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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.

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  1. 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.

    La Bergamote
    169 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011

    182 W 58th St, New York, NY 10019

    2 Replies
    1. 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.

    2. 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.)

      1 Reply
      1. 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.


        55 Spring St, New York, NY 10012

      2. Great post. As a fellow Seattlite, I can confirm that Cafe Besalu is one of our culinary treasures.

        1. 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...

          1. 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...

            Kaffe 1668
            275 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10007

            1. I also suggest Cannelle bakery in Jackson Heights, Queens on your next visit. Excellent croissants and I just came back from spending 2 weeks in Paris and still find Cannelle's quite good. I totally agree with your comment on Balthazar croissants, they are not good.

              1. I'd be curious to hear you all weigh in on Patisserie Claude, I've always loved them. And what about City Bakery?

                Patisserie Claude
                187 W 4th St, New York, NY 10014

                City Bakery
                3 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011

                3 Replies
                1. re: luckiestduck

                  I like Patisserie Claude -- though it's a very different style from Pierre Herme as it's a lot more rustic and bready. The innards are on the soggy side -- so I have a feeling it probably won't be Randy's thing. And I have totally given up on City Bakery -- last few times I was there (which was a while back so it may have changed), the croissant was heavy and like lead.

                  Patisserie Claude
                  187 W 4th St, New York, NY 10014

                  City Bakery
                  3 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    I feel that PC has changed in quality quite a bit since the old man, Claude, sold his business. I may be off base but that's my feeling. It used to be so much better when he was in charge.

                    1. re: citylion

                      I have never been disappointed with City Bakery's croissants. I wouldn't consider them traditional French croissants but they are really good and I love their hot chocolate and marshmallows.

                      The price of all of this together is quite shocking at first but I don't have a problem paying the money for quality food.

                2. Pain D'Avignon at the Essex St Market, http://www.paindavignon-nyc.com/ and on Saturday and Sunday at the Hester St Green Market, is the closest to Paris I have come here in NYC for both the croissant and the baguette. The baguette in particular is superb.

                  1. Ceci-cela is the only place in the city that I can find a ham and cheese croissant. Now to be clear, I don't mean a ham and cheese croissant sandwich. I mean a croissant with ham and cheese already baked into it.
                    Please let me know if anyone else knows where else they make them in nyc.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: citylion

                      Ok, went to La Bergamote and they had a delish ham/cheese croissant. Thanks for the advice everyone. Let me know if there's any where else anyone can think of. Looking forward to it.

                      La Bergamote
                      515 W 52nd St, New York, NY 10019

                      1. re: citylion

                        Relatedly, I know that Momofuku Milk Bar is now baking croissants with pastrami, russian dressing, and sauerkraut already baked in. There's also a turkey, swiss & mustard one.

                        Momofuku Milk Bar
                        15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

                        1. re: citylion

                          they have them at les ambassades in harlem, but they're not earth shattering. their plain and chocolate croissants are hit or miss--occasionally perfect, and more often passable

                          1. re: citylion

                            My favorite place for ham and cheese croissant is Madeleine on 23rd street across the street from Tekserve. I hope they're still doing well.

                            1. re: HLing

                              I've had their chocolate almond croissant and they are fantastic. I went there at first for their macarons -- which in my opinion is the best in NYC (the bests are still in Paris) but can't help buying a croissant when I'm there. BTW, they changed their name to La Maison du Macaron 23rd St, between 6 and 7 ave.

                              1. re: wadawada

                                La Maison du Macaron?Got it. Thanks wadawada for that info! I hear that people line up for their quiches, too. Glad they're still doing well.

                          2. Soutine on W. 70th and Columbus has, what i've found to be, the best croissant in New York. Admittedly, I haven't tried many of the more popular ones mentioned here, but i think Soutine could be a contender.

                            1. The best croissants I remember, and my memories of good food are superb, was in a small cafe outside the Marsailles train station in 1975, OMG!! More recently at a cafe in St Martin called La Croissanterie where the croissants were served hot out of the oven.
                              Otherwise Ceci Cela is my go to place for croissants but I confess I have not tried many of the other suggestions. Soon!!

