Can you make sourdough croissants?

Can you make croissants out of sourdough?

The Weston A Price Foundation conference in London is coming up soon.  Some Bread Angels are getting together to deliver an “introduction to sourdough” workshop and this has inspired me to tackle some far out sourdough projects.  The answer to the question is:  Of course you can!  You can make anything out of sourdough because, remember, we have been baking for 10,000 years and we only “invented” yeast (that you can hold in your hand) about 150 years ago.  There are differences between sourdough bread (and croissants) and “normal” bread (and croissants):

1.  Sourdough bread usually has a stronger flavour
2.  Sourdough bread is usually less airy and more chewy
3.  Sourdough bread is frequently easier to digest and better for your health

Given that croissants take about 3 days to make (no joke) it’s really not such a big deal to make them with sourdough.  They are fiddly but by no means impossible and we enjoyed the stronger flavour and denser texture and wondered if, 100 years ago, croissants were ALL like these turned out to be?  Any answers?  Anyone with a 100 year old friend who remembers croissants?  Let use know:  we here at the global HQ of Virtuous Bread are ALWAYS interested in your bread stories.  But, to continue….the recipe for Sourdough Croissants!

What you need in addition to the ingredients:

– a rolling pin
– a fridge
– non stick baking parchment
– cling film
– a cardboard triangle that you can use as a guide to cutting out your dough triangles to make the croissants.  It’s an isosceles triangle, by the way.

Recipe for sourdough croissants – as best as we can give it given we have just tried this one time…..

Day One:  Refresh your sourdough – we used rye because we like rye

Mix 30 g rye sourdough starter with 200 g unbleached plain, white wheat flour and 100 g water together in a big bowl.  It’s a stiff paste so you need to get your hands in there.  Cover and leave 12 hours or more on the counter (ie outside the fridge).

Day Two:  Knead the dough

Take your bowl of now airy and sticky starter and add:

250 g unbleached plain, white wheat flour
40 g water
140 g milk (heated to just below boiling point and then cooled right down – give it 1/2 hour to cool or even do this the day before and remember milk always seems to vanish when you heat it so heat up 200 g and then measure out 140 g).
75 g sugar (less if you want)
40 g butter (unsalted, at room temperature, cut into small cubes)
12 g salt

Bring all the ingredients together into a ball and turn them out on to the counter.  Knead all this together for 3 minutes maximum whether you are doing it by hand or machine.  The point is that you don’t want to develop the gluten too much or the dough will fight you (and itself) at a later stage.

Shape the dough by hand into a tight ball and then pat the ball down into a disc that is an inch or so thick.  Pop it on a plate and cover it with cling film.  Put it in the fridge until the next day.

Meanwhile get 280 g of cold, unsalted butter  – COLD UNSALTED BUTTER and cut it into strips (long or short end of the block, does not matter) about 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick.  Lay these down on a piece of plastic wrap or baking parchment so that they are a regular square or rectangular shape – ie not a random shape but a shape with 4 straight sides.  This can be a bit like doing a jig saw at first but you will get the hang of it).  Put another piece of parchment or plastic on top and pound it/roll it out into a square about 15 x 15 cm.  This can take a couple of goes as, at first, the butter goes a bit wonks ville so you may have to trim it, put the trimmings on the top and try again.  Worry not, just don’t melt the butter.  You are going to refrigerate the butter too so just take your time until you can get the square.  Wrap it up and put it in the fridge over night.

Day three:  Incorporate the butter (it’s called laminating)

Take the dough and the butter out of the fridge (notice the dough and the butter are the same temperature – this is very important!) and roll it into a square about 25×25 cm.  Place the butter on the square of dough so that the points of the square of butter face the sides of the square of dough.  Fold in the sides, press down gently to seal in the butter and flip the square over.  Get ready to roll and fold.

