In writing my Laurent Duchêne piece the other day, and in referencing his croissants, I realized it had been too long since I shared anything from my 2011 croissant quest. There were four installments of the series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) before a certain “Negative Nancy” got under my skin with some off-site commentary on the last one, leading me to hang up my croissant quest moccasins. Plus, it was late July and all the shops were closing, meaning a necessary croissant hiatus. Of course I’d eaten from almost 40 shops by that point – and plan to continue the quest this spring – so I have a serious backlog of photos and critiques to share.
While Monsieur Duchêne’s piece inspired me to write this today, I’m going to focus on five other boulangeries/pâtisseries. Most are simply neighborhood shops that have fared well in the city-wide croissant rankings of the last few years. One is a true standout. Another is very good work. And the rest . . . either edible enough or simply disappointing. So grab yourself a cup of coffee or a French “expresso”, and let’s dig in.
Regis Colin (above): I’d heard many good things about Monsieur Colin’s croissant. But, walking up to the shop, I thought I’d perhaps gotten the address wrong, for it sits amid a super touristy stretch of Rue Montmartre in the 75002. I was sure I’d take a bite and taste nothing but hype. Au contraire. I was more than pleasantly surprised. The croissant was very buttery – but by no means wet or overdone – and with a fantastic skin, as you can see. My notes say it has a, “…nice flavor if you buy it early in the morning and eat immediately.” Since I always bought four croissants at a time, notes from the later tasting of the day said that, “…the flavor seemed to dissipate.” While the croissant lacks the refinement of the best days of Bread & Rose, Des Gateaux et du Pain, or Pierre Hermé croissants, it’s nonetheless tasty and a, “bigger, messier, more substantial chunk of awesome.” than those just mentioned, on their more middling days. Score: 8-8.5
And now on to Pichard…
Pichard: This croissant topped Paris’ official 2011 rankings for the best croissant in the city (technically, one outranked it in the outlying suburbs), but I wouldn’t quite go that far in my assessment of its quality. It was definitely a little burnt on the bottom – but in such a way that it did more to add a nice little flare to the flavor than it did to detract from it. Still, a little too charred. Very light in texture – but yet not quite as much as the lightest I’d ever had from Lenôtre … and very buttery, though perhaps a little too far along and into the realm of slightly greasy, not too unlike the croissants from Le Triomphe. My notes peg it as a hybrid of the two shops I just mentioned and the croissants from Gontran Cherrier, though lacking the perfectly nuanced character he seems to imbue in his little guys. Totally worth a purchase though. Score: 7.5
And now on to Didier Maeder…
Didier Maeder: Monsieur Maeder placed 13th on the list of best croissants for Paris (and its suburbs) for 2011. And, yeah, it was certainly not so good. I’d say 13th place was probably pretty generous. The crumble to the exterior was satisfactory – a nice medium flake. The interior was a bit too bready and lacking both in butteriness and any discernible character. Adding insult to injury was its dryness and completely misshapen form. Again, I buy four at a time, so if this was the prettiest of the bunch, imagine how ****** up the others were. My notes succinctly say, “…a notch below ‘good enough’.” Score: 6.5
And now on to Maison Delcourt…
Maison Delcourt: The croissants from Maison Delcourt, as crafted by Guillaume Delcourt, placed high on the list of the 2010 croissant rankings. Why? I don’t know. Slightly dry, slightly bready, minus any charming flavors or tones, it was just . . . boring. Looking at the exterior, I was expecting a lot more, but I was left thoroughly unimpressed. My notes say it’s, “…fine enough for slathering [in confiture]…not that I would buy it again.” Score: 6.5
And now on to Carton…
Carton: Last, and certainly least, Carton’s croissant just sucked. The exterior was “boring as ****” and not flaky/crinkly at all.” The buttery tones were there in texture only, so the flavor thereof was curiously absent. Even the scent of the interior was bland. The two “saving” graces were that the moisture of the piece was spot-on and there was a wee salty kick, but that did little to make up for how insanely lackluster the overall flavor and texture were. There’s no point in eating this thing unless you’re starving and can’t walk a few more blocks to a better shop. Score: 5.5-6
Jacques Genin’s work often makes me feel like virtually every other pastry chef should be slapped for falling so short of the bar the Master has set. You already know I think His chocolate éclair and lemon tarte are so much better than all others that I now claim He invented those pastries. His caramels transcend comprehension; He invented them, too. And I’d say His chocolates “merely” dominate all others, since I’m not yet to the point of asserting His invention of ganaches, truffles and other chocolate confections. And, yes, those He and His pronouns will forever-onward merit the honorific capital H, when applied to Monsieur Genin.