                              1. I have to say that after years of looking, I have only ever had croissants from one source that would hold their own against a top-flight French baker's product in France. I say that because the person who produced those gorgeous croissants of my memory was (is -- he's still around and baking) French -- Delphin Gomes. He's now teaching pastry arts at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts (MA).

                                Nowhere in New York, Chicago or anywhere else have I found what I call a "real" croissant... one that meets all the requirements of soft inside, crispy crust that crackles, and good butter, all without being the size of a baseball glove.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: ChefJune

                                  I agree 100 %. Nothing comes close to France for croissants.
                                  Try getting great sourdough bread anywhere outside of the San Francisco Bay area. Nothing comes close.
                                  Then again, NYC does have it's fabulous advantages.

                                  1. re: Motosport

                                    Euphorium Bakery
                                    202 Upper Street
                                    Islington, London
                                    N1 1RQ
                                    Tel: 020 7704 6905

                                    Croissants there are better than many I've had in France.

                                    In NYC, I'd agree with Bergamote. Excellent croissants.

                                2. Three recent croissant experiences, in descending order of excellence:

                                  1. Ceci Cela. I had a great croissant here the other day. Perfect texture and flavor, airy and delicious.

                                  2. Le Delice, on 27th and 3rd. Hadn't ever heard anything about this place, but had a very good croissant there this morning. The texture was similar to Ceci Cela, but the taste was slightly sweeter, which I liked. Maybe a tiny bit too buttery for my taste.

                                  3. Balthazar: worst croissant of the bunch. It was much too brown and actually seemed overcooked. Maybe I caught them on a bad day? Even if it had been good, it wouldn't have been worth waiting in the crowd in that claustrophobic and chaotic bakery area.

                                  Disclaimer: Have never been to Paris, so I don't know how much my opinions count on the croissant front :)

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: brighton312

                                    Paris, Schmaris. Your taste is as valid as anyone else's.

                                    1. re: racer x

                                      and you can go to Ceci Cela, hear the counter person speak French, have a great croissant, feel like you are in Paris and not get abused by a "surly" French waiter because your French is awful.

                                      1. re: Motosport

                                        As I noted at the start of this thread, I also liked Ceci Cela for the friendliness and atmosphere. And you can get a pretty good croissant there.

                                        As for the surly French, I think that stereotype is a bit dated, as is the one of all New Yorkers being unfriendly. Granted, being bilingual I don't personally experience French waiters reacting to my French. But I have many friends who speak no French who have visited and found the Parisians in general to be surprisingly friendly to foreigners. It has become a positive to speak English, so much so that I have met people who insist on speaking bad English to me rather than letting me speak French.

                                        Ceci Restaurant
                                        78 Sherman Ave, New York, NY 10040

                                        1. re: Motosport

                                          I'm a little surprised at all the love the Ceci Cela croissants are getting here. I'm not sure if what they ship out to cafes in New York is different from what they sell at their store, but I tried a Ceci Cela croissant yesterday at a downtown cafe and was really disappointed: it was completely soft and spongy with nothing crispy whatsoever. I guess I'll have to schlep over there and see if what they offer is anything different.

                                          1. re: tjdnewyork

                                            I've never had them anywhere else. We go early and the croissants always seem to be fresh and sometimes still warm.
                                            My feeling is that croissants do not "travel" well. I've never had a good croissant that was not baked on premises.

                                            1. re: tjdnewyork

                                              Sounds like it was reheated in a microwave. Happens way too often. It also could have been wrapped in plastic for shipping, then served right out of the plastic bag.

                                              A great croissant will keep for a day but still needs to be carefully recrisped up in a regular oven. A good croissant should be eaten soon, as it will just get worse as the hours progress. A mediocre croissant should not be eaten at all. It just encourages poor baking.

