Very few things can beat a freshly-baked croissant, but unless you live near a French bakery (in France), you are unlikely to ever get one. Too often, the things served in cafés are soggy and doughy, not the rolls of shatteringly crispy, light and flaky pastry that they should be. Do not despair, you can make your own croissants. I wouldn't claim it is easy or quick, but it is immensely satisfying when you manage it!
Make the Croissant Dough
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt and yeast together. Break up the butter and work that into the mix. Add the milk and water and stir thoroughly until the dough leaves the bowl clean. Tip the dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead for about 3 minutes. Do not overwork as this leads to excessive gluten generation. Press the dough into a roughly square slab, place on a plate, cover with plastic film and leave to prove in the fridge overnight.
Make a square slab of butter
Take your 140g (5 oz) block of cold butter and slice it into 6 pieces of equal thickness. Place them side by side on a sheet of greaseproof paper, in 2 rows of 3, forming a square of 15cm (6 inches) - you may need to cut some of the butter and re-arrange it to get this size. Place another sheet of greaseproof paper on top and roll out into a square of at least 17cm (7 inches). Remove the top layer of paper and cut the edges straight with a ruler, knife or pastry wheel. Place any excess butter in the corners of the slab and in the centre, cover with the paper again and place in the fridge or freezer to cool well.
Knock back the dough
After the dough has risen (after several hours or the next day), on a lightly-floured surface, knead it gently to knock the air out of it. Roll it into a square of 26 centimeres (10 inches). The best way to do this is to roll dough into the corners rather than roll it up and down. Use your ruler to make the edges straight.
Make a dough and butter parcel
Take the sheet of butter from the fridge or freezer, remove the paper and place it diagonally onto the dough so that the corners are aligned with the mid-point of each edge of the dough square. Fold the dough over onto the pastry so that it looks like and envelope. Press the edges together to seal the butter inside.
Laminate the dough
Now, roll the parcel out into a strip 20cm wide and 60cm long (8 x 24 inches). Use your ruler to keep the edges straight. When you have achieved the desired size, fold the dough over into thirds, cover, and place in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
Remove from fridge, unwrap, and place the dough on your worktop and rotate 90 degrees so that the short open edge in on the left or right. Roll it out to 20cm x 60cm again. Fold into thirds, cover and rest for 30 minutes.
Repeat the above one more time - a total of 3 rollings. This gives you 27 layers of dough and butter.
Make the croissants
Now, roll the dough out into a strip that is 20cm (8 inches) wide and as long as you can comfortably manage (mine was 74cm - 30 inches - long). Don't roll out the dough too thinly, it should 4-5mm (quarter of an inch) thick. Now, to cut out the triangles, start from the bottom left corner of the dough strip, and make a mark with a knife every 12.5cm (5 inches). Then, starting from the top left, make a mark at 6.25cm (2.5 inches), and then continue making marks at 12.5cm intervals. Use a ruler to connect the marks and cut the dough into long triangles. Make a cut about 1.5cm (three quarters of an inch) long in the centre of the short edge of each triangle.
Roll each triangle into a croissant - start from the short edge, roll quite tightly to start with, less tightly towards the point. Bend into a slight curve and voilá, that's almost a croissant!
Arrange the croissants on the baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper, leaving enough space between them so that will not touch each other when they have risen. Brush each croissant with egg-wash (beaten egg with a little bit of milk added). Cover and leave to prove for a couple of hours or overnight in the fridge. They should increase in size somewhat, but not necessarily double.
Bake the croissants
Pre-heat your oven to 200°C. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the outside is golden and crispy. Cool slightly on a wire rack, serve with lots of butter, jam and gallons of proper coffee, sit back and marvel at your skill and talent.
FOR THE DOUGH • 250 grams strong white bread flour • 140 ml milk and water • a pinch of salt • 10 grams fresh yeast • 30 grams sugar • 25 grams unsalted butter • FOR LAMINATING • 140 grams unsalted butter • EGG-WASH • 1 egg • a splash of milk
Makes 10 croissants Prep time: 40 minutes. Resting, proving time: 2 days. Cooking time: 15 minutes. Total time: 2 days +.