Friday, January 6, 2012


The french croissant. To say it's famous would be an understatement. It may be more coveted than a viewing of the Mona Lisa. Numerous people, in fact, have asked me why, oh why are the croissants in France so much better than any you can get in the states? And my answer? I really don't know. I'm sure that the water, butter, and flour has a lot to do with it. Throw in generations of knowledge and torch passing and it makes it a hard nut to crack. But I really think it goes along with the question of why the French can eat what they do and stay so skinny with such annoyingly long, trim, model-like legs. Like gravity, it just is.

I will, most certainly, be adding to this list as I go about, since I just did not get to taste all the magnificent croissants that are out there. One in specific, the original Pierre Herme croissant, which has just won best croissant in Paris, not surprisingly was sold out every time I went. I feel the need to buy a tent and camp out in front of the door in order to secure my hands around the buttery flaky goodness. So hopefully, in the next week or so I'll be able to nibble into one for you and let you know how the best croissant in Paris stacks up to the representatives below.

I was lucky enough to buy one of Pierre Herme's famous Ispahan, which will be featured here, as well as two of Sadaharu AOKI's creations, and original "plain" croissants from Blé Sucré, Gerard Mulot, Dalloyau, The Ritz, and Hugo & Victor. 

Blé Sucré

I went out of my way to go to Blé Sucré because I heard they had some of the best croissants in town. I must admit that I was blown away by the beauty of this breakfast pastry. Their rolling exhibited multiple layers of perfection. I knew from this before I bit into it that it would be crispy incredibleness, and that I would be able to feel each flaky layer give way under my teeth. The alveoli inside was, not surprisingly, beautiful, large, chewy and soft. 

There was a complexity to the flavor of the croissant that makes me think they use beurre noisette (or browned butter) in the mixture. This combined with the rich maturation of the dough and the perfect texture of both the crust and the interior makes this an almost flawless croissant. 

But I did say almost. There was one major flaw. It was almost unbearably sweet. This cock-up practically made me cry! Here I was holding a near masterpiece in my hands and someone had the audacity to add too much sugar. I can't call this a perfect croissant because this is such a horrendous mistake. These people should know better! And perhaps...they do. I plan on returning to Blé Sucré to do some further investigating. Maybe this was just a one time oopsie. I know the stress of a kitchen (and from what I've heard Blé Sucré is rumored to be even meaner than Pain de Sucre), so maybe under all of that someone accidentally added too much sugar. 

Keep in touch, I will be returning and trying another croissant in hopes that this horrible foul play will not be repeated. I would be devastated if it was. But then again, maybe some people prefer their croissants sickeningly sweet. Maybe with a hot cup of coffee this would be bearable, less of a catastrophe. Either way, I hope it was a fluke and that upon my return, I'll be greeted with one of the best croissants in Paris (and probably the world). I'll let ya know. 

Hugo & Victor (winner!)

Elze, like a proud mother, brought home a big bag of goodies the other day from Hugo & Victor, some of which were some gorgeously sexy, perfectly rolled, brilliantly flakey little numbers of croissant. I was excited to try them because of their wonderful appearance and I was looking forward to showering Elze with compliments on her shops expertise. I was not disappointed. 

For plain croissants this was, by far, the best one I tried. As is true to any quality croissant, you could easily see the layers within the rolls from the outside. When I cut it in half the aveoli was beautiful. It was a bit regular and perhaps a tad bit small, but this did not affect the texture or the flavor at all and thus, was not an issue. 

Though the croissant had made it through the day and travelled all the way home by means of Elze (who is not always the most gentle of carriers) it still stood up beautifully. Nothing is more pathetic looking that a croissant who has flattened upon cooling. This shows that it never had the appropriate structure to begin with. But Hugo & Victor's croissants had held up quite well, despite the toils, snares, and god knows what else they endured. 

The outer crust seemed to have been painted with a syrup upon their exit from the oven, for they were extremely crispy. I liked this, because it added a different type of crunch than one usually finds in a croissant, while still having the normal buttery flakiness of your standard beauties. While this made it a bit difficult for me to cut it for my pictures, it did nothing to harm the texture or the joy of eating it. 

There was an engaging complexity to the flavors, buttery and sweet without too much of either. It was not too greasy to eat and the crunchy exterior exposed your mouth to each perfect layer as  you sunk your teeth into it. The inside was nice and soft but with just the right amount of chewiness to make you know that this was a real croissant. Of all the ones I tried, this was, by far, my favorite. 

The Ritz

The Ritz is famous as being one of the most elite hotels in Paris. It's one of the two founding halves which inspired the Ritz Carlton. This is the main reason why my old roommate, Christy, wanted to work there. It's a holy grail of good experience which one can slap on their resume. Plus it just sounds fancy. 

From what I've heard from Christy, it's a wonderful place to work. Sure she had to go through five grueling interviews in order get past human resources, but she says she's learned a lot and seems to be treated with the respect and professionalism that I could only dream of. 

