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Best truly French croissants in Berkeley?

Can anyone tell me where I can get the most Parisian croissants possible in Berkeley? Price ranges? I'd like to give a French expat a taste of home.

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    1. Masse's on Shattuck in North Berkeley; La Farine on Solano (at Colusa) and on College (just south of Alcatraz)--I think both are better than the average Parisian croissant.

      1 Reply
      1. I'm going to third it: La Farine. I'm also going to second the opinion that their croissants (La Farine) are better than the average Parisian croissant. Also, one of you ought to have a morning bun, while you're there. Sensational.

        1. Nope Masse's. La Farine's are too bready.

          Of course, both should be tried so your friend can decide which is more to their taste. Hope you'll report how happy (or unhappy) they are about the selection.

          Acme makes an ok croissant.

          2 Replies
          1. re: rworange

            La Farine's croissant isn't bready. It's flaky.

            Do you mean it's not oozing butter?

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Nope. I meant what I said. It is bready and the outside is not as flakey as Masses.

          2. Acme makes a great ham and cheese turnover that is croissant-like.

            The croissants I had when last in France mostly left much to be desired. They were over-crispy, i.e., dried out or over-bready. I had a couple of good ones in Bordeaux and none in Paris, Marseilles or Nice.

            I fourth La Farine. I've never been to the one on Solano, only the Oakland one. Is it the same owner?

            4 Replies
            1. re: oakjoan

              Same owner, same products, same croissant.

              1. re: oakjoan

                Aaah, Bordeaux. In that round plaza in front of the cathedral with the flea market
                and the basketball court, over on the other side there's a tiny little bakery run by
                a friendly woman who laughs with you not at you when you try to speak her language
                and who makes what as far as I know is the finest croissant on earth.

                But that's not Paris. If I had a Parisian friend in town, I'd consider stopping by Masse's
                for some sweets and then strolling down to the French Hotel for a couple of espressos
                to accompany them. Or if it was someone I wanted to keep here I'd take them to
                La Farine in the morning for a hot-from-the-oven morning bun. They're almost
                but just barely not quite better than that place in Bordeaux.

                1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                  I'd take a French person to Fruitvale for churros.

              2. My coworkers and I did an croissant-off experiment between Masse's and LaFarine: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                All the same, I prefer LaFarine because I like saltier croissants, and LaFarine is overall better at the bread thing.

                1. I forgot, Bay Breads is now selling at the Temescal Farmers market on Sunday. Their regular croissant is nothing to write Paris about, IMO, but there have been a lot of raves about the almond croissant which is as good as everyone says.

                  The Temescal market is on the Berkely/Oakland border off of Telegraph at 52nd.

                  1. Having returned from France just two weeks ago, I would agree that Masses is the place to go in Berkeley. They have the flakiest, most buttery croissants. I have always loved them and after our trip, I know why. They come the closest to the best croissants we had in France. Their other desserts are also usually quite fabulous as well. Anything lemon is good and their raspberry chocolate cake is the best of that combination that I have ever had!

                    1. I vote La Farine's, and while you are there try the Princess cake, a slice of marzipan heaven.

                      1. Thanks - you lot are great! Said Frenchman and I actually live very close to both Masse's and La Farine, so I'll arrange a taste test Saturday morning and will report back what the native connoisseur has to say. It will be interesting to compare his results with the test by coolbean98 & colleagues, mentioned above.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Kitchen Imp

                          You'll have to share your findings with us! I'm still rooting for La Farine but admittedly last month we were in the Perigord region of southwest France, where there's a hotel that makes my favorite croissants ever, and they were much more like Masse's in terms of butteriness and flavor. In any case, I'm sure you'll have a great Saturday morning! Bon apetit!

                          1. re: coolbean98

                            FYI, if you have recs for Perigord for this poster, please share them here -

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Gah, I'm so jealous of him! I wonder if he can smuggle me in his suitcase?

                              1. re: coolbean98

                                No sympathy from me, at least you've been there before, TWICE. Broke my heart to have to deadhead on the peage from Castelnaudry to Bordeaux and not make the detour. Thanks for following up.

                        2. Slight twist on the question. Where is the best pain au chocolat in Berkeley?

                          1 Reply
                          1. Nth for La Farine. And try their morning buns.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: feedzone

                              The morning buns are good but what I don't like is that you can't get them fresh from the oven. Early on I figured I would show up at 8 when they open and get them fresh. Well, they are "freshly" baked hours before and sit on rolling storage shelves. I've had one fresh one, warm and buttery, and it was divine. Wholly different from the usual La Farine morning bun. I suppose I could bring one home and warm it up. But fresh from the oven is best.

                            2. I love the size of all the freshly baked pastries at Oliveto Cafe. Think anti-Cinnabon. The croissants are always all over the plate and table when my 3 year old snarfs one. I vacuum them up so quickly not a crumb falls. They incidentally make some fine espresso drinks here - among the finest in the Bay Area on occasion. The milk is understood here, not abused as is so frequently the case. Add some marmalade to that croissant and bada bing.

                              1. Taste-Test Results

                                I presented the Frenchman with half of one plain croissant from La Farine and half of one from Masse's, without telling him which was which. He ate most of one in silence, then ate the other, then went back and ate the last bit of the first one. Here's what he had to say thereafter, more or less verbatim, as fast as I could scribble it down. (Since he didn't know which was which, I've put the bakeries' names in his comments.)

                                There were no "Ah! I'm having a Proustian moment! It takes me right back to childhood!" reactions, though he did pronounce both of them reasonably authentic.

                                Quoth the Frenchman:

                                On appearance - "They both look like French croissants. La Farine's is cuter." (It was nicely curved and had a quite high, springy center.)

