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Sourdough Whole Wheat Croissants

We'll put these croissants up against anybody's, anywhere
We take croissants very seriously at Moss Mountain Inn, making them by hand in small batches with only the finest of ingredients.  Using our sourdough starter and a bit of whole wheat adds a complexity of flavor that is unmatched.

Butter is the flavor foundation of the croissant, and it is much easier to find unsalted, organic, European style butter than it was just a few years ago.  The domestic brands are fresh and vibrant. At Moss Mountain, our favorite is Organic Valley European Style unsalted sweet cream pasture raised butter.

We use a local brand of all purpose flour, Wheat Montana, which has an exceptionally high protein level (5 g per serving) with excellent results.  The sourdough starter is one we started here a few years ago, fed with whole wheat and rye 1:1.  Be careful not to over knead the dough in the initial mixing, as developing the gluten too early will make for poor lamination results later on.  Don't worry, the gluten will develop during the folding process.

Very wet doughs are all the rage these days, but croissants laminate better with a relatively dry dough, our recipe calls for only 52% hydration.  We have changed butter block techniques a number of times over the years, but old fashioned pounding out of the butter seems to give it a pliability that really aids in the lamination process.  Fortunately, here in Montana, the kitchen is almost always cool, often under 70 F.  We try to keep the butter in the 52-60 F range when working with it.

We prefer a croissant that is quite thick in the middle and tapers off quickly to the ends. To achieve this artisan look, keep your triangles long and skinny when shaping.

Keep in mind that this is a large batch of dough, making 24 large croissants, but you don't have to make all the croissants at once!  The dough will keep in the refrigerator for several days, so just cut off as much dough as you need on a particular day.  For example at Moss Mountain Inn, we might use the dough over three days, making plain croissants on day 1, chocolate croissants on day 2, and morning buns on day 3.  Croissant dough freezes well, so freezing a portion of the dough for later use is an option also.

Making the croissants is typically a three day process at Moss Mountain Inn:

Day 1:  In the evening, mix the sourdough starter with water and flours
Day 2:  In the morning, mix up the dough, then perform folds every few hours during the day.  In the evening, shape the croissants and allow them to rise, then refrigerate overnight.
Day 3:  Bake the croissants for breakfast.

Patience pays off when making croissants, as allowing the process to take place over three days allows a complexity of flavor to develop that is unmatched with other pastries.
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Sourdough Starter

1/3  cup sourdough
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour

In a large bowl, mix the sourdough and 3/4 cup water and allow to stand a few minutes until bubbly.  Stir in the flours until smooth.  Cover and allow to ferment for 8-12 hours.

NOTE:  If you don't have an active sourdough starter on hand, mix 1/2 tsp of yeast with the water and flours as above to make a poolish and allow to ferment for 8-12 hours.

The Dough

5 cups (700 g) all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups (162 g) whole wheat flour
Dry yeast 2 Tbsp (14 g)
Kosher salt 2 tsp (9 g)
Sugar 1/2 cup (100 g)
Dry milk 1 cup (69 g)
Butter, melted 1/4 cup (56 g)
Water, 1 7/8 cups (444 g, 52%), warmed to 105-115 F

Stir the warm water into the sourdough or poolish mixture and allow to stand for a few minutes until some bubbles form.  Next stir in the melted butter, dry milk, sugar, Kosher salt and dry yeast.  Finally stir in the flours until smooth.  Stir 30 strokes in the bowl or knead on a lightly floured surface just a minute.  Cover the bowl and immediately refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours then proceed with the lamination.

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Lamination

The sizes of the butter square and initial dough rectangle are based on 12 x 18 inch parchment paper size.  Vary your size as needed to your parchment, and always make the dough rectangle 1/3 longer than the butter block for folding.