Concerning pâtes de fruits, not only did the Master invent them, but He’s begun to improve upon nature itself. The raspberry, mirabelle, blood orange, banana, mango and more are certainly fantastic expressions of those fruits, but it would be hard to question that Monsieur Genin’s work with pineapples and apricots hasn’t left Gaia wimpering in the dust. So let’s take a minute to savor these ultra-perfect creations . . .
With grains of sugar straddling the line between semoule and glace, the sweet coats of these pâtes de fruits fade away within seconds of slipping between your lips. What remains are impossibly tender cubes of 10x concentrated amazingness. Your tongue presses into their quivering forms, which yield with only feigned resistance. Shhhhhhh. Where are you now? Depending on which one you’ve chosen, you could lounging at the base of an arbre in a French apricot grove … or staring into the vast horizon that seems to kiss the infinite expanse of the pineapple field in which you’re now standing. Moments later, as the visions fizzle away and you reach into the bag for another piece, you realize that that was not a pâte de fruit which you just savored. No, what you just experienced was the insanity that lies beyond perfection.
I’m not quite sure when I lapsed into my obsession with the Master’s work. It certainly built over a number of visits to His shop, and was quickly propelled by my first taste of His macadamia caramel. Perhaps it was in photographing Him and witnessing His exacting standards that I started to see the light. All I know is that one day, despite the fact that His shop was the furthest of all the greats from my apartment, it seemed like His was the only option. By the end of my months in Paris, I went every day it was open and was hoarding pastries, chocolates, caramels, and pâtes de fruits to tide me over on the day it was closed. Unless you’ve partaken of enough of His magic to fall under the spell, you just cannot understand. You just . . . don’t understand.
So, yes, yes, yes, get a huge bag of these. Then get another so that you don’t cry when the first one’s gone. Make sure you have a ton of His caramels and chocolates at-the-ready, too. And, assuming you have a fridge in your hotel room or apartment, be sure you have some pastries on standby. The other option is just to go back several days in a row. Not that I don’t want you to visit the other shops, but if you have the time, just do like 3 or 4 consecutive days eating your way through the Master’s work. It will redefine your very existence.
My quest for the ultimate Parisian croissant has now become a full-scale obsession. I wake up every morning already knowing the next shop on the “hit list”; it gets decided the night before. Somewhere between 7am and 8am I bound out the door with a carefully folded plastic bag from Franprix tucked in my back pocket – having discovered that it makes carrying my 4 croissant purchase that much easier. And, yes, I buy 4 croissants from each shop – one to eat and assess immediately, one to photograph, one to savor later in the day, and one just in case. I am nothing if not exceptionally & excessively thorough.
Now the more croissants I eat, the more I realize most taste almost exactly the same. Imagine my disappointment after spending an hour on the metro going to some random shop in the 20th arrondissement, taking my first bite, and going, “This taste just like a Philippe Gosselin and a…[10 other names that spring to mind].” The upside is that once a week or so I stumble upon a superstar. And with that idea of superstars in mind, let’s take a look at five little guys that make regular appearances on best-of lists . . .
