How to Master Laminated Dough
Lamination, A.K.A. the butter layering technique that yields the iconic flakey layers of a classic French croissant, is a technique you can practice at home for better biscuits, pastries, and more.
Croissants: They’re buttery, iconic and irresistible when fresh out of the oven. They’re also incredibly intimidating projects for at-home chefs. Besides taking a full three days if you’re following a traditional recipe, the pastry requires bakers to employ a technique called lamination. That process, which involves stretching and folding a block of butter into dough, creates layers of fat that melt away in the oven, leaving thin, delicious sheets of bread behind. Without lamination, croissants would be unable to achieve the delicate, flaky texture we’ve all come to know and love.
Lamination is not actually a difficult skill. In fact, it can be fun. (There’s even a stress relief component.) But it takes some patience to master, and patience is a resource that croissant making is known to test. So, instead of practicing lamination with an advanced French pastry, table the croissant and start with something a touch simpler. Make laminated biscuits.
For this project, start with your favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe and prepare the dough as directed. Stop just before rolling out the dough, and set it aside (in the refrigerator for now). Next, lay down a piece of parchment paper, and cut about one stick—or half a cup—of butter up into roughly equivalent slices. Arrange those slices into a square, cover them with another piece of parchment paper, and get ready to take out any frustration you might have on some dairy. You’ll want to take a rolling pin and beat the butter pats until they begin to merge together. Every few whacks, peel off the top piece of parchment paper, trim your butter block’s edges until it resembles a square once more, and then lay those trimmings in the center. Then cover and beat the butter again until it is a somewhat smooth square, about a half-inch thick. Ideally, the butter block should be small enough to fit in the center of your dough once its rolled out, but it can always been trimmed down if the size is not quite right.
At this point, you’ll want to place your butter block into the fridge so it can resolidify. Wait an hour, then roll your biscuit dough out to a half-inch thickness. Retrieve your butter square, and place it in the center of the dough. Then, do a letter fold—take one end and fold it two thirds in, and then fold the other end over the center as well. Rotate your dough 90 degrees in either direction so that the fold line is horizontal instead of vertical. Take your rolling pin, press out the dough once more, and then do another letter fold before returning your dough to the refrigerator for another hour. You can repeat this folding and turning process as many times as you like, but two or three turns are enough to create an incredibly flaky, buttery top.
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The reason you’ll want to keep sticking your dough back into the refrigerator between turns is because you’re trying to keep the butter cold so it doesn’t lose its shape. While stretching out the dough, you were stretching out the butter as well, eventually creating alternating layers of dough and butter with each fold. Those layers need to remain separate if the lamination process is to be successful.
Once you’ve stretched and turned to your heart’s desire, go ahead and chill your dough before rolling it out for a final time. Then cut out your biscuits, arrange them on a baking sheet, and bake as directed according to your original recipe. You may need to add a couple of minutes for the extra fat that’s been incorporated into the recipe, but otherwise the biscuits should bake about the same.
Lamination may seem like a tasking technique, but it’s really not that hard, and it can add a lot of texture and flavor to otherwise simple bakes. With laminated biscuits mastered, you can move on to a one-day croissant, or even the classic three-day ones, if you’re feeling ambitious. Those and other pastry recipes incorporating lamination will no longer seem as daunting, allowing you to explore a whole new world of baking possibilities.