Butter 3 cups (six sticks, 675 g)

Set the sticks of butter on the counter for 15 (warm kitchen) to 25 (cool kitchen) minutes to soften slightly, then slice place the six sticks together and pound them flat with a rolling pin to make a rough rectangle.  Use a dough scraper to turn the slab over a few times and pound some more until you have a several inch diameter rectangle and the butter works easily.  Fold a 12 x 18 inch piece of parchment paper in half to make a 12 x 9 inch pocket.  Place the butter rectangle into the pocket and use the rolling pin to move the butter toward the edges.  Continue to roll with a pin until a uniform butter square is obtained, flipping the parchment top to bottom a few times during the rolling. Once the butter thickness is uniform (about 3/8 inch thick) and the rectangle is perfect, place the butter rectangle back in the refrigerator while rolling out the dough.

Below left:  Butter rectangle with dough folded over the right half
Below right:  Left third of butter rectangle and dough folded to center
First Two Folds

On a large, lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 12 x 27 inch rectangle, squaring up the corners nicely. Remove one side of parchment from the butter rectangle and place the butter face down onto the left 2/3 of the dough rectangle. Tease the top layer of parchment off the butter square then fold the 1/3 of dough on the right over onto the middle of the butter square. Fold the left 1/3 of the butter and dough over onto the middle 1/3 of the rectangle to fully cover the butter. Adjust the edges and press down to seal in the butter. Fold the half of the dough nearest you over the half farthest from you.  Rotate the dough 90 degrees, and working quickly, roll the dough out into another large rectangle, about 12 x 27 inches and 3/8 inch thick. Fold the dough by thirds once again, folding the right third over the middle third, then the left third over the middle. This completes the first two folds/turns.  Place the dough rectangle, the plaque, on a parchment lined baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap or a slightly moist towel.  Refrigerate for 1 1/2 to 2 hours before the next folding.

Third and Fourth Folds

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured surface with the dough placed at a 90 degree angle from the last fold (the long side toward you).  Using your rolling pin, roll the dough out into an approximately 12 x 27 inch rectangle.  Fold the dough into thirds as previously then rotate 90 degrees and roll out into a 12 x 27 inch rectangle again. This completes the third and fourth folds.  Again transfer the plaque to a parchment covered baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap or a slightly moist towel.  Refrigerate for 1 1/2 to 2 hours again prior to the final fold.

Fifth Fold

Remove the plaque from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured surface with the dough placed at a 90 degree angle from the last fold (the long side toward you).  As previously, roll the dough into an approximately 12 x 27 inch rectangle, then fold into thirds, business letter style.  Again, transfer the plaque to a parchment covered baking sheet and cover then refrigerate for 1 1/2 to 2 more hours prior to shaping the croissants.

Shaping and Baking

Egg, beaten, 1
Cream or milk, 2 Tbsp (30 g)
Pinch of salt
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Cut off one third (to make eight croissants) to one half (to make twelve croissants) of the plaque and roll the dough out into a large rectangle 12 inches wide on its short side, about 3/8 inch thick On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 11 inch wide rectangle.  Trim the edges as needed to keep things nice and square and help reveal the lamination layers.  Make 3 1/2 inch markings along the long sides then cut the dough into long triangles.

Cut a notch at the base of the triangle to make it easier to stretch the base a bit.  Begin to roll the croissant by rolling it one turn at the base while stretching the base out a bit to lengthen it slightly.  Next, roll the croissant from the base of the triangle and place on a parchment lined baking sheet with the tip positioned on the underside.  Repeat for the remaining croissants.  

Below left:  Cutting the croissants, note the dough trimmed off the edges
Below right:  Gently stretch the tip of the croissant with one hand while rolling the croissant with the other hand.

Beat the egg with cream and a pinch of salt. Dip a brush into the egg mix, then press the brush against the side of the bowl to get rid of excess egg. Brush the croissants lightly.
 
Cover the baking sheet(s) and allow to proof until puffy, but not yet doubled in size. This will vary with the ambient temperature, around 1 hour in a warm kitchen or high altitude and 1.5 hours in a cool kitchen at lower altitudes.  Proceed with baking or refrigerate the risen croissants until ready to bake.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450 F, and lightly rebrush the croissants with the egg mix. Place the baking sheets in the oven and turn the oven down to 400 F.  Bake for 28-30 minutes until the tops are deep brown. If using a gas oven, place a broiler pan on the bottom rack and pour two cups of water in at the start of baking to help with browning.  Serve warm if possible.