Blé Sucré (above): My friend Meg from ParisbyMouth.com kept telling me I had to get one of these. I’d resisted the idea only because I’ve heard terrible things about the owner/chef abusing employees. But between the croissant recommendation and David Lebovtiz’s claiming they had the best madelienes in Paris, I knew I had to swing by. While the madeleines were a very pre-packaged, very stale letdown (note: you’re not allowed to buy fresh ones – even when they’re sitting in plain sight and you specifically ask, in your most formal and polite French, if you may please have them), it turns out Meg was not joking about the croissants. Crinkly skin, sublimely buttery interior, texturally marvelous . . . they were fantastic. Interestingly, there was a quite unmistakable taste of soft pretzels. Yes, Blé Sucré croissants taste a little like soft pretzels, and I love it. I’m going to deduct a half point because I think that would really interfere with slathering them in confiture or enjoying them any way but au naturel, but they’re still spectacular. Score: 8.5
And now on to Thierry Renard…
Thierry Renard: The first line in my notes say, “About as good as it gets before it gets interesting…” By that I simply mean that it lacks any particularly interesting flavor nuances, but it’s otherwise stellar. The exquisitely crispy exterior contains an interior that’s supple and neither too light nor too dense. The buttery tones are delightful and sure to bring a smile to your face. If you like to enjoy your croissants with anything on them, get this. Unlike the Blé Sucré piece, this is probably the perfect croissant to smear with anything you like. Great stuff – even though, yes, it is clearly the most mishapen and physically unappealing croissant (possibly ever)! Score: 7.5-8
And now on to Le Triomphe…
Le Triomphe: According to Le Figaroscope, this was supposed to be one of the ultimate croissants. Not so. I found it to be pretty greasy – almost to the point that it seemed to have been deep fried. The interior was on the edge of being too dense – but just buoyant enough to not offend me. Three saving graces keep the score relatively high on this guy – lovely butter tones, some pleasant nuances to the farine and a more potent zip of salt than one usually gets. My notes say, “…it’s special enough…” Score: 7-7.5
And now on to Frédéric Comyn…
Frédéric Comyn: Chez Pim wrote a blog post a couple years ago that started, “If I had a nickle every time someone asked me where to find the best croissant in Paris. My answer goes like this: the best croissant in Paris is simply a good one within sleep-walking distance of where you happen to be staying.” That should have been a red flag to me that her effusive review of Comyn’s croissant in that same article was to be taken with a grain of salt. Convenience should never be considered when pursuing “the best”. It’s insane to suggest otherwise. Anyway, in the case of this croissant she was dead on in her “cloud soft” assessment, but that means it’s too soft. The piece was a bit comically puffy, and the taste of butter was decidedly muted versus more exceptional specimens I’ve come to know and love. That said, there was nothing offensive about the croissant – not that I would buy it again – but it’s a perfectly sufficient little guy. Score: 7
And now on to Le Grenier au Pain…
Le Grenier au Pain (Caulaincourt): I expected a lot from this, given that it placed 4th in the 2010 salarié division of the annual croissant rankings here in Paris/Ile-de-France. On top of that is the fact that the shop is closed on Thursdays . . . which is the type of bizarre insouciant attitude that says, “We are so amazing we can be closed on one of the busiest days of the week and just not care.” It turns out that the croissant is truly not so hot. Deficient in the butter department, a wee bready, and lacking in any interesting flavor characteristics, it made yours truly sad The texture was actually reasonably solid, but that does little to make up for all else. Not quite sure how this little one has placed so high in formal rankings. Score: 6-6.5
So there you go – the latest croissant critiques! You’ll notice that while the last few have contain 3 croissants, I’ve upped these spreads to 5. I realized that showing the 50+ croissants I plan to catalog would take way too long, if I just post 3 every couple weeks. And, btw, I’m very excited to have hit the 35 croissants photographed mark, as of yesterday! I don’t know of any ranking that’s included more than 31, and that 2006 one from le Figaroscope only came with a few photos.
The saddest by-product of my ceaseless gluttony is a diminished capacity for being dazzled. Pastries, candies and other assorted confections that would make most people unleash a series of superlatives are just run-of-the-mill for me. After all, I live a block from Pierre Hermé and within 5 minutes of half the other shops I write about here. My 5,000 calorie-a-day diet, as supported almost exclusively by them, ensures only the most mind-bendingly awesome works will elicit more than a, “Well, that is . . . quite nice.”
Now, you guys know I’m no stranger to Un Dimanche à Paris, and you know I adore much of their work. Having eaten and photographed my way through the entire pastry and macaron case, you’re going to see plenty of gems in the year ahead. And, honestly, once I cataloged all those goodies, I thought my work there was “done”. I just kept going back cause I liked eating it all over and over again + cause they have the best hot chocolate in Paris. But one day, about two weeks ago, I said, “Hey, Perrine. What are these?” And she was all like, “They’re our clémentines confites! You haven’t had one yet?! Let me offer you one.” So I stood there, sipping my hot chocolate, and took a little nibble of the clémentine. Transplendent! Yes, it was so good that it transcended splendor. Or perhaps “WHOA!” better sums-up the experience. These clementines have changed my life . .
I now have a 15-20 euro/day clementine habit. No, I’m not kidding. That’ll work out to no less than 450 euros this month. It’s probably cheaper to be deeply into crack. So why opt for clementines? Well . . .
