use your ruler and
scraper to measure and shape your rectangle. Notice that you can
see pieces of butter through the dough. That is fine. Again, fold
the bottom third over the center third and the top third down.
You have now completed 2 turns.

Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 40 minutes or place in
freezer for 20 minutes to refirm the butter and keep the dough
manageable. Place the dough on a floured cold surface with the
flap again facing your right. Roll out to a rectangle 16 inches
long and 10 inches wide. Again you can see pieces of butter layered
in the dough. That is fine. Fold the bottom third over the center
thrid and the top third down. This completes 3 turns. If the
dough is too soft to handle, refrigerate 10 minutes.

With the flap on your right, roll the dough into a rectangle 16
inches long and 10 inches wide on a lightly floured cold surface.
Fold the bottom third over the center third and the top third down.
You have now completed all 4 turns. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate
for 2 hours.

Place the chilled dough on a floured cold surface with the flap on
your right. Roll the dough into a rectangle 20 inches long and
about 4 inches wide. The dough will be about 1/2 inch thick. Cut
in half horizontally, making two 10-inch-long pieces. Refrigerate
1 piece. Roll the other piece into a rectangle 15 inches long and
5 inches wide. Place the ruler next to the dough. Using the
scraper, make 2 horizontal cuts in the dough at the 5-inch mark
and the 10-inch mark on the ruler. This creates 3 5-inch squares.

Using the scraper, cut each square in half diagonally from corner
to corner, creating 2 triangles out of each square. If you are
working slowly, refrigerate the triangles you are not handling.
Place each triangle with the base toward you (south) and the point
away from you (north) on the work surface. Elongate the triangle
height to about 6 1/2 inches by stretching the triangle lengthwise.
Using your fingers, stretch and pull the left (west) corner and
right (east) corner of the base out about a half inch on each side,
widening the base by 1 inch altogether.

At this point you could add a croissant filling.

Holding in your fingers the west and east elongated corners, begin
rolling halfway up toward the north point. Place the fingers of
your right hand, palm down, on the roll and continue rolling as if
rolling a rug under your fingers. Hold the north tip in your left
hand as you roll up to it. Position the north tip in the center
of the croissant and curve the west and east points inward to form
the traditional croissant shape. The north tip should almost touch
the cookie sheet.

Continue with the 5 other triangles. If you are working slowly,
refrigerate al pieces you are not handling so that they will remain
cold and workable.

Roll the other half of the dough into a rectangle 15 inches long
and 5 inches wide. Cut and form 6 croissants as in steps 25-29.
Refrigerate any pieces you are not working with so they will remain
workable. Place the croissants about 2 1/2 inches apart on the
cookie sheet. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise 1 1/2
hours until the dough is swollen and pillowy soft.

Fifteen minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425F and place
the oven rack in the middle of the oven if you are using one large
baking sheet. If you are using two baking sheets, place two oven
racks so that oven is divided into thirds. Halfway through baking
reverse pans for uniform browning. Mix egg and 1 tsp water in a
small bowl or cup.

Just before baking, brush each croissant twice with the egg glaze
for a lovely brown finish after baking. Place the cookie sheet in
the oven and bake 5 minutes at 450F. Croissants will puff and
brown in the hot oven. Lower heat to 375F and bake an additional
10-13 minutes. When finished, the bottoms and tops of the croissants
will be golden brown. When baked and browned, the croissants should
be removed to a cooling rack.

Serve the croissants warm with jam, if desired.

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