Ladies and gentlemen, we are living in the Croissant Renaissance. Beloved icons of not so medieval pastries are being reborn in the most astonishing forms across New York bakeries and it’s time they were examined to see whether they shall stand the test of viennoiserie time. This week Jeanne and I are back in full Francophone force to investigate just what America has brought back to life within the beloved flakes of le croissant: qu’est ce que c’est ce “CRONUT?”
Now when I arrived in New York this year, I may have been the only “young” person to not know what bubble tea was. My palate’s discovery of the combination was not revolutionary, although my shock was astounding. To put it frankly, the tea was delightful- all on it’s own. As for Jeanne, she did not even bother tasting it before judging it. And here, all readers have full permission to stop reading, as I know the cronut has gained a steady, long line of international followers with cute yellow boxes. However, my sentiments for this pastry remain similar to that of the phenomena of bubble tea. Jeanne and I have to conclude that we may, after all, be passionate croissant purists.
Dominique’s cronut, as many may know combines the beloved flaky layers of a croissant with the fried form of a cream filled donut. The special “laminated” dough likened to that of a traditional croissant dough is combined to give a new lightness and buttery chew to the traditional American donut. Each month a new flavor is featured and this month the bakery is showcasing that of a cherry blossom ganache and sour cherry gelée with citrus sugar. The hybrid pastry has caused a sensation for years and is wholeheartedly accepted by the pastry chef community as Dominique’s masterpiece creation that bridged two cities. However, this morning while avidly anticipating this delicious hybrid, we found that bridge was broken and obstinately stuck on the donut side of the Atlantic. As croissant worshipers, the cronut just seemed so…donut! Those flaky croissant layers advertised, giving a light crunchy lift to the donut where just obsolete and overcome by a tidal wave of cream! So yes, it’s terrible, but we’re sending you back overseas to France for pure croissants (we can see how this option could be a bit expensive, so at least go to Kayser- sincerely Jeanne) and recommending stopping at 188 Spring street for a Kouign-Amann instead, where a traditional rendition of a much beloved pastry lives up to its flaky, buttery, sugary legend.
Le “Hype” Explained:
Checking in on the next new croissant movement, we continued our search over to City Bakery to give Maury Rubin’s savory ($4.00) hybrid creation of the Pretzel-Croissant a go. In this experiment we found of course the croissant’s more traditional form but the flaky puff pastry still seemed quite tough and the salty flakes failed to carry through with any “pzazz.” So all in all we’re not exactly all for the Avant-Garde Croissant movement and are going to remain hopeful traditionalists. Why ruin a good thing when the going has just been,well, always so good?
TIPS FOR FUTURE CROISSANT HUNTING
(After all we do hope to leave you with something other than a despondent critique.)
Croissant Connoisseurship 101: What’s in a Croissant? The Divine Ingridient
The secret to a good croissant is the butter. In a nutshell, croissant is leavened puff pastry, or patée levée feuilletée, carefully folded with layers of rich creamy butter over the course of approximately two days (aka those fresh Sunday morning babies had to be started Friday morning!). Butterfat is le “key” to making a croissant act out its literal linguistic translation in the oven: derived from the verb “croire” which means to grow! So why travel overseas for a bite of these buttery babies? You see over in good ole France with the lovely establishment of the AOC, all butter is legally required to be between 83-86% butterfat. In the United States, unfortunately companies like Land O’Lakes and most large supermarket brands only leave bakers with a meager 81% butterfat, leaving more water and thus a tougher dough.
Don’t fall for the first butter rookie mistake: Crescent shaped croissants, known as croissant nature, use margarine over butter. Keep away from these nasty buggers and stay with the traditional straight golden rich croissant au beurre’s to remain a true croissant connoisseur.
“Always, always go for the croissant au beurre. If you’re on a diet or whatever, no problem, just don’t save the croissant for later!” -Jeanne
Tip #2. THE LINGO: Viennoiserie
Keep in mind that amongst the French pastry hierarchy of patisserie, boulangerie, and viennoiserie, le croissant belongs to that of the odd family of “viennoiserie.” Now don’t totally lose me here in technicality, but viennoiserie basically refers to all sweets made with pâte viennoise or pâté feuilletée- originally invented & brought to France by an Austrian military officer who brought his viennese sweet creations to France in the late 19th C. Here you’ll find sweet bread treats like brioche, palmiers, pain aux raisins, pain aux chocolat and chaussons aux pommes. Sadly, for all its hype, the croissant actually isn’t even technically French in its origins. The Austrians transported the dough, but the French turned it into magic! It’s a pastry without a specific origin, but yet undeniably tied to an ongoing legend of French deliciousness.
Tip #3. THE BITE: Flaky, perfect crunch, rich buttery flakes, golden crisp shell. Light with just enough of a chewy tear. Crumbs all over your clothes and table is a sure sign of deliciousness.
“Word of advice, you can literally hear a good croissant when you take a bite. Flaky on the inside, crunchy on the outside, that’s the only way a croissant should be.” -J
But before we get too nostalgic about how good the “real croissant days” used to be, let’s check in with Jeanne and break down some stereotypes behind France’s arguably most beloved treat (behind the baguette of course).
Q: French People & Croissants- What’s the Real Deal?
Just as we don’t all have a moustache and we don’t all own a beret, well we don’t have a croissant every morning watching the Eiffel tower from our window. No, croissants are pretty much weekend treats, when you have time. For instance, in my macho family, my mum brings back the croissants (okay, and pains au chocolat as well) for the rest of the family when she comes back from the market (yes like a real good old-fashioned market) on Sundays. So I guess our croissant consumption is not that crazy after all.
But what really matters is that, unlike here, if we felt like having a croissant everyday, we COULD and this is a nice feeling! Indeed, you always have 1€20 ($1.30) to spare for a delicious croissant. Do you always have 4$ to spare? Mmmh not so sure.
Q: Does the “best croissant” of Paris/NYC even really exist? Should we bother looking?
“Croissants being really mainstream in France, you just don’t happen to do what we did this morning, Amelia and I, which is to say, take the subway for more than 30 minutes to go to a nice bakery downtown. In France, you pretty much just go to one of the five or six bakeries near you. To give you an example, my mum goes to our favorite bakery to get our Sunday croissants but we consider it as being really far from where we live. It is after all, a good three minute walk… (yes, just like you people when you tell me that Cathedral Gardens is so far away from campus).
So dearest readers we applaud the creative spirit of this pastry hybrid age, but it seems as though we shall be staying within the classical confines of the Louvre with a trusty old croissant au beurre and espresso in hand. Go forth and choose well on your future croissant hunts, letting butter, a melodious crisp, and trail of unending crumbs lead your way.