Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

One reason people rarely make croissants at home—or do, but fail to achieve those as beautifully produced in bakeries—is that they don’t have access to a dough sheeter. Croissants and other laminated pastries like danish, puff pastry, and kouign-amann are made by gradually rolling layered slabs of bread dough and butter to thinner and thinner depths, both evenly and quickly, before the butter warms up. While it is entirely possible to make laminated pastry doughs by hand, it’s also something of a bear to do, especially for beginners. 

Bread dough is naturally elastic, particularly when subjected to force, so it can tighten up quickly under a rolling pin. Not only does this mean it resists repeated elongation—potentially ending up misshapen—the longer it takes to roll out to the necessary dimensions, the greater the risk the butter will soften to the point that it begins to smear, causing the layers to separate. And even when done swiftly and deliberately by someone with experience, making laminated dough by hand requires a lot of upper body strength and brute force.

All of this is why most professional bakers rely on dough sheeters to do the work instead. A sheeter is a mechanical device consisting of a pair of adjustable-height rollers and a sliding platform and/or belts that sit between them; the baker places a slab of dough on one side of the rollers and it emerges on the other side elongated and reduced in thickness. With each pass through the sheeter, the baker brings the rollers closer and closer together, the slab gradually transformed into a wide, long sheet of even thickness from edge to edge and corner to corner. 

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Most dough sheeters are driven by electrical motors and are large and heavy enough to require a dedicated tabletop or floor space. And they are complicated, precision machines, costing many thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars. All of which makes them out of reach and impractical for home bakers.

But now there is an affordable and compact alternative option for the serious amateur or professional “cottage” home baker with limited space and financial resources: the two Brod & Taylor compact manual dough sheeters—a “compact” model for $495, and a larger one for $850. Both models disassemble down to a smaller footprint for storage; the larger of the two compacts into a slick briefcase-sized package with a carrying handle for easy transport. (The one element that does not break down for either model is the solid sliding sheeter board, but in both cases, the board is lightweight and relatively easily stored when not in use.) I’ve recently tested both models extensively and can recommend them unequivocally. I’ve made batch after batch of croissants and other laminated pastries in them, and they’ve all come out beautifully. 

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Unlike electric dough sheeters, the Brod & Taylors are manual in action, with a crank arm that rotates the rollers and pushes the sheeter board through them. But despite being 100% human-powered, they require little effort to use—the rollers turn easily with a minimum of force, and the dough slides easily from one side of the rollers to the other.

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

There are significant differences between the two models, beyond overall size and price tag.

The “compact” model can produce doughs up to 12 inches in width; the recommended total dough weight for it is about 700 grams, including the weight of the butter, which translates to enough dough for six standard-sized croissants. The sheeter board is 23.5 inches long and 12 inches wide (60 x 30cm), and the base is about 20 inches deep. You’ll need at least another six inches of extra counter space on at least one side to easily insert and remove the board from the sheeter, so its effective overall dimensions are 32.5 inches long, 19 inches deep, and eight inches tall (82.5cm x 41cm x 20 cm). When closed, its dimensions are five-and-a-half inches wide, 14.75 inches deep, and eight inches tall (14cm x 37cm x 20 cm), so it is easily stored in a cabinet. The stainless-steel base for the compact model weighs 10.5 pounds (4.7kg), about the weight of an average cast-iron Dutch oven.

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

The compact model has more limited thickness selections than the larger one—from 17.5mm down to 5mm, in 2.5mm increments, and from 5mm to 1mm, in 1mm increments. In practice, however, these are more than adequate for most applications, since it’s rare a baker would need to reduce a thick slab by more than 2.5mm with each pass, especially when the dough is on the thicker side. The maximum width of 17.5mm is slightly limiting, though it is easy enough to get a slab of dough thin enough for its initial pass through the sheeter using a rolling pin on a floured countertop.

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

The larger “folding” model can produce doughs up to 15 1/2 inches wide and around 1350 grams in total weight, including butter, nearly double that of the compact model (and enough dough to produce at least 12 average croissants). The larger sheeter board is 39 inches long and 15.5 inches wide (100 x 39cm), and the base is about 19 inches deep. As with the smaller model, you’ll need a little extra space on at least one side to insert and remove the board from the sheeter, so its effective overall dimensions are 45 inches long, 19 inches deep, and nine-and-a-half inches tall (104cm x 47 cm x 24cm). When closed, its dimensions are 10.5 inches wide, 17.5 inches deep, and four-and-a-half inches tall (11cm x 44cm x 27 cm), and all parts fit snugly within the stainless attaché-like case, which weighs 14 pounds (6.4kg) with everything stowed away. 

