Once again I was unsure about how best to translate the name of these rolls. Literally, a Hörnchen is a small horn or ‘hornlet’, but this just doesn’t sound right. I considered calling them ‘German croissants’, too, but I did not want to risk breaking the European Union's Protected Geographical Status laws and they are also considerably easier to make. I love a good croissant and I am also partial to spending an entire day or even weekend testing complicated and time-consuming recipes. However, the time required to make real croissants is simply incompatible with a full-time job. Whilst these butter crescents are not quite as flaky and light as croissants they are the next best thing. They, too, take a while to make, but most of this time is required for the dough to rise and simply to sit in a warm place until it is ready to bake. They freeze very well and can just be defrosted and reheated in a warm oven for 10-15 minutes – they taste as good as fresh!
There are a lot of different variants of the butter crescent available throughout Germany and this recipe with simple and buttery yeast dough is a popular version. I like the crescents plain so they can be teamed up with different toppings, but lots of variations are possible. They can be filled with jam, marzipan or with a piece of chocolate. For a savoury version I recommend sprinkling them with coarse sea salt or even with grated cheese. If you are in possession of food-grade caustic soda for baking Pretzels you can use this to produce ‘Pretzel Crescents’ or ‘Laugenhörnchen’, which have become increasingly popular in Germany in recent years.
The recipe makes 12 crescents:
15 g fresh yeast (or one sachet dried)
1 tsp salt
300 ml warm milk
500 g plain flour
1 tbsp sugar
Some melted butter (optional)
Some milk for brushing the crescents before baking
If you are using fresh yeast (recommended), add the yeast and salt to the warm milk, stir until dissolved, and leave to stand for about half an hour. If you use dry yeast just dissolve in the warm milk and salt – no waiting time required.
Mix the milk-yeast mixture with the flour and sugar. Leave to stand for 1-2 hours. Add the butter and knead the dough patiently (about 7 minutes in a food processor, longer by hand) until you have a smooth ball of dough that is not too sticky. Leave to rise for an hour. Stretch and fold the dough and leave to relax for about another hour.
Roll out the dough into a circle about ½ cm thick and leave to relax for a few minutes. Cut the circle into 12 slices like a pie and brush with the melted butter or top with topping, if using. Roll up into crescent shapes. Leave to rise for another 20 minutes or so then brush with some milk and bake at 220 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until they are as brown as you would like them to be.