Of all the recipes I’ve developed between my cookbooks, working in bakeries, and this website, this Cheater Croissant Dough might be the one I spent the longest working on. It is one of my favorite recipes, as it gives everyone the chance to make and experience the magic of flaky, delicate croissants and so many other treats in a simplified, easier technique.
It wasn’t until I read Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery that I accepted that home croissants were never going to be perfectly on par with bakery ones. He writes: “Croissant dough is the most difficult of the enriched doughs to get right…[y]ou can never master it completely. Every time you attempt it, it’s new. The temperature of your kitchen, the humidity in the air, the absorbency of the flour, the activity of the yeast – all these factors affect the dough.”
When I understood that this professional pastry chef who had made thousands of croissants could never master the croissant, I knew I had to take a different approach for my own kitchen. I wanted a dough that mimicked the flaky, butter layers of a croissant, but gave a little more space to imperfection.
This dough is inspired by many different recipes, but specifically Dominique Ansel’s croissant MasterClass and Mandy Lee’s laminated dough in her book The Art of Escapism Cooking. Mandy skips using the butter in a block, instead spreading room temperature butter over the surface of the dough, and then proceeds with the folding.
The results are still amazingly flaky, and it works great in many different recipes that I’ve developed using this dough. You’ll find a whole chapter of them in my 100 Morning Treats cookbook, from danishes to cruffins, and almond croissants to morning buns.
The Blue Heron Coffeehouse (where I learned to bake in college) graciously tested this recipe for me when I was creating it, and has been using this dough for several years now in their baked goods on a daily basis.
You can see some of the beautiful pastries they are making over on their Instagram page and in their Instagram stories.
What makes this a Cheater Croissant Dough? Is it puff pastry?
Croissant dough and puff pastry both are from the same family of laminated doughs. A laminated dough contains many layers: traditionally the dough is wrapped around a block of butter, then it is rolled out thin and folded several times. When the dough is baked, the water contained in the butter steams, and “puffs” the dough, creating layers that are light and flaky. While both puff pastry and croissant doughs are laminated, puff pastry does not include yeast and croissant dough does. The yeast gives the dough an even lighter texture. Croissant doughs also contain more sugar than puff pastry.
Step-by-Step Guide to Making Cheater Croissant Dough
Traditionally, croissant doughs have a butter block (or beurrage) encased in the center of the dough. For this cheater recipe, you’ll take the butter and spread it over the rolled-out dough, and then proceed with folding the dough (or turns). This helps the dough come together a little faster, and the dough rolls out beautifully. It makes a really delicious, flaky pastry.
Using European-Style Butter to Make Croissant Dough
European-style butter, by law, contains a higher percentage of butterfat than “regular” or American butter, and also has a less water content. American butter melts faster due to the higher water content, which results in cracking easier when chilled. This can make the laminating process more difficult. European-style butter also has a creamier, richer taste, that is important in developing flavor in the dough. In a pinch, I have used American butter in this recipe and it works, but the dough is less rich, and after freezing did show signs of cracking.
Top 3 Tips for Working with this Dough
Make sure your kitchen isn’t too hot! This will affect how your dough rolls out. The yeast will began to release gas as the dough warms up, so a cool environment is important. If at any point your butter begins to melt or your dough begins to warm and stick to your work space, you can move the dough to the refrigerator to chill.
Practice is important: Read through the entire recipe once or twice, so you really understand all the steps. If you haven’t made this recipe or a laminated dough before, give yourself space to make mistakes. Practicing a few times before using this dough for an important event (brunch, holidays, etc) is a good idea. Mistakes are part of the process! We learn by making mistakes, so if your dough doesn’t turn out perfectly the first time, have patience with yourself.
Use the flour called for and use a kitchen scale to weigh ingredients. Flour is one of the most important building blocks in baking. Different brands of flour have varying levels of protein, which can result in very different outcomes in baking. When working with yeasted doughs, I like to use King Arthur flours, and use their all-purpose, unbleached flour in this recipe.
Foolproof Cheater Croissant Dough
- 1½ cups [360 g] warm water (100 to 110°F [35 to 42°C]
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 4 cups plus 1 tablespoon [577 g] all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon [65 g] granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1½ cups [3 sticks or 339 g] unsalted European butter (preferably 83 to 84 percent butterfat), at room temperature (68°F [20°C] and pliable
- Grease a large bowl and set aside. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, stir together the water and yeast and let sit until dissolved, about 5 minutes.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the hook, mix together 4 cups [568 g] of the flour, granulated sugar, and salt. Start the mixer on low speed and add the water-yeast mixture, followed by the melted butter. Continue to mix until all the ingredients are combined, 3 or 4 minutes (see notes). The dough will be rough and bumpy but should be in one piece. Move the dough to the large greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 1½ to 2 hours, until doubled in size.
- Gently press down on the dough, releasing as much gas as possible. Place the dough on a large piece of plastic wrap and shape it into a 10 by 12 in [25 by 30.5 cm] rectangle. Cover the dough with more plastic wrap, place it on a sheet pan, and transfer it to the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the European butter and the remaining 1 tablespoon of flour together until creamy and combined, 2 to 3 minutes (see notes).
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it from the plastic, and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough into a 12 by 20 in rectangle. Spread the entire rectangle evenly with the butter-flour mixture, leaving a ½ in [12 mm] border around the rectangle. Make the first turn, or letter fold: Starting with a short side facing you, fold one-third of the dough onto itself, making sure the edges are lined up with each other. Then fold the remaining one-third of dough on top of the side that has already been folded. Rotate the dough so the seam is facing to the right and one open end is facing you. Gently roll the dough into a 10 by 18 in [25 by 46 cm] rectangle. (Each time you roll, the rectangle will get a bit smaller.) Repeat the letter fold. Sprinkle flour on a sheet pan or plate, place the dough on it, and freeze the dough for 6 minutes—set a timer so you don’t forget (see notes; this helps cool the dough slightly and makes the last turn less messy).
- Remove the dough from the freezer and repeat the letter fold again, making sure the seam is facing to the right. Roll the dough again into a rectangle, about 8 by 16 in [20 by 40.5 cm]. Repeat the steps for one letter fold. Gently compress the dough with the rolling pin and, depending on the recipe you are using, keep the dough in one piece or cut the dough into two equal portions. If using the dough immediately, place the piece being used in the freezer for 6 minutes to chill, then proceed with the recipe. Otherwise, wrap the dough in plastic wrap, place it in a freezer safe bag, and freeze for up to 2 weeks. The dough can be removed from the freezer the night before using and placed in the refrigerator to thaw.