                                On taste, texture, etc - "Both of them could have been made in France, but in a less expensive place than a pastry shop, like a supermarket bakery or a bakery that delivers to cafes. There's nothing wrong with that. Every week I'd go to the bakery in the supermarket to get croissants.

                                "Masse's tastes like it was made by someone who learned in France -- there's the right proportion of butter -- except it doesn't taste like French butter at all. It's a cheesy butter, so it's kind of exotic to me. It's unlike the French butter that should be more creamy.

                                "La Farine's tastes like it's some kind of hybrid between the original French recipe and American tastes. Some third culture emerged between the two in the making of this croissant and decided to have the least butter possible. It's not how pastry croissants should taste. You *can* find croissants like this in France in a supermarket bakery, but not in a pastry shop. I have a feeling that somebody learned to make croissants in France and transmitted the recipe to someone else, who changed the proportion of the ingredients and then taught it to someone here. People must want this who think less butter is healthier.

                                "Which I would choose would depend on my mood. I don't think one is better than the other. They're both like croissants I could get in Paris in a supermarket. That's the kind of croissant you can get in a lot of cafes, too."

                                And here's my reaction:

                                Not being French in any way, shape, or form (but admittedly having lived in Paris for a brief time), this American votes for Masse's, hands down. La Farine's had very little butter and a much crispier crust, which I didn't like as much.

                                Stay tuned for next week, when we'll go back for Pain au Chocolat/Chocolatine.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Kitchen Imp

                                  Thanks for the report back. Interesting observation.

                                  Don't forget about that almond croisant at the Bay Breads stand at the Temescal Farmers Market.

                                  Don't know from real French croissants either since I didn't eat too many of them when there. To my personal tastes I didn't like the Bay Breads plain croissant, but who knows?

                                  I don't know about the chocolate at Bay Breads. I usually buy it early in the morning at the location in SF. At that time of day the chocolate inside is still warm and partly liquid, so what's not to like.

                                  But that almond croissant ... any place ... any time.


                                  General Temescal report


                                  1. re: rworange

                                    We'll definitely try out the almond croissants. Thanks for the tip.

                                  2. re: Kitchen Imp

                                    That report was awesome! I loved The Frenchman's comments, esp "People must want this who think less butter is healthier." I once asked the owner of Masse's about their croisants and at the time she told me they actually lose money on them because they use so much butter in it. I would imagine using real French/Normandy butter (I'm drooling just thinking about it) would drive them into the poorhouse, but god, would I love them for it!

                                    1. re: Kitchen Imp

                                      OMG! Is he, like, some kind of baking genius? Or just a run-of-the-mill French food eater? Fascinating.

                                      1. re: KateC.

                                        Just a run-of-the-mill lifetime croissant-eater... and a true chowhound. We never did get around to the pain au chocolat taste-off, though the time might be ripe. Maybe this weekend!

                                    2. I wonder if Masse's and/or La Farine would be willing to reveal where they buy their butter?

                                      1. I showed my daughters (11 and 13) this thread and they insisted on repeating the experiment. So this morning we went around to Masse's and La Farine (Berkeley), buying a croissant and pain au chocolat at each.

                                        Masse's croissant is larger, less salty, and slightly sweeter than La Farine's. Holding up the Masse's, my younger daughter said, "This one is crisp all the way through." The glaze on top was also better. Hands down preferred by all of us.

                                        The pain au chocolat test was more inconclusive. La Farine's is bigger, and has a single layer of chocolate. It tasted like better chocolate to me, but maybe there was just more of it. Masse's smaller offering has two tunnels of chocolate rather than one layer; it is a bit less crisp inside than their croissant, but still crisper than La Farine's croissant. So it depends if the pastry or the filling takes preference for you.

                                        Neither of these can hold a candle to the best we had in Paris in July (at Eric Kayser and Poujauran/Secco), but they're better than Parisian supermarket viennoiserie (which we sometimes resort to when we need to feed the kids en route to somewhere fast).

                                        We also picked up a morning bun at La Farine, which has way too much butter and sugar in it. I'll post separately on other items at Masse's, because it's off-topic for this thread.

                                        Oh, yes: they are quite friendly and chatty at Masse's, and reserved/snooty at La Farine. --PR

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

                                          I'n enjoying your posts so much as I always do when your family visits.

                                          It depends when you catch people in both places. I've had snooty at both places and chatty at both. You know who's really snooty, Acme bakery next to Cafe Fanny. I once had someone laugh in my face when I asked for a seeded baguette and say in a tone like I committed some sort of bread faux-pas "We don't make those here". Yikes. It's just bread, lighten up.

                                          I'm also in the minority of not being a fan of La Farine's morning bun. It is not so much the butter as it is the sugar. I'm not a granulated suger on pastry person, so that texture puts me off.

                                          Have you ever stopped by Lola's on Solano for the baked goods? They are doing summer fruit now which is wonderful. Also, they make some nice jams. If they still have the peach rosemary, I highly recommend it. Take-out only and they are closed Monday and Tuesday. They are my favorite baked goods in the Bay Area. It is really a place that makes baked chicken. I am not so into their other dishes. The strombolli are good. Never tried the pizza. The calzone have good ingrediants, but IMO the crust is too thin to hold up. Nice enough mini quiche, but their shining dishes are the baked chicken and the baked goods/jellies. Mighty fine granola too.

                                        2. We're leaving early Wednesday, so Lola will have to wait for a future visit. Though you mentioned it in advance of our last visit, if I remember correctly. I stuck my head in at some point, but we had reservations that night. --PR