Let's start out with me saying several contradictory things.
1. I'm not making these for Christmas; I made them for Thanksgiving, but for the bustle of Christmas, they seem too stressful for me.
2. That said, they're actually really really easy to make.
3. The problem is that you have to start 3 days in advance. Which seems a little fussy...
4. ...but really it's not because, essentially, you do 3 easy things for 3 days and then you have a super dreamy homemade bread, perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
In short: If you're already running around like a headless chicken, this might not be the exact week that you should attempt this. However, if you're ready for Christmas, or quite organized, or looking for something that seems fancy and grown up, but is actually fairly simple to put together, this might be just the thing. I'll leave the choice up to you.
I got this recipe from French Women Don't Get Fat. The recipe itself is completely perfect. The instructions, as she writes them, are a little mind-blowing. I have to read them, like, 3 times every time I make these. Lucky you. I'm going to simplify the instructions and add pictures (except for 1 or 2 steps when I forgot a picture; sorry about that).
Bake time: 15 minutes
Cost: about $1.00
(milk: .15, yeast: .15, flour: .25, sugar: .02, butter: .45)
1/4 C milk, warmed to lukewarm (about 110 degrees)
2 Tbsp flour
2 tsp yeast
In a large bowl (you'll need it to be large for later), dissolve yeast in milk. Stir in flour and whisk until there are no lumps. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temp until doubled in volume (about 20 minutes)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 1/8 C flour
While your yeasty paste is sitting there doubling, combine these dry ingredients together.
3/4 C lukewarm milk
When the yeasty paste has doubled, heat the 3/4 C milk to lukewarm. Add the milk to your yeasty paste. You can mix it in a mixer or just go at it with a wooden spoon. Now, a little at a time, add the dry mixture from step two, mixing as you go until the dough is sticky soft.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (See, not so bad is it?)
Day 2 (morning):
12 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbs flour
Bring the butter to room temperature. Work the 3 Tbsp flour into it until smooth.
Now sprinkle your work surface with flour (generously) and take your dough out of the refrigerator. It's going to look kind of like this:
Form the cold dough into a 6x15 inch rectangle. You're going to have the short side at the top, like a letter (see pic below).
Spread the butter on the upper 2/3 of the rectangle, leaving 1/2 inch border around the sides and top.
Fold the dough into thirds (kind of like you would a letter, bringing the bottom (unbuttered) part up first and then folding the top part down).
(In this pic, it kind of looks like the butter's on the outside; it's not; the butter's folded onto the inside. It's just some funny lighting.)
Turn the dough so that it looks like a notebook you'd open with the flap on your right.
Then roll it out again into a 6x15 inch rectangle and fold it into thirds just like you did before.
Transfer it onto a baking pan (I put parchment paper under mine) and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 6 hours.
Day 2 (afternoon):
Roll out the dough 2 more times (as in roll, fold, roll, fold), wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
About 1 1/2 hours before baking time, remove dough from the refrigerator and sprinkle flour on your work surface. Roll the dough into a 16-inch circle (the size of a large pizza). Don't worry, you'll get that rectangle into a circle without too much work (and here I dropped the ball and forgot my picture, but making circles is easier than letter-folding, right).
Cut the dough into 12 even-ish pieces (I find it easiest to cut it into quarters and then to cut those into thirds.)
Lightly grease a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Starting with the outside (fat) end of the triangle, roll it up. You'll end at the tip. It should look like a croissant. Transfer these to a baking sheet. If you wish, brush the croissants with 1 Tbsp of milk mixed with 1 egg yolk (yes, I do it; I've come this far after all). Let sit at room temperature until they've risen a bit. She says this takes about 45 minutes and maybe it's true. I'm always in a hurry by this point, so I give them 15 or 20 minutes and then give up and pop them in the oven. All is always well.
Bake at 400 for 15 minutes or until the croissants are lovely and golden.
Eat 'em hot.