By the Book- The Story of the Failed Croissants

I don't want to go all brag-city on you guys, but I can count the things I've screwed up on (in the kitchen, anyway) on one hand, two tops. My mom started us off helping in the kitchen at a super young age and I'm good at following directions (in the kitchen, anyway), so things usually end up okay. Today's little croissant exploration proved to be an exception.

I revisited Thomas Keller's book again, knowing that this recipe was going to be difficult. I ordered the expensive diastatic malt powder online, went to a different grocery store for European block butter, and read the directions a few times just to familiarize myself with the many steps (there are five pages of directions). I was excited and up for the challenge.

The first step was to create something called a poolish- basically you mix together flour, a pinch of yeast, and water, and let it sit for 12-15 hours (so I started it late last night). I knew something was wrong immediately, even though I double and triple checked the directions- what was supposed to have the consistency of pancake batter was more like a dough. I hoped that it would magically fix itself by morning and went back to watching Pulp Fiction, for the first time ever, with my husband.

[Side note: Is it just me, or do the characters in that movie never react with the appropriate amount of urgency? Like when Mia is overdosing and needs a shot of adrenaline? They waste time looking for a medical book and then counting ever-so-slowly to 3? Just do it! And then when Bruce Willis' character goes back to his apartment for his watch and decided to make a freaking pop tart, despite the fact that there are gangsters looking for him? And then when Samuel L. Jackson has to talk and talk and talk when he's trying to get out of a hold up that he obviously has complete control over? Come on, Tarantino, move it along.]

This morning when I woke up the poolish had obviously went through some sort of fermentation process because I saw some bubbles, but it was still pretty thick. It still had several more hours to go, so again, I hoped for magic while I was off standing in line for 3.5 hours at the Tom's sample sale. When I finally got home there had been no change. I decided to just go for it and see what happened.

[Making the poolish at 11 pm; butter block; dough; fold over #1]

There are a lot of steps in croissant making. You have to combine the ingredients, let the mixer mix it for twenty minutes (my poor Kitchen Aid over-heated), and then go through this lengthy process of folding it around butter, rolling it out, freezing it, rolling it out again, and so on and so forth.

I knew the entire time that it wasn't going to work, but I didn't want to quit. I thought if anything I could at least figure out what the problem was, besides the poolish being wrong, while I worked. Eventually it was time for the oven and while they raised slightly, the butter, which apparently hadn't been correctly incorporated into the dough, melted out all over (I'm still not sure what I did wrong, here, but I know there was an issue with the butter block). The results were hard little lumps that slightly resembled croissants. 

[stiff triangles; why do I see butter?; please don't drip in my oven; hard doughy mounds]

I think in a way these stupid little croissants are a little like my life right now. I know what to do, I follow the directions, but I inadvertently do something slightly wrong along the way to screw up the final product. And instead of stopping and starting over, I just keep plugging away down the wrong path, hoping that things will magically fix themselves. Not that it's the end of the world (in the kitchen or my life)- this isn't the last time I plan on making croissants, and I learned a lot about technique and dough making along the way. I also finally used the convection element of my oven, a fun little button to push. But you can't always make brownies from a mix, boys and girls, just like you can't just coast through life on auto pilot.

Croissants are complicated. Life is complicated. And Thomas Keller is horrible at writing directions for poolish.


  1. I'm not an expert but just saw this. Would you like some comments on making this recipe?

  2. I can tell you what went wrong just by looking at the photo of your croissants on the baking sheet. It doesn't look like the butter was incorporated into the dough properly. How many turns did you do? Laminating dough should create thin layers of dough separated by butter. The layer of dough and butter in your croissants looks very thick. If the layers are not thin or the butter is not cold, the butter will seep out when you bake it causing it to turn into dense roll instead of a flaky pastry.

  3. My croissants looked the same even though I followed his directions exactly as well. I had many, many layers in the dough but they didn't rise. I've made better croissants using other recipes.