One of my satellite projects this year is working on a “Top Parisian Croissants” list. While there are rankings in various Parisian papers/guides, not even they do exhaustive catalogues like me . . . so I kind of have to make this an undertaking. The gist is that I’m casually visiting boulangeries/patisseries throughout the city, sampling their work, and then taking the goodies home to do a wide shot and a cross-section of each. I intend to trot out 3 or so croissants at a time – as I’m doing today – and then present a final list at the end of my adventure. How many will be on it? Only time will tell.
Today, we’re going to delve into the croissantery of Des Gateaux et du Pain, Pierre Hermé, and Ladurée. While these three are pastry royalty, bread/viennoiseries and pastry are two completely different animals. There’s virtually no relationship between how well a shop does pastry and how killer their breads are. In fact, most shops that do both are also horrendous at both. So with that said, let’s first take a look at Des Gateaux et du Pain (featured above – cross-section below)
Des Gateaux et du Pain (above): The scent is fantastic. Butter, maillard “caramelization” and general wafts of deliciousness. The exterior is fantastically brittle, yet “crinkly soft”. Rather than crumbling in chunks, as so many croissants do, the piece comes undone daintily as hundreds of little flecks. The interior is wonderfully moist, without being wet in the least. Fairly rich and fairly dense, it compresses on your lips and doesn’t spring back so much as it succumbs to their light weight. Delicious, fun, and scrumtrulescent. Having both an expert pastry chef and an expert boulanger in the house pays dividends. Score: 8.5-9
And now on to Pierre Hermé…
Pierre Hermé: Monsieur Hermé takes the term croissant “loosely” to say the least; its form is completely uninspired. Yet, and it kills me to pump anything from Pierre Hermé, but it’s also quite delicious. Much like the skin of Des Gateaux’s piece, it’s ultra tender and crinkly – a thing of beauty, really. The interior structure is a pretty significant departure from theirs in that it’s much more springy/light, making it nothing short of a textural joy. As you chew, it almost seems as if butter materializes from each bite and morsel as if to say, “You already thought I was delicious, didn’t you? Get ready for this…!” I can’t say the flavors beyond the butter are too nuanced, but there’s just enough subtle complexity to tip the rating up slightly. Score: 8-8.5
And last but not least, Ladurée…
Ladurée: Ok, maybe I fibbed when I said, “…last but not least”. This actually does come in at the bottom of the pile today. Sure, it looks billowy and classic, but it’s taste and texture is just a step or two above mediocre. The skin is flaky, but the flecks that dislodge themselves as larger and messier chunks than the two aforementioned masterworks. This is the kind of croissant that just covers your shirt/jacket with its detritus, as you walk down the street trying to have a bite on-the-go. The interior is pleasant enough, but it’s a wee dryer than need be, the “au beurre” element isn’t particularly expressive, and a big part of you is left wondering how croissants ever gained so much notoriety if they’ve historically tasted like this. The answer is that they could not have; there’s much better work out there. Score: 5
Continuing my research, I’m going to be forced to eat Hermé’s and Des Gateaux et du Pain’s work a few more times, so the ultimate ranking may change slightly, once I do my final list. And there’s plenty of competition for these guys just around the corner. Our next installment will feature Boulangerie Martin, Du Pain et des Idees, and Hugo & Victor.