I was looking forward to trying the croissants that she brought home for me one day. These were croissants from The Ritz after all. She brought me two, one normal sized one miniature. I love miniature things. Maybe it appeals to my inner, woman, motherly instincts. Maybe it's because, if I had any self control at all, I would just want to eat the dainty little croissant that is just so darn adorable. 

The outside of the croissant was golden and completely perfect. I know I've said that about a few of them, but this one really was perfect. Like a painting of a croissant instead of an actual croissant. I can't imagine a human being able to create something so symmetrical and gorgeous. This perfection certainly came through when biting through it, for the outside was nice, crunchy, and flaky, just as its faultless exterior suggested. 

I must admit however, with much disappointment, that this was the limit of this croissant's excellence. The perfection quickly melted away as I began to masticate what was previously, in my eyes, a creation of god. The interior was soft without any chewiness. Croissants need some chew to them to not only intrigue your senses but also to accompany and complement the crunchy flaky exterior and deep buttery flavor. This said, they also need some softness to them, a delicacy that is practically fleeting but present nonetheless. These two should balance one another, go back and forth, spinning around and around as if two partners dancing a waltz in your mouth. The Ritz croissant, was waltz-less. 

But even more sinful than that was the odd, unappealing, underlying flavor held within it's facade of perfection. I could taste butter, don't get me wrong, but there was also something else there, some intruder that had no right to be there, and that intruder tasted a bit I speculated that the butter may have gone rancid, but that seems highly unlikely in a kitchen that goes through butter as quickly as I go through a bag of potato chips. And so instead, I posited a different answer. I asked Christy where the beurre tourage (the special butter used to layer between the croissant dough) in the Ritz. I asked if it was stored in a refrigerator with other foods, and most importantly, with cuisine foods. The answer was, "yes." I had my verdict. 

Butter may have one of the more recognizable flavors but it is guilty of being a bit of a sponge. Place it in a refrigerator without being properly contained, and it will more than happily absorb any number of smells you have wafting through your ice box. It may seem odd, picky, or overly cautious, but just ask yourself this: Do you want to bite into a croissant that tastes like last night's leftovers? I didn't think so. 

So overall, The Ritz croissant was a bit of a bust. Pretty in pictures but lacking in depth, texture, and an appropriate flavor, I didn't even get into the miniature baby that sat so sweetly on my counter. Sure it was cute to look at, but like a gremlin, I knew that on the inside lay a beast just waiting to assault my senses. 

Gerard Mulot 

From all of my experiences at Gerard Mulot, I have begun to question why he is considered one of the heavy hitters of patisserie here in Paris. I have yet to be blown off my feet and his croissant was one of the more pathetic things I've seen. My nameless neighborhood boulangerie does a better job at executing this Parisian classic. 

I knew from first sight that this was going to be a disappointment. You see, looks can be deceiving when it comes to croissants only if they look good. As I saw with the Ritz croisant, they may not have all the same positive attributes on within as they seem to promise externally. But, if a croissant looks like a hot mess from the surface, it will most certainly be just as ugly in the core. 

Gerard Mulot had the sad case of deflation from the get go. Add on top of that the manhandling the counter lady gave it and it may as well have been pulled out from under a car seat after being forgotten for a few weeks. Neither of these factors were helping its fat, lumpy, uneven appearance in any way. I wanted to pity it, love it, show it was a real croissant could be like. But then I remembered, I had to eat it. 

It was not, however, a complete wipe out. The outside was crispy, and it had a nice buttery flavor, but that was about all it put forth. The layers were non-existent. My teeth didn't hop in excitement over feeling each crisp, crisp, crisp, as they broke through the outer shell. Instead they easily cracked through one thick crispy layer only to rich a thick, dense, eggy interior. Croissants, by the way, really shouldn't have egg in them. I am in no means certain that Gerard Mulot uses eggs, but that's the only way I can think to describe the filling of this ugly little thing, dense, and eggy. 

I will return to GM again, and hopefully will uncover what makes them one of the names people know and recognize. And really, I haven't always been this disappointed in his fare, but I would not recommend anyone go there for the croissant. It surely is not his speciality. 


Dalloyau's croissant was homely but that was mostly due to it's wonky legs, uneven browning, and the fact that the counter person squeezed it a bit too tightly with his thumb leaving a deep impression in the back. But it did maintain some of the necessary attributes to still be considered tasty. It had held it's height and you could see some of the layers. But still, I could tell upon looking at it, that it was not going to be the winner of this mission. 

The outside was exceptionally flaky, so much so that I made even more of a mess eating it that I usually do. This was nice to eat but not so nice to clean up. Plus I would have been slightly embarrassed walking around covered in croissant shavings. I don't usually like to expose my inner fat kid to strangers. 

The inside was soft and chewy, though a bit chewier than generally prefer. It did pull apart beautifully, espeically as I munched through the inner walls of layering. This would make it a good candidate for using as a sandwich (though apparently to practice this is considered sacrilege in France, but I don't care, I like ham and cheese melted between a sleeping bag of saturated fat and fermented tasty heaven), since the denser interior would hold up to slicing and filling. 

