“Croissants are made with real butter.” “Vegan croissants are not possible.”. Let go of those limiting beliefs! While it is not traditional to make croissants with butter substitutes, it is possible. I should know because I have spent an entire day crafting laminated dough from scratch!
I was initially going to share the recipe I used. But these still have a long way to go. So today’s post will be a coffee chat instead. I never thought about croissants until I couldn’t have them. Without researching, I just accepted the notion that croissants weren’t vegan. Well, it’s 2019 and anything can become vegan!
The History of Croissants
A croissant is a crescent-shaped roll that is flaky and buttery, yet also light and sweet. I think all bakers strive to make a perfect croissant. The history behind this pastry is fascinating. Researchers have suggested that croissants might not be a true French innovation. Among scholars, it is widely accepted that traditional croissants were inspired by an Austrian kipfel. The kipfel was also a crescent-shaped baked good with copious amounts of fat. According to legend, the kipfel originated as a celebration of an Austrian victory over the Ottoman Empire (the siege of Vienna). The crescent shape represented the moon on the Ottoman flag. This might only be a legend though because there is evidence of kipfels before this siege.
French bakers were inspired by the kipfel, but the croissant remains a French creation that soared to popularity in the 1800s. The French perfected dough lamination and so I think they deserve credit. But we should recognize the Austrian kipfel. You can click here to read more about the history of croissants.
How Are Croissants Made?
Croissants and other viennoiseries, such as pain au chocolat (pictured above), are made of yeast-leavened dough and have folds of butter or fat. It is like a cross between puff pastry and sweet bread. A standard croissant is supposed to have 27 layers. This requires the dough to be rolled and folded at least three times.
The main ingredients for this treat are flour, water, milk, unsalted butter, active-dry yeast, and salt. Each recipe is slightly different even though there is a finite set of ingredients. For vegan croissants, you just need to swap out the milk and butter for substitutes. I recommend the Earth Balance baking sticks or Miyoko’s vegan butter. I use unbleached flour and cane sugar because in the US some factories use bone char in the bleaching process. Anyway, the first step is to make the yeasted dough. I activate the yeast in warm water before combining the flour, warm soy milk, sugar, vegan butter, and salt. The dough should be kneaded for a few minutes. Then it needs to rise for at least one hour or you can let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.
In the meantime, you need to create a “butter” block. Essentially, this involves rolling out chilled margarine/butter into a square shape. I do this in-between pieces of parchment paper and dusted with flour. Place this in the refrigerator when you are done. After this step, the dough is ready to be laminated. Lamination is a process of turning and folding the dough to create layers of dough and butter. To start the procedure, roll out the dough into a large square. Then the block of fat is placed at a diagonal (making a diamond). The edges of the dough are pulled over the “butter” and sealed. Then it is rolled out again. Start by gently pressing on the dough and then slowly roll out the dough into a rectangle. The shape should be approximately 18 inches by 10 inches. Are you tired yet? I am! After you have rolled out the dough into a large rectangle it needs to be folded like a letter. You take 1/3 of the dough and fold it over the center and fold the remaining dough over the first fold. It should resemble a tri-fold. I know it sounds confusing. But, it’s easier if you visualize the folding beforehand and some people even like to make diagrams. When you are done folding, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This is repeated 3 times. So you will roll out the dough again, make another tri-fold, and place it in the refrigerator every time for 30 minutes. Each round creates three layers and that is why all proper croissants have 27 layers (3 x 3 x 3 = 27). Some people like to do another round for good measure, but 3 is standard.
The stressful part is over! After the lamination, the dough is waiting to be shaped. I recommend separating the dough in half so that it is manageable. Roll each half into rectangles. I honestly didn’t measure this, but people suggest 12 inches by 8 inches. Using a pizza cutter, slice triangles with 4-inch bases (about the width of your hand). You should get 12 triangles in total. To make the classic croissant shape, make a slit in the base of the triangle. This is hard to explain in written form. After making a slit, you will roll up the base while stretching the narrow top. Then place the croissant on a lined baking sheet with the narrow tip facing down. If you are worried about not getting a crescent shape, curl the edges. Here is a helpful video showing how to shape croissants. Cover the baking sheet in plastic wrap and let the croissants rise for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until they have puffed up. They will only bake for 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. What this means is you can work on croissants all day and then burn them in a matter of minutes. I should add that traditionally an egg wash is brushed on the pastries before going into the oven. I just use a soy milk wash. That’s the basic rundown.
I loosely followed this recipe. I felt like I was prepared and I didn’t make any fatal flaws. I was pleased with how the croissants turned out. However, I would have done some things differently and that is why I am not sharing a recipe yet. One mistake I made was using pastry flour. Pastry flour helps with flakiness; but in this case, it made the croissants stiff. You might be able to tell in the photos that the croissants don’t look soft. Next time I will use plain flour. Also, I plan on reducing the amount of salt. Earth balance has a slightly salty flavor and I thought it was overwhelming in the croissants. In the future, I will only use a pinch of salt.
I forgot to mention that the chocolate ones (pain au chocolat) are much easier to shape. They are cut into small rectangles and then chocolate is placed at each end. Here is a video on how to do it. Additionally, I should stress the importance of working fast with the margarine/butter when making these. If the fat melts before going into the oven, there won’t be layers in the dough.
I’m exhausted from writing this, so I am sure you are exhausted from reading this. Thank you for stopping by today! Maybe I will do an update if I improve these croissants. If you have any recipe suggestions, let me know in the comments. Have a good weekend!
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