- Using canned Pillsbury Crescent Roll dough helped me learn how to cook when I was a teenager.
- Just because you know how to bake from scratch doesn’t mean you always need to, and prepared dough can provide a blank canvas to experiment with flavour.
- There are dozens of ways to hack a can of crescent roll dough, from faux pain au chocolat to easy babka buns.
- As a former pastry chef, here are five of my favourites.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
I was a terrible cook for the first half of my life.
I’m 31 now, and it wasn’t until I was 16 that I finally started making food my four younger siblings didn’t subtly hide in the trash can when I wasn’t looking. The change happened after my high school best friend came over to my house one afternoon to make her new favourite snack: she popped open a can of Pillsbury crescent rolls, and stuffed a marshmallow topped with cinnamon sugar inside of each sticky beige triangle of dough before rolling them up and baking.
The results were better than they should have been, and made me realise that I didn’t have to rely on watery boxed macaroni and cheese when it was my turn to make dinner; pure possibility was lying inside of those little blue cans that were somehow always in the fridge.
Flipping through the recipe book that came with the pizza stone my mum bought from a Pampered Chef party that year, I came across several recipes that used crescent rolls as the base. I made a braided ring stuffed with reuben sandwich fillings and brought it to a family party. It became an instant hit. Suddenly I went from not being allowed in the kitchen unless literally no adults were present to having a signature dish.
For a long time, I thought this was cooking – taking pre-packaged ingredients and turning them into something else. I made cheesecakes with break-and-bake cookie dough crusts, truffles out of crushed-up Oreos mixed with canned frosting, and many, many iterations on stuffed crescent roll rings. Then I grew up, moved to New York City, and got a job as a pastry cook in a restaurant with a farm-to-table ethos. It changed everything about the way I thought about cooking and eating. For the next few years, I adopted a snobbish attitude towards packaged foods.
Older, wiser, and busier, I now recognise that a balance can exist. You can be an incredible baker capable of making homemade croissants and enjoy pastries made from canned dough. Some days I’m just too busy to make everything from scratch, but I still want freshly-baked pastries; sometimes it’s just plain fun to use a nostalgic ingredient. The key is keeping an open mind, and leaning on your culinary knowledge and creativity.
In that spirit, here are five of my favourite ways to hack a can of crescent roll dough.
1. The Couronne
French for “crown,” couronne breads can be shaped in a number of different ways, but the basic concept is the same: yeasted dough is filled with something, then braided, twisted, or otherwise fashioned into a ring before being baked.
For this easy twisted version, just roll out your dough into a rectangular sheet, spread your filling over the whole thing, then roll it into a long log.
Cut that log in half lengthwise, exposing the layers of filling, and twist both strands together. Pinch the ends to secure the ring, then pop it in the oven on a baking sheet or pizza stone.
For this version, I used a combination of herbed goat cheese and chopped spinach for the filling, then sprinkled it with black and white sesame seeds for an everything bagel feel.
2. Babka Buns
Riffing off the shape of the couronne, babka buns are shaped using the same basic technique.
Start with smaller rectangles made up of two triangles of dough, spread your filling over the dough, then roll it into a log and cut that lengthwise.
Twist the two halves into a coil, and bake in a muffin tin.
I make a cheat version of traditional babka filling by combining a quarter cup each of chocolate chips, butter, and brown sugar, microwaving the whole thing, and stirring in a tablespoon of cinnamon and a quarter cup of chopped walnuts.
Using Pillsbury Grands! Crescent rolls will result in a bigger, fluffier bun, but the method works with any crescent roll dough.
3. Faux Pain au Chocolat
My favourite breakfast on the planet is a perfectly made latte and crisp, golden pain au chocolat, the kind that shatters crumbs all over whatever you’re wearing and oozes melted dark chocolate in the middle.
This version gets you pretty close in around 15 minutes flat. Making faux pain au chocolat is as easy as starting with your favourite chocolate bar and those same rectangles of dough that we used for babka buns.
Cut your chocolate bar (you can use chips, too, if that’s all you have on hand) into batons and place one baton in the middle of your dough.
Fold the rectangle over the chocolate in thirds, and bake.
This shape works well with most fillings, including ham and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, or in my most recent version, crunchy peanut butter and chocolate chips.
Danishes seem fussy and complicated, like something you have to plan ahead and spend a ton of time to make. In most cases, that’s true, but not so when you’re working with crescent rolls.
There are a ton of fancy ways to shape a danish, but I like to go with a classic diamond that lets the filling shine. Just place a dollop of filling in the centre of a rectangle of dough made from two triangles, then fold the corners in towards the centre, making sure they overlap.
These quick pastries are a great way to showcase seasonal fruits, which pair well with soft, creamy cheeses like ricotta, mascarpone, or brie.
This one has a mixture of ricotta, cream cheese, and honey topped with sliced sugared strawberries.
5. The Sandwich Braid
Like the reuben sandwich ring that kickstarted my cooking abilities, hot sandwich fillings always pair well with crescent roll dough.
If you’re feeding a crowd, the two-can ring method works great, but sometimes you want a mega-sandwich for two, which is where this technique comes in.
It starts with a single can of dough, rolled out as a sheet.
Cut one inch strips down both long edges with a sharp knife, then layer your fillings in the centre and cross the strips over the middle, alternating sides.
Anything you’d want to eat between two slices of toasted bread is fair game here. Tomato and cheese, roasted chicken and pesto, or even turkey with cranberry sauce and stuffing work well in this format.
For the reuben filling, use sliced corned beef, swiss cheese, thousand island dressing, and sauerkraut.
Picking the right can of crescent roll dough
Pillsbury makes 10 different varieties of canned crescent roll dough. They’re all more or less the same, with very slight variations in flavour and shape.
All of the hacks above will work with any version, but some do excel in specific recipes. The dough sheets in particular can be helpful when you’re working with large-format shapes, like in the sandwich braid or coronne, and the Grands! dough keeps things extra fluffy and flaky for pastry-inspired projects. I love the flavour of the Sweet Hawaiian rolls, especially when paired with a savoury filling.
Your recipe is done when the dough turns golden brown
For baking times and temperatures, I generally follow the instructions on the package. If you’re using a lot of filling, you’ll want to add between 5-10 minutes to the suggested bake time. This will vary depending on both the fillings and the nuances of your oven, so keep an eye on things. Anything made with crescent roll dough is done when all visible dough has turned golden brown, and is firm to the touch.
Half the fun of hacking a can of crescent roll dough is the fact that you can experiment with very little risk, but there are tons of other ideas to get your creative juices flowing on the Pillsbury website.
Even better, take a can of crescent rolls, use whatever is in your fridge or pantry, and let your imagination be your guide. Working with a foolproof base is a great way to develop your own unique perspective on flavour, and that’s what cooking is really about.
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