Floral notes pervade the chocolate crowning the piece. Just allowing a little of it to melt against the heat of your fingers begins to release its delicate bouquet, infused ever so sweetly with tones from the clementine itself. In fact, I often enjoy the chocolate tout seul, before delving into the fruit. Having basked in its cacao awesomeness, I bite the remnant of the stem away and inelegantly cast it aside before tipping my head back and suckling on the now free-to-flow sweet nectar within. It would dishonor that golden goodness to refer to is as flavored sugar syrup – for it is a holy and magical union that defies mere words. Within seconds of that first taste, you’re transported to Corsica. What’s that sound you hear? ‘Tis Mediterranean waves slamming into the steep cliffs of Calanches. How is it that you’ve been transported hundreds of miles away? This is not the time for questions. Take another bite, dissolve into the Corsican sun, and bask in the full force of the clementine’s citrus essence. Heaven is woven into every little scrumtrulescent morsel of the clémentine confite.
I’m so addicted to these little guys that I’ve replaced my mid-morning pastry with a clementine, enjoyed “at the bar” of Un Dimanche, together with a little café or, more typically, hot chocolate. It’s there that I force Perrine to listen to me muse on my most recent pastry and viennoiserie finds. Does she care that I think Gontran Cherrier is a croissant master? Almost definitely not, but she humors me . . . and I appreciate it. We chat about other things, laugh, I learn a new French expression or two, and then we carefully select the 3 other clementimes I want boxed-up. I’m always looking for a perfect level of size and deep orange hue. Am I way to serious about these clementines? Absolutely, but I think we’ve long since established that I am totally ******* insane.
I can only imagine what other gems are sitting right under my nose at my favorite shops. There’s no rush in finding them though. That’s what months-long return visits to Paris are for, after all!
Oh, and here’s the top shot from the post, now lit normally – instead of being backlit. Not as dramatic and awesome, but I wanted you to see the true internal aesthetic…
So, yes, this is among the few “your life is not complete until you have one of these” experiences. My only caution is to make sure you do not buy so many that there will be less than three waiting for me, when I walk into the shop.
My hunt for the perfect croissant continues, aided most recently by my friends at ParisbyMouth.com. It’s awesome to have a bunch of local afficianados for such recommendations. Between them and my usual cast of foodie characters, I’m beginning to discover progressively more obscure shops. While today features two chains, plus one of the less-sung heroes, you’ll start to see more little-known gems weaving their way in here.
Now, as you know, I’ve been extremely fond of Des Gateaux et du Pain’s croissant for the last month or two – so much so that I’ve speculated some Divine Intervention. Well, DGedP might have now been trumped. Bread & Roses has taken me to a new level of croissant splendor. I’ll of course pit them head-to-head before I leave Paris in a few months, but the new contender for the #1 seed is quite something. Also up today are two other solid showings from Poilâne and Eric Kayser. Shall we now indulge? . . .
Bread & Roses (above): As I bit in, the skin gave way with a mix of both big and small crumbling flakes – like a veritable “something for everybody” texture. Chew, chew, chew . . . wow! Not only is this little guy sublimely buttery, but there is a totally discernable taste of fresh cream. I’ll just say it again . . . wow. The internal texture is not too unlike Des Gateaux’s, in that it does succumb to the lips quite readily. As if the combined taste and textural experience weren’t great enough already, it’s the aftertaste that makes the croissant truly epic. Smoky, creamy, warmly toned and buttery. I didn’t want to eat or drink anything for at least 15 minutes afterward. All I wanted was for it to linger on my palate for…ever. While a repeat visit lacked the majesty of the first round, it was still an exceptional piece that beat-out DGedP on an average day. Score: 9
And now on to Poilâne…
Poilâne: Not only does Poilâne open at 7:15, which is awesome for an early riser like me, but it has an olden-timey charm that cannot be beat. There’s no fancy cash-register, and it appears they keep hand-written paper records of every purchase that’s made. As for the croissant – it’s a notch above really good. The exterior is beautiful, though a bit bready and was flaking in big chunks with each bite. The internal texture was soft and buttery, though no salty or sweet tones to speak of here. It’s mostly how I imagine classic croissants must have been long ago. Overall, it’s a fun one to experience. Score: 7.5
And now on to Eric Kayser…
Eric Kayser: I must admit that I was a little shocked at the quality of this . . . in a good way. Expecting more of a travesty than something enjoyable, I was like, “What?!” Although it’s not up to the level of the two above, it’s a perfectly acceptable croissant with pleasant butter tones and a good internal structure that provides a more than satisfactory mouth-feel. I guess I can’t really ask for any more from a chain. Score: 7
I’m beginning to discover that most croissants essentially taste the same and are, in fact, quite boring. But if Bread & Roses, Des Gateaux et du Pain, and Pierre Hermé can create standouts, then hope is not lost. Will I find a perfect 10 somewhere here in the city? Only time will tell.