What's the Difference Between Puff Pastry and Croissant Dough?
Laminated doughs are the Goldilocks of the pastry world. This room is too hot, this room is too cold, this is too much flour, this is too little. They need everything just right. They are finicky, fussy doughs. They require the perfect atmosphere, lots of time, and you can treat them with kid gloves and they still might fail you.
But when they work? Nothing is more satisfying as a baker than watching your vol-au-vents rise like little miracles, or seeing your pain au chocolat puff and crisp. One bite of a shatteringly crisp palmier, or the satisfying unfurling pull of the hundreds of layers in the middle of your croissant and you are hooked.
Thank goodness, there is excellent quality puff pastry widely available in the freezer section of your grocery store, so any home cook can Wellington their hearts out without having to self-laminate. And when you look online at puff pastry articles, there are a lot of “hack” recipes out there that have you use puff pastry to make versions of croissants and other breakfast pastries. But why is this a hack? Aren’t all laminated doughs essentially the same?
Nope. While laminated dough is any dough where you encase a block of butter with a dough and take it through a series of folds and rolling out, chilling in between each “turn” to create many alternating layers of dough and butter, the differences are in the dough itself.
Puff pastry dough is very simple. Flour, water, salt. This makes for a simple paste dough to enrobe your butter. Croissant dough, on the other hand, which is used for most breakfast pastries, also contains milk and yeast. But why the difference?
That part is simple. Puff pastry, used to create both savory and sweet baked goods, wants to be crispy. The layers puff up and then bake through for that compelling and explosive crunch. But croissants, while they want that crisp on the outside, also wish to be tender and pliable inside. The milk makes the dough a bit richer and the yeast makes them rise much higher than puff pastry does, which is what gives you that awesome stretchy pull.
You can use croissant dough to make all sorts of stuffed treats, like pain au chocolat or almond or ham and cheese, as well as spiral rolled pastries like pain au raisins. If you layer in a layer of sugar as you do your final set of turn and folds, you can make kouign amann which is, in my opinion, the highest ideal of breakfast pastry.
Can you “hack” a croissant with puff pastry? Sort of. But while it will not be undelicious, it won’t be a croissant. And while I can make a laminated dough, when it comes to puff pastry, I buy it frozen. For croissants and their brethren, I rely heavily on local bakeries to do the heavy lifting. Why invite Goldilocks into your house if you don’t have to?