                                              1. re: tjdnewyork

                                                If what you got was soft and soggy then it definitely lost something in transport. At the Ceci Cela store thet are flaky and a bit crunchy on the outside with a buttery fluffy filling. It was also pouring rain all day and the extreme humidity might have had something to do with what you got. Crusty bread products and water don't mix well.

                                                1. re: MVNYC

                                                  TARTINE - Both plain and almond are out of this world. THey sell out, so get there early! W. 4th and 11th

                                        2. I thought the Ceci Cela croissants were just average. In fact, I had given up on finding a great croissant until I stumbled upon the ones at the SoNo Baking Company in South Norwalk, CT. Yes I know it is in Connecticut, but maybe some stores in NY sell them, I don't know. The proprietor, John Barricelli, who appears often on TV (pal of Martha Stewart) is a seriously good baker.

                                          All I can say is these croissants took me back to my travels to Europe, and the ham and cheese ones are the stuff dreams are made of.

                                          1. I dunno, I was in paris recently and had 4-5 "must try" croissants. In the end I'm not sure the best paris croissant is all that different in quality than the best nyc croissant....and obviously some of it comes down personal preference. However, it's very clear that if you walk into a random bakeries in paris and nyc, the croissant in paris is going to be much better than the croissant in nyc.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: vinouspleasure

                                              And hopefully this idea will not be removed, but you don't have to go as far as Paris for a lovely croissant--Montreal is a convenient destination to sample a croissant or more at Premiere Moisson, Gascogne and Duc de Lorraine.

                                              1. re: naturelle

                                                Or come to Seattle and visit Cafe Besalu.

                                                But seriously, as I've written here and on the France board, it is much easier in NYC, Seattle, or Paris to find a fair or mediocre croissant than to find a really great one. Add to that the times when a croissant that comes from a "famous" supplier was frozen or in plastic wrap, and is then locally defrosted and warmed for serving in a microwave. You might as well order Wonder bread. It will have fewer calories, at least.

                                            2. The king is back, Francois Payard Bakery has the best croissant I had this year. I was in France and Switzerland this summer. I live in Montreal and organized the croissant Dishcrawl in October. Kouign Amann had the crowd favorite but my personal favorite is from Fous Desserts.

                                              FPB has melt in your mouth, flake in your hand, buttery goodness.

                                              I bring you Montreal bagels, you bring me these croissants please.

                                              Francois Payard Bakery
                                              116 W Houston St, New York, NY 10012

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: marblebag

                                                I'm glad to hear that Payard is back. I used to love it, although that was for the pastries. Those I thought were the best French pastries in Manhattan. I don't remember exactly when they closed, but it had been at least a year before that that I last went.

                                                I don't remember trying croissants there, so I have no idea what to expect, other than excellence. From the videos on his website, I do know what his Bûche de Noël is like. (See http://www.payard.com/video.aspx for his food channel Throwdown.) It is the modern form of yule log, not rolled but layered. He apparently only makes it for 5 days each year. It looks fabulous.

                                                I learned to do the bûche in that modern style a couple of years ago at the Lenôtre school in Paris. In order to get the shape right for adding layers, it takes either a commercial chilling machine (in class) or a few days of making components and freezing or chilling them (at home) before final assembly. I make an intense, raspberry filled and topped version with Chanukah decorations I call, obviously, Bûche de Chanukah.

                                                Attached are photos of the original Noël version done in class, and my own done at home. The decorations on the Noël are standard balls and chocolate squares that come from pasty supply vendors. My Chanukah "candles" were my own invention. My French friends say I shouldn't feel bad that I can't duplicate the perfectly even sheen a top baker like Payard would insist on for his bakery. Mine looks . . . artisanale.

                                                1. re: RandyB

                                                  I was about the biggest Payard proponent on this board.
                                                  The new shop is certainly not up to the original.
                                                  The croissant d'almonde used to be my biggest vice in NYC.
                                                  The newfangled version is almost a horror.
                                                  I cannot even recall if I had the plain at FPB.
                                                  The pastry selection is minimal though the one I had was good.
                                                  The best choices from the old shop are not in the new one. I think the bread is the same, however.
                                                  I am unfamiliar with his Buche de Noel but I warn against a hope for the overall level of the original.