The width adjustments for the folding model range from 27mm at the widest, all the way down to 0mm (though in practice the lowest setting is unusable). Unlike the compact model, the folding one has two adjustment knobs, one that reduces the distance between the rollers by 2.5mm with each tick, and a second one that can be adjusted in 0.5mm increments from 2mm down to 0mm.

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

This is one feature of the device that is a little fussy to take advantage of: For example, in order to hop from 25mm down to 24.5mm, you need to set the coarse knob to forward 22.5mm and then move the fine adjustment (which normally sits in the “zero” position) backward 2mm. And you have to remember to reset the fine adjustment knob back to zero as you continue rolling out the dough if you want your thicknesses to be precise. Fortunately, it is rare that anyone needs to reduce a pastry dough by such narrow increments, and I usually just leave the fine adjustment knob alone myself. (The feature is useful when rolling out certain types of doughs thinly—crackers or pasta, for example, two non-laminated doughs which can also be made in a sheeter—and the good news is that it’s not necessary to futz with it until the dough is already most of the way there.)

The current version of the folding sheeter comes with a double-sided polypropylene sheeter board, which is slightly more versatile than the one provided in the compact model: A nonstick-soft(er) side for rolling and a rigid blue side for rolling and cutting the finished dough. (My model shipped with a single-sided board identical to the one from the compact model, and I haven’t tested the newer version myself.) When using the single-sided sheeter board of the compact model, you’ll want to transfer the dough to another surface to do the final cutting, or at least slip a sheet or two of parchment paper beneath it, to avoid gouging into the sheeter board itself.

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

There is also an optional “artificial marble” sheeter board for the folding model, which adds another $199 to the price. (I haven’t tested the marble board myself.) It’s made of a harder, heavier material, which lets it move through the rollers in a slower, more controlled manner (the lightness of the standard boards is nice when you are moving them around, but it doesn’t provide much resistance, which means you need to be a little more deliberate as you crank the rollers or the dough can pass through the rollers faster than you might like). The denser marble-like board also should stay cooler than the standard one, which would be helpful when working with laminated dough on warm days. The marble board is shorter than the standard model, at 23.6 in long x 15.5 wide (60 x 39 cm), which limits the size of the sheet of dough you can make with it.

Given the yield (and the easier sticker price), the compact model is probably the best choice for the casual, once-in-awhile croissant baker. It can easily make enough dough in a single batch for six croissants, more than enough for a nice weekend breakfast. Anyone looking to make croissants and other laminated pastries professionally, however, will definitely want to spend the extra money for the increased capacity of the folding model. At the price, it’s no minor investment, but it’s still a fraction of the cost of an electric sheeter, and takes up very little space, especially when stowed away. Either way, the Brod & Taylor manual dough sheeters are an excellent upgrade to anyone’s croissant-making toolkit.

FAQs

What can you use a dough sheeter for? 

Any dough that needs to be rolled out thinly and precisely, especially when it’s best done gradually, a few millimeters at a time. This could include pasta, pie, and cracker doughs, and spiraled, filled breads like cinnamon rolls and sticky buns. But sheeters are most commonly used to roll out butter-laminated pastries like croissants, danish, and kouign amann, where speed and precision are paramount.

What’s the difference between a dough sheeter and a dough roller?

A dough roller is a device that is used to roll out balls of dough into discs in a single pass; they are most often used to make flatbreads like pizza and pita. A dough sheeter is used for doughs that require repeated, gradual manipulation to elongate and widen. Working gradually allows the dough to relax in between each pass so that it doesn’t turn elastic and deform or tear.

Why We’re the Experts

Andrew Janjigian is a Serious Eats contributor and a former editor at Cook’s Illustrated.Andrew teaches bread-baking classes and is currently working on a cookbook.

Editor’s note: We may have received some of the products in this review as press samples, but all of our opinions are our own.

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