I’m surprised how few people seem to know about pretzel croissants these days. To me, these treats from City Bakery rank up there with Levain Bakery cookies, Shake Shack burgers, bialys, and other quintessential NYC must-eats. Maybe City Bakery hasn’t mastered social media? Nevertheless, these crunchy, buttery, and just-salty-enough pastries are in a class of their own.
I always imagine if I were to move away from NYC, to someplace far in the country, which foods would I miss? What would I want to share with the folks who had never tasted, say, a thin crust slice of NY pizza or a proper everything bagel? And by that criteria, a pretzel croissant is a thing not to be missed.
It’s like a regular croissant – flaky, buttery, and best served warm – with an added bonus of a salted crunchy top scattered with toasted sesame seeds. You know, pretzel style! Perfect with a smear of butter or cream cheese; it’s equally great with jam or honey as well.
If you thought croissants were too difficult to make at home I’d say you’re only 30 percent right. The first time I tried to replicate pretzel croissants I made the mistake of trying to halve a recipe. I didn’t want to waste time making the full batch of 15 croissants, and I divided the dimensions accordingly, or so I thought. Maybe it was the run-of-the-mill unsalted butter I used (when a recipe calls for high fat European butter, just go with it), or various temperature issues (butter too warm? dough too warm?), the results weren’t pretty. And the dimensions were out of whack, since sometimes I halved the length and the width, and sometimes only one. They were tasty, after all they do have a terrific amount of butter, but I had to take a few more tries before I ended up with the recipe I’ll share today.
The topping was less challenging than I’d anticipated, especially after trying to decipher it using this cryptic video City Bakery shared in 2008. The New Yorker put together a more informative video a few years ago, with City Bakery founder Maury Rubin hinting that, instead of an egg wash, the croissant gets “another liquid medium on it, that’s salt-based.” Um, come again? After spending some time trying to figure out what other “liquid mediums” might yield nicely browned and crunchy croissant tops, I found a classic egg wash followed by a sprinkle of sea salt and sesame seeds to be the best and simplest approach. Sprinkle the sea salt as though you’re seasoning something – evenly and generously.
For croissant success here are my tips:
– Make the full recipe. Once cooled, you can always freeze any left overs; they heat up beautifully in 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Besides, who doesn’t dream of having homemade croissants waiting in the freezer?
– Use high fat European-style butter such as Kerrygold or Plugra because it really tastes much better in the end result.
– Take your time. You may be able to rush some of the suggested overnight resting times to a few hours, but anymore rushing and you’ll sacrifice some of the flakiness.
Inspired by City Bakery and adapted from Fine Cooking
- 4 cups (1 lb 2 oz) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tbs (2 oz) granulated sugar
- 1 tbs plus scant 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 2-1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 3 tbs (1-1/2 oz) unsalted European style butter, softened
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tbs (5 oz) cold water
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tbs (5 oz) cold whole milk
- 1-1/4 cups (10 oz) cold unsalted European style butter, cut into 1/2 inch slabs
- 1 large egg
- sesame seeds for topping
- sea salt
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine flour, sugar, yeast, salt, 1.5 oz butter, water, and milk. Mix on low speed for 3 minutes. Increase speed to medium for 3 minutes.
- Turn dough out onto a well floured rimmed pan or plate and cover with plastic. Refrigerate overnight.
- On a sheet of wax paper, trace a square measuring 7.5 inches a side. Flip wax paper over and fit butter slabs inside the square, leaving some space around the edges (cut some in half if necessary). Cover with a second sheet of wax paper.
- Using a rolling pin, whack at the butter slabs until they flatten out slightly. Crease paper along edges to form a square and flip over so the folded sides are underneath. Roll out the butter so it becomes one even layer (I promise, it will happen eventually). Refrigerate.
- Remove dough from refrigerator and turn out onto a floured work surface. Roll dough into a 10.5 inch square, forming edges with your hands if the dough keeps wanting to remain circular.
- Remove butter layer from fridge, discard wax paper, and place on dough so it forms a diamond shape against the dough square.
- Pull the bottom corner of dough over butter, and bring other corners to meet it, almost like forming an envelope. Make sure to press dough together to seal in butter.
- Flip dough over, flouring as needed, and roll out until it reaches 8 inches by 24 inches (focus on rolling dough out/lengthening, as opposed to widening it). Fold into thirds by folding one side (about 8 inches from the left end) toward the middle, and following with the right side. Return to baking sheet, cover with plastic, and refrigerate 30 minutes.
- Repeat rolling the dough out to 8 inches by 24 inches and folding into thirds. You'll want to do this one more time, refrigerating 30 minutes in between if you have time. After the 3rd rolling/folding, return to baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic and refrigerate overnight.
- Turn dough out onto a wide floured countertop. Begin by pressing the dough with the rolling pin along its length. Start rolling it out and keep at it until it reaches 44 inches in length and 8 inches in width. Keep flouring as you do this and, from time to time, pick up the dough and allow it to shrink back.
- Trim the edges with a pairing knife or pizza cutter so they're straight and the entire piece of dough is now 40 inches. Using a ruler, make small marks along the top edge of the dough every 5 inches. On the bottom edge of the dough, make a mark 2.5 inches from one end, and then every 5 inches from there.
- Make diagonal cuts using a ruler, starting by cutting between the top corner and the first bottom mark. Change the angle of the ruler and make cuts starting from the other top corner and bottom mark to form triangles. You'll have 15 triangles and 2 small half-triangles at the ends (bonus!).
- Form croissants by taking a triangle and gently stretching the dough a bit. Focusing on lightly rolling the edge of the dough (as opposed to pressing down on the entire roll), roll the flat top of the triangle away from you towards the bottom. Cross the ends and set aside on a parchment lined baking sheet.
- Once rolled, allow croissants to proof for an additional 1-2 hours in a warm spot, making sure they are generously spaced to allow room to rise. You'll know the croissants are ready to bake when they quiver slightly when you shake the baking sheet.
- Brush croissants with egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt and sesame seeds.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Bake croissants for 10 minutes, rotate baking sheet, and bake an additional 8-10 minutes. Serve hot.
Once cooled, croissants can be frozen in an airtight container for a month. Reheat at 400 degrees for 10 minutes until heated through and crisp. Adapted from Fine Cooking