                                                  1. re: dietndesire

                                                    Oh dietndesire, this is what I was afraid of. I trust your opinion absolutely and now I'm crushed. I was so hoping that Payard would be as good in the new location as it was in the old. This is bad news.

                                                    At least the bread is the same. Did you try a plain croissant? How about a brioche?

                                                    I suppose I'll make my way there and buy a baguette, a croissant, and a brioche....and then do a raindance before I try them...

                                                    1. re: gutsofsteel

                                                      Again, I forget if I had a plain. The almond was what I always really craved so I had that and the disappointment erased my memory of the plain if it was there.

                                                      Honestly, when the first couple of times I had the baguette I was not very pleased. Later on, I had it and thought it was much better. Best in town, probably not but near enough. I never had the brioche(old or new location) or do not recall what I thought of it.

                                                      So, have at it one time and perhaps you will have a better experience.
                                                      What is not up for discussion is that the operation is not the same. The sheer limitation of the selection(especially the pastries) is so stark and painful.
                                                      Maybe it has improved since the end of summer but that seems unlikely.
                                                      Not as if he needed to learn how to make quality goods.

                                              2. Athom Cafe in Bushwick has the best croissants I've ever had. it is owned by a true Frenchman. Their smoked salmon croissant is to die for.

                                                1. A fellow Chowhouder reccomended Pret a Manger for croissants. We tend to shy away from the chains but this morning we decided to give it a try.
                                                  We got there at opening 7 AM and the croissants were still warm and without going into graphic details they were excellent. Go figure?

                                                  1. i've been reading this with special interest as i've gone out of my way to get the pain au chocolat at Ceci-Cela on a few occasions...which i love...and I have not had better in nyc. I actually find it really buttery, but maybe that's just me (buttery in a good way)

                                                    55 Spring St, New York, NY 10012

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: healaeats

                                                      How buttery can be a matter of taste so there is no one right amount. However, dripping or oozing butter is a baking failure. Using butter that does not have a great flavor is just stupid.

                                                    2. Try La Tropizienne on 109th and 1st. I used to live up that way and I still swing by for the croissants.

                                                      1. Almondine in Brooklyn/ Dumbo - makes amazing almond croissant...and their original ones are quite good too. All of their pastries are first class. I think they use real French butter.(So does Claude but his are denser,and soft inside.) I often take out-of-towners here for sandwiches and treats and we sit under the bridge eating and enjoying the view.Right across from across the street from Jacques Torres.

                                                        Jacques Torres
                                                        285 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10023

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: mirandabrooklyn

                                                          Mirandabrooklyn, French butter is cultured, which adds a nice flavor. It is also usually higher in fat and lower in moisture than US butter, which is essential for flaky pastry and viennoiseries (e.g., croissants). However, there are a few French butters prized for flavor that are not lower moisture and therefore avoided by pastry chefs.

                                                          Two American, low moisture, cultured butters that work well in baking are Plugra and Organic Valley European Style Cultured Butter.

                                                        2. Had a croissant yesterday at Ceci Cela on Spring Street. Late in the afternoon it was still excellent, crispy shell, melt in your mouth center and great buttery flavor. Good recommendation! The macaroons in the window looked appetizing along with some of their other baked goods.

                                                          55 Spring St, New York, NY 10012

                                                          Ceci Restaurant
                                                          78 Sherman Ave, New York, NY 10040

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Blues0010

                                                            There is a new store in Brooklyn (green ville gardens) on myrtle avenue, its actually an organic grocery store but they have an awesome pastry display section, reminded me of the pastry shops in Paris! I tried the double chocolate praline cake and definitely worth the 5 bucks. Pastry wise definitely worth the walk.

                                                          2. We split some really interesting discussion about Croissants in general over to our General Topics board so more people would get a chance to see it. You can follow that strand of the conversation here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/763955