It is exactly four years since le Figaro did its "best croissants" report.
As a lover of croissants with some time to waste, I thought it might be time to revisit some of the greats, not so greats, and unmentioned bakeries. Like with wine, one cannot eat them all in full. The bad ones are as fattening as the great ones. Unlike wine, however, they are always cheap. The most expensive I tried was 1,50€, the least 0,90€. Thus, one could try 30 different croissants for the price of one good bottle.
Last year I cruised the NYC croissant scene and posted my report on the Manhattan board. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/714016 I may not get quite as complete here, as there are way too many places, but I invite others to join in. Please focus on recent experiences, not memories. I have listed the Figaro criteria for taste, texture, etc., below, which I think are still quite valid. I especially like the one one about the triangular point at the top being ready to break off. I always try this now.
What they lack is a time of day question. Do we insist that a bakery must be tested on what it sells no matter when, or limit croissants to the morning? I believe a great bakery will maintain quality or not sell the product. Nonetheless, I'd limit this here to buying and tasting before noon.
I also don't like talking about "best." As Souphie pointed out, people have different tastes. I think of categories like perfect, excellent, passable, and not worth even the one euro and weight gain. So far this past week or so for me, in order tried:
1. Hermé. Perfect in flavor, texture, flakeyness. Bite in the thick part and it breaks clean (except for the flakes) and springs back, yet it's not too light. So, no. 1 in le Figaro and still first for me. If you prefer it moister in the middle, this would be excellent but not perfect for you.
2. le Triomphe: This was no. 2 in le Figaro but so tough (rubbery) yesterday at the boutique in the 12th as to be inedible. Taste was fine.
3. Kayser: rue Monge in the 5ème. Again, rated high by le Figaro and frequently recommended on this board. I was disappointed, particularly since I remember getting a better one at the Kayser at Lafayette Gourmet earlier this year. The points were hard, definitely overcooked, and the middle not as light as it should be. Taste was good but not great, either.
4. Malineau: On rue St. Paul 4ème, around the corner from my apt. Passable.
5. Au Petit Versailles du Marais, Rue Tiron, in the 4th. Dripped butter the first time. Next day it didn't drip, but was overbaked and tough. Flavor wasn't bad, but overall not worth it.
6. The place on rue de Turenne in the 4th that used to be au Levain du Marais, which had great croissants freshly baked all day long. The new place is not worth stopping.
7. Lenôtre: Excellent today from near the Bastille, not always as good. Good butter flavor, texture and flakeyness right, good point on top that broke right of with a light touch. I can't say exactly why, but somehow the Hermé one pleased me more. See attached photo, but note the flash caused some parts to look burnt when they were simply darker brown.
8. Dalloyau, blvd Beaumarchais, near the Bastille. See the photo showing it against the Lenôtre one. Much paler, and no point on top to speak of. The taste was good overall, but it left a greasy feeling in my mouth that didn't feel buttery. A bit softer/moister in the middle than Lenôtre, which I don't prefer but some do and I won't say it's wrong. It was also nicely flakey.
My translation of the Figaro criteria:
It is good if:
- It is shaped like a quarter moon.
- It is plump, has a crust is golden brown and a beautiful blonde color.
- When you stretch the horns to explore the interior, the crumb seems to have airy holes, convoluted, beige, supple, almost brilliant, and hidden under a very crisp pastry exterior.
- In the mouth it has a little malty/yeasty taste, a mild acidity, and a good balance between taste of butter and the aroma of the wheat, which lingers on the palate; it is both crisp and mouth-melting.
- The triangular point section is up well on the front, ready to pull off.
- Well done, a croissant is certainly drier but still good the next day.
It is bad if:
- It is flat, featureless and bloated, pasty, and compacts in your mouth.
- It is perfectly identical to all the croissants presented in store. It is therefore a strong probability that it has been thawed.
- It's dry outside, chewy or rubbery inside.
- It breaks into crumbs too much and it shows large holes in the pastry exterior layers because it was poorly "tourée,” (after rolling out, folded in three or four folds to be chilled before rolling out again).
- It is uniformly soft, indicating that it was cooked in a pulsed-air convection oven or an oven too cold.
- It does not have that light smell of butter and the taste of sugar too evident.
- If it is fat and greasy, the butter used was poor and it ran during the cooking.
- If it is too yellow, the baker may have added butter flavored with vanillin.
- Pasty white or cream color, it has not cooked properly.
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