The first thing that springs to mind when I hear the word crescent is Pillsbury. The lovable dough-boy has touted his crescents ever since I was a tot. In fact, I thought that I was pretty rocking in the kitchen as I rolled those pieces of dough alongside my cousins. It amazed me that something that came from a cylindrical tube could be so tasty.
Call my tastebuds misinformed back then, but to me, as a child, I adored those soft rolls with a crispy browned exterior. Soon, I morphed into scientist and culinary experimenter, adding almost anything under the sun to the raw pieces of dough: chocolate in one, cream cheese and nutella in another. For savoury, I would add ham and cheese or hot dogs to the mix.
Today, I tend to stay away from Pillsbury et al. simply because their packaged foods don’t resonate with me quite like they used to. To satisfy my craving for real, buttery, soft crescent rolls, I turned to my trusty Baking Illustrated book for a no- fail recipe. They require some time and effort (as all yeast doughs tend to) but unlike a croissant, where butter layers are painstakingly created, here it is just added to the dough, yielding something that is much more forgiving to the home cook to work with.
These crescent rolls are flaky, moist, and oh-so pillowy tender. Your home will be perfumed with butter as they bake up and they are divine straight out of the oven. While some of my dough was shaped into the traditional crescent, I deviated slightly and made some which I like to think look like chubby legs. They’re adorable and so much fun to unravel and devour.
My notes and additions/suggestions to the recipe below are in italics.
When you bake the crescent rolls, make sure the light in the oven is switched off. If the light is on after you shut the oven door, the burst of steam may cause the bulb to crack. You can make the dough up to 4 days ahead of time or even partially bake the rolls and freeze them for up to 1 month. To do this, begin baking the rolls as instructed, but let them bake at 350 degrees for only 4 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let cool. Place the partially baked rolls in a single layer inside a zipper-lock bag and freeze. When you’re ready to serve them, defrost at room temperature and place them in a preheated 350-degree oven for 12 to 16 minutes.
¾ cup skim milk
16 Tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces (as always, only use good quality butter! You CAN taste the difference)
¼ cup granulated sugar (we like them a tad sweeter so I upped it to 1/3 cup)
3 large eggs
3½ cups (17½ ounces) unbleached high-protein all-purpose flour (such as King Arthur) OR 4 cups (20 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour (such as Pillsbury or Gold Medal), plus extra for work surface (these flours are hard to find in Canada, so, I used Robin Hood unbleached all-purpose flour. It worked just as well)
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast (I used instant)
1½ teaspoons table salt
1 egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon water
1. Microwave milk, butter, and sugar in 4-cup microwave-safe measuring cup until butter is mostly melted and mixture is warm (about 110 degrees on instant-read thermometer), about 1½ minutes. Whisk to dissolve and blend in sugar. Beat eggs lightly in medium bowl; add about one-third of warm milk mixture, whisking to combine. When bottom of bowl feels warm, add remaining milk mixture, whisking to combine.
2. Combine flour and yeast in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment; mix on lowest speed to blend, about 15 seconds. With mixer running, add milk and egg mixture in steady stream; mix on low speed until loose, shiny dough forms (you may also see satiny webs as dough moves in bowl), about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium and beat 1 minute; add salt slowly and continue beating until stronger webs form, about 3 minutes longer. (Dough will remain loose rather than forming a neat, cohesive mass.) Transfer dough to large bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and place in warm, draft-free spot until dough doubles in bulk and surface feels tacky, about 3 hours. (you can do this by hand but it will take you longer to beat the mixture to get the desired texture)
3. Line rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Sprinkle dough with flour (no more than 2 Tablespoons) to prevent sticking, and punch down. Turn dough onto floured work surface and form into rough rectangle shape. Transfer rectangle to lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
4. Turn dough rectangle onto lightly floured work surface. Roll dough to a 20 by 13-inch rectangle; use a pizza wheel to trim the edges. Cut the dough in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 8 triangles. Before rolling the crescents, elongate each triangle of dough, stretching it an additional 2 to 3 inches in length. Starting at the wide end, gently roll up each crescent, ending with the pointed tip on the bottom, and push the ends toward each other to form a crescent shape. Arrange crescents in four rows on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet; wrap baking sheet with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 3 days. (a longer dough rest allows for better flavour development. It also improves the appearance of the rolls: while baking, it creates these beautifully flaky and blistered-browned tops)
5. Remove baking sheet with chilled rolls from refrigerator, unwrap, and cover with overturned large disposable roasting pan. (Alternatively, place sheet pan inside large garbage bag.) Let rise until crescents feel slightly tacky and soft and have lost their chill, 45 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, turn oven light off, place rimmed baking sheet on lowest rack, adust second rack to lower-middle position, and heat oven to 425 degrees.
6. With pastry brush, lightly dab risen crescent rolls with egg wash. Transfer baking sheet with rolls to lower-middle rack and, working quickly, pour 1 cup hot tap water onto hot baking sheet on lowest rack. Close door immediately and bake 10 minutes; reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until tops and bottoms of rolls are deep golden brown, 12 to 16 minutes longer. Transfer rolls to wire rack, cool for 5 minutes, and serve warm. (it sounds like a hassle with the hot water, but it is necessary. The water creates steam and slows down the ability for the dough to create a “seal” or a crust, if you will. The dry hot heat, will give the dough the necessary ‘oomph’ to rise as much as possible before the steam runs out and a crust forms on the exterior of the rolls).
Yield: 16 crescents