I am not going to explain here how to laminate dough or cut/roll your final croissants.  I can and if you would like me to  please let me know.  Suffice it to say that AS EVER there are lots of ways and you cannot do better than look at the Happy Baker or the Week End Bakery.  Happy Baker if you have a press and Week End Bakery if you don’t.  They do it slightly differently (and I would go with the Week End Bakers on kneading for 3 minutes and not 6 especially if you are rolling by hand) but the principles of laminating are the same:  Don’t melt the butter.  Make sure the dough and the better make layers. Don’t melt the butter.  Don’t melt the butter.

Got it?  Don’t melt the butter!  Take your time, relax and you will be perfect!

Now, for the final rise … whatever you see and read that has to do with making croissants with added yeast – forget about.  Once you have cut and rolled your sourdough crossants, cover them with clingfilm (put them in a deep baking tray if you can and then cover them – just so the plastic does not touch the dough) and leave them on the kitchen counter overnight.  Yes ladies and gentlemen – over night on the counter.  All that butter plus the natural yeast equals a VERY slow rise.  So  you will not be baking until day 4.  If you live in the tropic or otherwise if your overnight kitchen is much more than 12 degrees (the average European kitchen even in the summer) put them in the fridge over night and then take them out for at least 6 hours before you bake.

Small ones are sourdough croissants (based on dough we had) vs a "normal" one
Small ones are sourdough croissants (based on dough we had) vs a “normal” one.  These have been left the same amount of time.  You can tell the big one if “fluffier”.  It’s ready for the oven, the little ones are not.

Day 4 – Wash and bake

Pre heat the oven to as high as you can get it.  Beat and egg and liberally brush your croissants with the beaten egg.  At this point let me stress the importance of non stick parchment.  It’s bad enough if your bread sticks to the paper.  It’s worse if sticks BECAUSE of the egg wash.

Pop the croissants in and bake for 10 minutes at the highest possible temperature.  Turn it down to about 160 C and bake them for a further 10 minutes or so.  They should be a nice dark brown colour and – most important – they should not be doughy inside.  Take them out, cut one open and try it.  If it’s doughy, cover them with more parchment and bake them for a further 5-10 minutes.

Not perfect but we are getting there and you will have to experiment please!
Not perfect but we are getting there and you will have to experiment too… please!

Result:  flavour – MUCH stronger than a normal croissant; texture – surprisingly light (for sourdough) and rather nice in it’s “less than I expect” lightness; look – smaller, less “fluffy” and maybe – maybe – as they “used to be” before yeast.

Want to learn more about sourdough – and learn to bake your own?  We don’t have a sourdough croissant course but we do have a full day sourdough bread class in which you will learn everything you need to know!  Click here and type “sourdough” into the search bar to find a course!

To buy tickets to the conference and participate in amazing workshops including sourdough and fermentation, click here!

19 thoughts on “Can you make sourdough croissants?”

  1. I made your receipe and it really works. We now eat every morning croissants with sourdough. Many thanks.

  2. Hello, thank you for your wonderful croissant recipe. I have been trying to find a way to not use baking powder or baking soda in my cookies and cakes. Do you know how sourdough could be substituted effectively for cookies and cakes?

    Many thanks
    Kind regards

    1. Dear Irene

      I hear you and I cannot really think of what to do. I have never heard of cookies or cakes made with a sourdough but did you ever hear of “friendship cake”. If you google it you will find it. I remember my mother had a friendship cake “starter” in the 70s or 80s. She called it herman… was SOME KIND of culture that made all sorts of things. You had to feed it to keep it alive but it was not really a sourdough and she certainly baked cakes with Herman.

  3. Thank you for sharing this!

    Since I was aware that commercial yeast is a relatively recent invention, I knew that sourdough croissants were not only possible, but are how croissants must’ve been made originally.

    I look forward to trying this out!

    1. Let us know! We liked them alot (especially the sour flavour) but they are a bit more heavy than their yeasted cousins. I don’t put sugar in my croissant dough but you can and this will help the activity of the yeast and make them sweeter. Photos please!

