So, the deal is that I find myself eating croissants for breakfast at least once a week, usually on the weekends. Everyone is familiar with a croissant, its characteristic crescent shape and its ineffable flakiness achieved by “folding” layers of butter between layers of dough. A good croissant renders audible the crunch of each layer, the shattering of crumb as my teeth break through the crust, resulting in a clutter of crumbs of mouth and on table. There’s no other bread quite like it, it’s breakfast food par excellence.
Whether spread with jam or slathered with butter (as if there isn’t enough of it already in the croissant!) I usually end up starting my weekend making ”“ as Winnie the Pooh’s friend, Rabbit, describes as ”“ “magnificent messes.” And yes, I’d recommend to anyone that making a mess is a great way to start the day, weekend or not.
Croissants belong to the family of filo, strudel, puff pastry, Danish pastry, and brioche. They’re all made from the same basic ingredients: flour, liquid, and fat, but are handled in different ways. Croissant dough is essentially puff pastry that gets its lift from yeast and the steam in the butter’s moisture. As an aside, if made properly, croissant dough is given four turns that result in 81 layers. (Now there’s some food trivia for you!)
Because I’m eating croissants so regularly, I start comparing the different types available. By geographical default, I buy croissants from the stores that are easily accessible for me: the Peninsula Exclusivités, the Mandarin Deli, DeliFrance, and French Baker.
The croissants I procure at the four stores mentioned above are all treated in the same way. Heated in a standard toaster oven just to warm them up and then eaten plain, I grade them according to crunch, flakiness, and flavor. From this simple, highly unscientific test, my findings reveal that a croissant is not just a croissant, and the findings are quite surprising.
In France, there are two types of croissants available: “croissant,” and “croissant au beurre” (butter croissant), The former can be made with any butter substitute (margarine et al) and is thus, breadier and “straighter” than its butter counterpart. It’s what Delifrance’s croissant reminds me of. Longer and narrower in shape, its mere appearance almost disqualifies it from the contest (croissant means “crescent” after all). Possessing good crunch, that fact is negated by the large gap between crust and layer. There’s also a slight gumminess and doughy aftertaste. The poorest of the lot.
The Peninsula Exclusivités
Short and squat, this croissant’s layers are more defined than that from Delifrance. Its crunch is satisfactory punctuated by a yeasty flavor. There’s a pleasant buttery aftertaste that I quite like.
The country’s largest bakery turns out a very decent croissant. Almost perfect with its crescent shape, it has a memorable aftertaste, with layers that are clearly defined. It strikes a balance between yeasty flavor and a buttery mouthfeel.
The Mandarin has the largest croissants in the country. Almost overwhelming in size, it packs a lot in terms of taste and texture, and impeccably shaped, its mass makes it the perfect receptacle for cradling a poached egg. Almost painfully crunchy, its layers are stark and separate enough to be counted. Truly, there can’t be a better croissant than this one. My favorite.
The honorary croissant
Ji-pan’s Monroe Bread, which gets its name from the legendary bombshell’s curves (I assume), is what I call the honorary croissant. Often described as “the inside of a croissant,” it’s buttery and leaves fingers and lips with an oily sheen. Toasted just ”˜til golden brown, I love thickish slices of this bread paired with my homemade fabada (Spanish sausage stew).