Lamination: the key is in the layers

You may have seen the term “lamination” in a bread recipe, but do you know what it means and how to do it? Today we’re peeling back the layer of mystery surrounding lamination in a recipe.
What is lamination in baking?
If you think of the term lamination, I bet you picture a piece of paper sandwiched between two clear sheets of plastic material that encapsulate and protect the paper. When making bread or pastries, lamination follows the same idea: creating distinct layers with dough.
Lamination may refer to two different things in baking:
  • 1
    The lamination fold: this technique is most often used in sourdough baking. The dough is spread on a surface to form a thin rectangle, then folded onto itself to form several layers. This stretching and folding process increases the strength of the dough’s gluten network and traps a bit of air in the dough, creating a finished product with a more open crumb. In this version, you aren’t wrapping the dough around anything else, so the layers will not be visible in the final product.
  • 2
    Laminating ingredients into a dough: this technique involves creating a dough, then rolling it out and adding a layer of something else, usually fat like butter, and folding the dough to encapsulate these ingredients to create distinct layers of dough and filling. A very common example of this technique is used in making croissants, where a block of butter is wrapped in dough and repeatedly rolled out and folded over to create distinct layers in the finished product. Each set of roll-and-folds is called a turn. A recipe will usually include 3-4 turns with a short period of refrigeration in between.
Today we’re going to focus on the second definition: the one that gives flaky pastries their signature texture.
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The Benefits of Lamination
Though lamination involves combining dough with additional ingredients, the difference between this process and regular mixing is that you are not trying to achieve a homogenous result.

Instead, creating multiple distinct layers is the desired effect.

Let’s think about what defines a good croissant. The honeycomb-like hole structure you see when you cut a cross-section is formed when the layers of butter melt in the oven and release steam, which causes the thinly stretched layers of dough to puff up and stay separated as they set in the oven. If the butter were fully mixed into the dough rather than laminated in, you would end up with something more like brioche, which is buttery and delicious but not at all flaky.

Another type of dough that uses lamination is puff pastry. While puff pastry doesn’t contain yeast as croissants do, the process of laminating butter into the dough is the same, resulting in a flaky baked good. Once again, the steam from the butter, separated into many layers, is what creates the dramatic rise and texture of good puff pastry that far surpasses the flakiness of regular pie crust.

Other baked goods that require lamination include Danish pastry, Kouign-Amann and palmiers which are layered with butter and sugar, and Indian paratha which is layered with ghee. The hallmark of each is the flakiness of the finished product!
Folding in the butter
The finished turn
Proofed croissant dough
Tips for Successful Lamination
If you are intimidated by the idea of baking something that requires lamination, heed the tips below to help you achieve success.
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    Temperature control: the butter must be cool but soft so that it is pliable enough to roll and fold. If the butter is too cold, it will break when folded and poke through the dough, creating leaks, and if it is too warm, it will melt into the dough and your layers will merge into each other. Around 60°F--a cool room temperature--is the ideal temperature for the butter.
  • 2
    Taking your time: laminated doughs should not be rushed. Recipes usually specify to follow each turn step with a short period of chilling. This rest period cools down the butter and allows the gluten in the dough to relax between rolling steps, making it less resistant to being stretched over and over. Rushing the process will result in tears in the dough, and tears will create butter leaks, resulting in a greasy pastry.
  • 3
    Fixing holes: if you do accidentally poke a hole in your dough during the lamination process, do your best to patch and seal it up with a bit of dough so that the butter doesn’t leak through. The more holes you have, the more leakage is likely to occur.
Now that you know what lamination is and have some tricks up your sleeve to help you do it, you can confidently create bakery-worthy pastries at home! Remember, baking is as much a science as it is an art, so take your time, be as precise as you can, and enjoy the delicious results of your efforts.