  4. Hi there! I’ve been making sourdough croissants for about a month now. I just found your method this morning and it answers some questions I had. I have been proofing in fridge before baking but only for a few hours. The result is still tasty but they lose a lot of butter I think due to being under proofed. So my question is, with the overnight ambient proof does the butter melt by morning or does it stay in the dough? Thanks!

    1. Hi there,

      thanks for this and I am thrilled that you too are making them. Mine lose more butter than a “regular” croissant and that is probably because they are simply less airy – the lamination stages are identical to making regular croissants but the reality is simply that things made with sourdough don’t rise as much. I proof over night in the fridge usually and then bring them out to warm up completely. If your kitchen is cool there is no reason why an overnight proof on the counter should not work. It depends how cool your kitchen it. If it’s cool (like less than 20 degrees) I would give it a try BUT I would put the shaped croissants in the fridge first to let them cool down after the final lamination and shape (where they warm up a bit). That way you maximised your chances of the butter sticking in the dough! Let me knwo – photos please!!!!!

  5. I’ll try the overnight proof this weekend! I would post pics but I don’t think I can in this forum. Thanks for the response!!

  6. I couldn’t get the middle to cook. Is this more of a lamination error? I had good layers outside but they were in for a lot g time and still raw in middle.

    1. Hi Ruth

      it could be a lamination error – ie the dough is not coming apart in layers when it’s baking because it absorbed the butter but then again, it could be a proofing issue – how long did you do the second proof (after they were shaped?)

  7. “wondered if, 100 years ago, croissants were ALL like these turned out to be? Any answers? Anyone with a 100 year old friend who remembers croissants? Let use know:”

    While some of my hundred-year-old sources feel like friends by now, I’m obliged to refer to history here. The croissant was introduced to Paris in 1839 as the Austrian kipfel, at a bakery run by August Zang. The kipfel always used yeast (like most Austrian baked goods) – in fact Zang has been (erroneously) credited with introducing the use of yeast into French bread (in fact it had been used for luxury breads long before him).

    About a hundred years ago (give or take a decade), someone had the idea of using puff pastry (a French technique) instead of the “rich” dough (yeast-leavened with a little milk added) used by the Viennese. But even that puff pastry was lightly leavened with yeast (as it is today).

    So traditional croissant have always been made with yeast. But the idea of making them with sourdough is neat – in fact it was that the thought they might be which brought me to your site.

    1. What a great response! Thank you so much. I had no idea there even WAS yeast (ie to hold in your hand) in 1839. I thought it was cultivated a few decades later. So this is really fun information! let us know if you try the sourdough variety. Get ready for a LONG wait!

  8. Glad it was helpful.

    A clarification on yeast: Modern commercial yeast did indeed come along a few decades later (starting with Mautner). But until the nineteenth century, yeast was simply the foam on top of brewing ale (beer is bottom fermented, with the yeast in it, rather than on top). This was impure and added extraneous flavors to the bread, which is one reason an effort was made to refine it.

    Even some baking experts today don’t realize that yeast was ever anything other than the pure product one buys today, which can complicate discussions of historical bread. But it has a long, even ancient, history.

    Sourdough, while I’m at it, was once ONLY what some today call “old dough” – that is, dough left over from a previous batch.Like the impurities from brewing, the impurities from a previous batch could thus also end up in the new bread. Pre-ferments and separate culturing of sourdough are also relatively recent developments.(though older than commercial yeast).

    1. I have the same very practical attitude to sourdough and indeed am always surprising people when I tell them that commercial yeast (that we can see) is very modern.

  9. Hello! This is such a delightful website and it is particularly delightful to find a sourdough croissant recipe!
    Two quick questions please: 1. Do I bake the croissants on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and 2. I don’t understand this last instruction:
    “If it’s doughy, cover them with more parchment and bake them for a further 5-10 minutes.”
    Was I supposed to have covered them from the start of baking?
    Thank you for your love and attention to sourdough croissants!

    1. Hello and thank you for your response. No – don’t cover them from the beginning. You want them to go brown. However, not TOO brown! So, if you feel they are not done AND they are brown enough, keep them in a little longer and cover them so they don’t get too brown.

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