Searching for a great croissant - my report
After reading and adding to an old thread about croissants http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/427572 , I decided I had to do my own circuit of some of the favorites mentioned. I should note that I’m from Seattle but also spend part of the year in Paris, where I have studied pastry making. By “pastry” here I include breakfast pastries like croissants and pains au chocolat, which the French call viennoiseries.
A list of criteria used by Le Figaro newspaper in France for rating croissants can be found in one of my posts near the end of the thread mentioned above. So are some reference bakeries in Paris and even one in Seattle. In that thread I also reply to comments suggesting that top croissants can’t be made in the US because of differences in flour, butter, or water. They’re just wrong.
Here is my report in the order I tried them. All but one of the croissants were purchased some time late morning or early afternoon today, Sunday, June 13. The temp outside was around 80 degrees and it was somewhat humid. Eli’s alone was bought the day before, when it was a bit cooler and less humid. I say this because croissants are so sensitive to ambient temperature and humidity that only the best bakers are really good at compensating for weather differences. That also means on a different day, any one of these bakeries using a fixed recipe might get better or worse results than what I tasted.
1. Payard: Closed and out of the running. Too bad, I used to love the pastries at Payard’s.
2. Eli’s: I mildly enjoyed the Eli's croissant. But it is a significant cut below the top possible. I found the outside not quite flaky enough and the overall feel a bit too tough. Maybe they're using flour with a bit too much gluten or working it too much. Also the sugar/salt balance was too much on the sweet side.
3. Ceci-Cela: The best exterior texture by far of the croissants I tried. Both the corns (ends) and the point on top broke off nicely, with lots of crispy bits coming off. On the other hand, it was a bit greasy (butter escaping) and a little too heavy in the middle. The sugar/salt balance was perfect. It lacked a full, cultured butter flavor, which was really a shame. I don’t know if it was the butter they use or that too much leaked out. The store itself was my favorite, a tiny, almost funky place with the three employees all speaking French.
4. Petrossian: This one had the best flavor combination of butter, flour, salt, and sugar. It wasn’t greasy on the outside but neither was it as crisp as Ceci-Cela. The middle was too soggy for me to consider it worth eating, which was a tragedy.
5. Balthazar: Industrial quality, not in the same class as any of the above. They were also giving out free samples of their pain au chocolat. The samples were overpriced.
7. Dean and DeLuca: I looked at them but couldn’t see spending the money to taste them. The surface was flatter and more even than you’d see in the average supermarket.
Bottom line: None of these croissants would be in a top category in Paris or compare with Café Besalu in Seattle. Ceci-Cela and Petrossian are respectable and could be better than the (low) average quality one finds in Paris these days. Of the two, Petrossian has the best promise of being really excellent, with a tweaking of the baking or perhaps on a different day. Eli’s is adequate in a pinch.
Not that I have tried a whole bunch of croissants in Paris, but I did really dig Pierre Herme's version (as well as all of his other scrumptious pastries). I think the closest I've found to something like PH is La Bergamote. I think from your list, I would agree with you that Petrossian is the best. But I do prefer La Bergamote over Petrossian. The middle isn't as soggy as Petrossian's. There are two locations -- one in Chelsea and another one in Hell's Kitchen.
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re: Miss Needle
Miss Needle, I made my last foray today. At your suggestion, it was to la Bergamote, at their 52nd St boutique. I completely agree with you. It is better than Petrossian and, indeed, the best I have found in Manhattan. RacerX, you too are right: Still not equal to Hermé and the few at his level in Paris, or Café Besalu in Seattle.
I actually could just copy my Petrossian description, with the difference that the interior at Bergamote was perfectly cooked. That is, the flavor balance was right and the outside a little less crispy than Ceci-Cela. This is really the only one I'd go back to in Manhattan, and I'd go back with pleasure.
Preppie Foodie and Mr. Seabass, I am out of time for this trip so I cannot try your other suggestions, nor Racer X`s outside Manh.
RandyB, to round out your sampling, a few other places you might consider trying: Financier in Manhattan, and, in the other boroughs, Cannelle (Queens) and Almondine (Brooklyn).
(Of course, if your whole intent was to see whether there are any croissants in NYC equal to the top selections in Paris, you could have just saved yourself the trouble.)
re: racer x
After reading this thread I went and had a croissant at Almondine- it was pretty damn good. The croissant I most frequently get when craving is Ceci-Cela and I think Almondine is marginally better- crispier on the outside, airier on the inside.
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Great post. As a fellow Seattlite, I can confirm that Cafe Besalu is one of our culinary treasures.
I would give Financier a try and I'd love to hear your report. Though still in mourning for Payard, they are decent. They do a good almond one...
I too miss Payard... I suggest trying Kaffe 1668 - their croissant are really good. Larger than the French make them, but still buttery. I've always gone there just for coffee and then I read a post on CH about their pastries and have since become addicted. With the passing of Bouley Market, there are not a lot of options...
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