“You can’t beat a fresh croissant slathered in butter,” says Bennelong’s head pastry chef Rhiann Mead – and we couldn’t agree more. “I’ve been timing the baking first thing in the morning so I have warm croissants ready for a sunrise walk. There’s no better start to the day.”

The chef has spent Sydney’s current lockdown perfecting her baking skills, including sugar work and chocolate sculpting, but her greatest triumph has been nailing a foolproof croissant recipe.

“Everything that could go wrong did at some point, but each failure has been a huge learning curve,” she says. Mead landed on a three-day process that combines tips and tricks she’s learned from fellow cooks and a few trials in temperatures and ingredients to get perfectly fluffy, flaky, buttery croissants.

“It’s been a great way to consume time,” she tells Broadsheet. “I love how creative yet disciplined you must be as a pastry chef. I love the attention to detail in a recipe, and how an incredible pastry can be produced from such simple ingredients.

“Croissants are quite simple in theory, but without the right technique, so many things can go wrong.” Aside from time management and a working oven, the one piece of equipment you’ll need is a rolling pin. Though wine bottles or olive oil bottles make a great substitute, she says. And if you need to speed up the process, you can, but the trade-off is in the flavour. “The flavour of the dough won’t be as developed,” says Mead.

Making croissants has been incredibly therapeutic for the out-of-work chef. “You can switch off from everything else for a little while as it requires so much focus and attention to detail. There is nothing more satisfying than rolling out your dough and seeing the layers you’ve created. You’re filled with such a sense of accomplishment when you see your croissants come out of the oven.”

When stocking up on ingredients, good quality butter is a must-have. “You need a pliable butter with a high fat percentage and low water content. Butter has a huge impact on the texture and flavour, it’s interesting to see how much the result varies depending on the butter used,” she says. Plus, if you want to break up the baking time you can freeze raw croissants for up to a week. “Freeze straight after rolling. Defrost, then proof and bake as normal,” she says.

Rhiann Mead’s homemade croissants
Makes: 10
Preparation time: 3 days
Cooking time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:
500g strong or bread flour
45g unsalted butter, room temperature
12g salt
1 tbsp full-cream dried milk powder
140g water
140g full-cream milk
55g sugar
11g dry yeast

For folding:
300g unsalted butter, slightly softened

For egg wash:
1 egg

Method:

Day one
Add flour, butter, salt and milk powder into a mixing bowl. Mix until well combined and to a sand-like consistency.

In a pan, warm water, milk and sugar to about 35°C. Remove from heat and add dry yeast until dissolved. Set aside for five minutes to thicken and activate.

Add the wet and dry mixtures together and incorporate until a smooth dough is formed.

Wrap in cling film and leave at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Transfer to the fridge and leave overnight, or for 12 to 24 hours. (The longer the dough is in the fridge, the stronger the flavour).

Use a rolling pin to shape the softened butter between sheets of baking paper. Roll to a square about 1cm thick. Store in the fridge.

Day two
Remove the butter square from the fridge to soften slightly. Roll out the dough into a square slightly larger than your block of butter.

Place butter in the centre of the dough and fold the edges over to completely and evenly cover the butter, so the butter is sandwiched in the middle of the dough.

The next step is called “lamination”, which is the process of rolling and folding the dough to create multiple and even layers of butter. To start the process, roll the dough block lengthways until 1cm thick.

Fold into thirds. Bring the top third to the middle, then the bottom third over the top, as if you were folding a letter. This is called a “book turn”. Complete 4 book turns, refrigerating between each turn to prevent the layers of butter from melting.

Wrap well and refrigerate.

Day three
Roll the dough into a rectangle about 1cm thick. Cut triangles about 9cm x 15cm. Roll the triangle shapes tightly from the base to the tip ensuring the tip is tucked underneath.

Place on a lined tray to proof the dough at room temperature. Cover with cling film.

Leave croissants to proof until doubled in size (for 4 to 6 hours, depending on room temperature).

When croissants are almost doubled, heat the oven to 200°C. Glaze the croissants with egg wash.

Bake for 6 to 8 minutes at 200°C. Rotate the tray and drop the oven temperature to 175°C. Bake for a further 10 to 15 minutes until golden.

Remove and cool slightly before eating.

Rhiann Mead’s recipe is shared courtesy of the Fink Group and Sydney Opera House.

Find more cooking ideas, see Broadsheet’s recipe hub.

@rhiannmead