This would also be a good thing to do because the croissant itself was lacking in flavor. How a croissant can not taste buttery I don't really understand since it about 50% butter. Perhaps Dalloyau cheats and uses margarine which supposedly makes for easier croissants but sacrifices flavor and I wouldn't be surprised if it were illegal here in France. It just seems like a shame. 

All in all, a respectable effort and not something I would say you should shun if you find yourself in the store with a strong hankering for croissant. If you happen to get there just as they come out of the oven they will most likely have the best consistency and a stronger flavor. But also not something I would go and seek out either. 

Sadaharu AOKI: Plain

This croissant was another attractive specimen. Beautiful golden rolling flanked with crunchy multitudes of layers. At this point I was becoming quite the snob. This layers were easy to eat, being flaky, but not making such a terrible mess as to be embarrassing. 

There was a nice, rich, buttery flavor, which was well welcomed after Dalloyau's example fell flat. Sadaharu AOKI also came to the plate with a mellow fermented essence, which was missing in so many of the other croissants. I find this to be a key element in a croissant for it adds an extra depth and yumminess that is so satiating and crave-inducing. However, the heart of the croissant was soft and could have used a bit more chewiness so while the flavors were admirable, texturally it failed to follow suit once you got past the heavenly exterior crunchiness.

I admire Sadaharu AOKI for his blending of Japanese and French pastry, offering something recognizable but also different and intriguing at the same time. Green tea and Matcha are common flavors in his desserts and pastries, and he offers this in his croissant as well. 

With four flavors of croissant to choose from (plain, matcha, almond, and almond matcha) I had to pick two to test. And while the matcha croissant may not be the most appetizing of beasts (something about browned green baked goods just does not appeal to the eye or stomach) I decided to forgive it for it's offensiveness and see how it went over with my taste buds. 

Sadaharu AOKI: Matcha Croissant 

To say this croissant was "different" would be kind. Christy raved about how delicious it was, but I almost found it inedible. The color was a huge turn off, both the exterior brown-green layers and the interior emerald city alveoli. 

While the center was filled with a matcha taste, that had all the delicious trappings of a green tea ice cream which I so adore and desire, there was much too high of a probability for me to have a bite without this hidden nugget of goodness. Outside of this center surprise, the croissant was odd and dirty tasting. For me the matcha element did not blend smoothly with the buttery, flaky, baked croissant dough. I found myself burying my face inside of it so that I could nibble only on the bottom bits, rejecting the parts that weren't close enough to the matcha paste and thus, not worth my attention. 

I was surprised, however, on how well this croissant mimicked the original. The flakiness and rolling had not been compromised by the addition of this traditional japanese flavor. But all the same, I would never buy it again. I may give it's almond friend a try since I can picture the almond and the matcha going well together. Plus it looks a bit more appetizing. 

All in all, a bit of a disappointment. But if you find yourself to be a more serious matcha/green tea fan that I seem to be, go right ahead and give this odd little leprechaun a try. Perhaps it will tingle your taste buds in a ways I didn't experience. 

Pierre Herme: Ispahan (in a league of its own)

The Ispahan croissant is not your average croissant. Filled with a lychee, rose, raspberry, topped with glaze and raspberry crispies, it's like the super-hero of croissants. Beautifully decadent, deliciously intoxicating, the Ispahan manages to be new and exciting while reminding you of something you think you've eaten before. Like some dream come to fruition, it's practically surreal to experience. 

The lychee and rose are faint complements to the raspberry, so those of you who may worry these newish flavors or worry that they may make the croissant taste flowery or soapy, fear not! Pierre does such a stunning job of combining these three players to enhance the main element of raspberry, making it taste like framboise on steroids. 

It isn't exactly fair to compare this croissant with the others because it has all the extra bells and whistles to make it pop, entice, excite, and amaze. But here's the thing, croissants are already delicious bites of wonder that sometimes adding to them can detract from their own natural beauty. Why mess with a good thing? Well Pierre Herme certainly does not mess with anything. He's taken this classic french viennoiserie and elevated it to a different level. It's sweet and rich without being too heavy or overwhelming. The fruit paste works nicely with the crispy layers and chewy inside of the croissant, melding with them instead of overpowering them. The fresh flavors of the lychee, rose, and raspberry, play well against the layers of buttery goodness. The glazed topping reminds me of Krispy Kreme doughnut but blows those little fried things out of the water. And the sprinkles of framboise crisps (which I can only describe as raspberry "bacon bits") add a fun and textural element to the entire thing, culminating towards perfection. 

I would easily deem this as my favorite of the bunch but it seems a bit unfair to put it under the same classification as the other plain croissants. Instead I will just let it stand alone as a solitary masterpiece, and find someway to get my hands on it's not so fancy, basic buttery brother. But if you've been staying in Paris for a while and are getting tired of crispy, buttery croissant after crispy, buttery croissant (but really, who could ever get tired of that?) then pop into Pierre Herme for an Ispahan. I promise you you won't regret it, except when you realize your cholesterol is as through the roof as this delicious morning treat. 

1 comment:

  1. Go get in line and we'll meet you at Pierre Herme when we get there.