Friday, May 25, 2012

Tips for Making Gluten-free Croissants

I assure you that I am the most impatient cook ever.  If there is a step that can be skipped or a corner that can be cut I will skip and cut at the same time.  I tend to look at recipes as a collection of concepts, many of which are just the author's unscientific and convoluted way of going about making something that should be very straightforward.  I look at recipes for methods for creating something, then I modify that method and create something similar, but mine, and faster and better.
Near-perfect croissants that split a little

It's this tendency to change things and modify that makes croissants a tricky thing for me.  They are very dependent on technique and making them is very detail-oriented.  I'm more of a big picture person.

It's also this tendency to change a recipe that allowed me to figure out how to make croissants gluten-free.  It's a long and grueling process to make the laminated dough.  I simplified it.  Trust me, I tried the long way several times.  The short way just happens to suit gluten-free baking better.  Besides, some glutinous recipes make it sound like you can go on laminating dough infinitely and make as many super-thin layers as your heart desires.  That's not true even for gluten-containing flour, and it's doubly untrue for gluten-free flour.  There's a point at which the layers get so thin they either break or meld into each other.  For a flat sheet of puff pastry you might get away with some of that.  However, croissant making is about maintaining the integrity of the layers you create.  Gluten-free dough is more delicate than glutinous dough, so for this recipe we are going to make far fewer layers than an average croissant.  That happens to translate into less work and less time.  Oh well!

We also don't need to rest the dough as much to "relax the gluten."  There is no gluten!  Gluten is for suckers.  It is necessary to chill the dough to get the right temperature for the butter and dough to be firm, but you don't need to chill it as much as with wheat-based dough.  You want the butter and dough to both be equally pliable, not cold and stiff.  Chilling the dough too much can cause the butter to break apart in the dough and destroy the fine layering.

The biggest tip I have for making croissants is to use potato starch for dusting the dough with flour when you're rolling it out.  Tapioca starch doesn't work as well, and using more of the pastry flour actually makes the dough stiffer on the outside because of the xanthan gum.  Remember how xanthan gum makes dough stiffer?  It does that when using it to flour the surface too.  This can lead to a dough that's not as easy to handle or that cracks excessively.  Potato starch is perfect for flouring the dough because it coats very finely while making the surface silky-soft without drying.  I think this tip could apply to gluten-containing croissants as well.

The part of the process that has been the trickiest for me is the last step - the proofing.  I was constantly over-proofing these things in the beginning.  I just wanted a little more plump to them.  Unfortunately they over-proof very quickly, which results in the croissants collapsing in the oven and bleeding out butter everywhere.  They still tasted delicious, but a little greasy, and collapsed croissants look pretty sad.  I had some luck with using a cold-oven technique for baking them to get a little more lift, but succes depends most on timing the proofing right.

Shaping is another thing that took me a while to get down.  The dough is really delicate so I found it's best not to force anything on it.  Once the dough is at the right consistency during the roll out process you should work quickly to shape everything right away.  There are three important differences between shaping GF croissants and "regular" ones: first, you need to roll the croissants loosely, preferably with a little bit of open space on the inside of the first revolution.  The second thing you want to do differently is to not tuck the tail underneath the croissant.  Pastry chefs tuck the tail under in wheat-based croissants to prevent the croissant from unrolling.  This rarely happens with GF croissants, and if you tuck under you run the risk of the tail splitting on top of the croissant from the pressure of rising.  The third tip is to roll the croissants out and leave them straight.  Okay, so technically they aren't "crescents" if you don't curve the tails around, but the straight shape is a completely legitimate variation on this pastry, and the gluten-free dough often just doesn't flex enough to hold up under the additional shaping.  If your dough looks pretty flexible, you can try your luck at crescents but don't force it or you'll break your layers.

Making croissants has a learning curve to it.  Hopefully with these tips in mind you'll have beautiful croissants the first time, but if not keep trying your hand at it and you'll be an expert in no time!

I'll post my croissant recipe next so you can get started!