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Mar 29, 2014 01:03 PM

Lobrano on croissants

Interesting piece on young breed of pastry chefs who are revitalising the art of making croissant dough.

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  1. He didn't name my favorites, though.

    18 Replies
    1. re: Nancy S.

      He named one of my faves: Gaudard.
      Gontran Cherrier is good too, and has very good sandwiches.

      1. re: Parigi

        I saw that Gaudard also won for 'best lemon tart' on ParisbyMouth, but like Pierre Hermé, he doesn't open until 10am!: Pretty late in the day to wait for a fresh croissant.

        Any recommendations for a place in Madeleine/Vendome area that can hook me up with a 7-8am carb and butter fix? Extra points for great pain au chocolat!

        1. re: non sequitur

          Sorriest, I don't get up that early either. And that area is slim picking for boulangeries.
          In my very limited knowledge, the nearest good boulangerie-pâtisserie (why go to just any one ?) is Valentin in Passage Jouffroy, open at 8:30am.

          1. re: Parigi

            Thanks Parigi! Some more research turned up Romp Gaëtan, which is both closer, and open earlier (no website to confirm this, but yelp review says 7am). Romp was also 2nd place in the "best bagette 2011" competition (ParisbyMouth).

            1. re: non sequitur

              Bravo for the find. It must not be shabby.
              But the Le Valentin, 9 minute walk away, is a nice tea house where you can sit down.
              -- I don't mean to talk you out of anything. You know your itinerary best and the options that are best for you. You can't miss. Please report back.

              1. re: Parigi

                Sitting down is less of a consideration, since my objective is to grab-and-go with food to fuel the family before a day of marching. Quality first, then maybe price, with ambiance a distant third.

                The report back won't be until this summer, but will come. Before then, ParisbyMouth will have had its 2014 ranking published (in May, if the pattern holds), and maybe more options will be uncovered. Can't wait: I love their map-based rankings.

          2. re: non sequitur

            "I saw that Gaudard also won for 'best lemon tart' on ParisbyMouth"

            Somebody on this thread was one of the judges and voted for Gaudard (and never wants to see another lemon tart ever again in her life).

            1. re: Parigi

              "Somebody on this thread was one of the judges"
              Well, my Dear, I too voted, unless I was disqualified due to senility and we had Larher's again last week, and it was special. But then, I, as opposed to the mob here, think he does good stuff.

        2. re: Nancy S.

          I'll bite. Who are your favorites?

          1. re: DaTulip

            I feel I've been a monotonous poster always naming my favorites, but I'll gladly reiterate -- Pierre Herme and Des Gateaux et du Pain (which now has a second shop on rue du Bac in the 7th).

            1. re: MarySteveChicago

              Last year and this year's Meilleure Baguette winners are from the 14th.

              1. re: Parigi

                Ha! Baguettes are good. I suppose. Maybe. Yes, with cheese or meat. Or jam. But........

              2. re: MarySteveChicago

                Lobrano named only five; there are good ones in every neighborhood. You can just cross over to to the other side of Gare Montparnasse to the 15e and try Des Gateaux et du Pain, one of the above poster's favorite. More in the center of the 14e is Dominques Saibron. Few years ago when were near rue Daguerre, there was Au Levain d'Antan. Don't know if it is still there.

                1. re: PBSF

                  Au Levain d'Antan is now on rue des Abbesses, in Montmartre. It won the Meilleure Baguette prize 3 years ago.

                  1. re: Parigi

                    Thanks; he did open a shop at rue des Abbesses; just didn't know if he kept the one in the 14th. If closed that, not much else in the Daguerre neighborhood.

                    1. re: PBSF

                      I doubt it. A few weeks ago I was the interpreter for an interview of the very nice louganer Mr. Barillon, who said he did not want to open branches like the "K" bakeries. He said one could not be everywhere at once. He does go to Japan yearly to conduct training of boulangers, and he brings with him an unbelievable amount of his own levain.

              3. Strange that Lobrano doesn't include the bakeries whose croissants actually win awards. Fiddling with the formulation and production may indeed be interesting but that alone doesn't guarantee that these new-style bakers actually create a superior or more tasty product. Judging from the Syndicat de la Boulangerie-Pâtisserie d’Ile-de-France's recent competitions for "le meilleur croissant au beurre", 134 RdT in the 3rd, Le Grenier du Pain des Abbesses in the 18th, Boulangerie l'Essentiel Mouffetard in the 5th, Boulangerie des Belles Feuilles in the 16th, Maison Pichard in the 15th, and Laurent Duchêne in the 13th are where you want to go for a superior croissant.

                Personally, I'm a croissant-is-a-croissant-is-a-croissant kind of guy so I don't have a favourite other than as fresh as possible. And even if I had a favourite, I certainly wouldn't go out of my way for it. Pain au chocolat -- aka chocolate croissant (sic) to you American types-- is, however, a different story. A duel (but pea-shooters, not pistols at 20 paces, ok?) if you don't agree that Bread&Roses' pain au chocolat is outstanding.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Parnassien

                  Whose chocolate do they use? As far as I'm concerned this is critical. Ideally Cluizel (or possibly Bonnat, although these tend to have too much cocoa butter in this application). Not Valrhona, not any more; the quality has declined precipitately.

                  And what style of feuilletage do they use - the medium-number-of-layers style or the true millefeuille? It looks like the former from the pictures on the site at least. I admit I prefer the millefeuille style.

                  1. re: AlexRast

                    Dunno... all I can say is that it tastes damn good... I'm a bad bad foodie, I guess.

                  2. re: Parnassien

                    You know, he just did as usual and picked the cutest places, that's the bill of specs for the NYT/WSJ. Cliché is more important than substance.

                    1. re: Ptipois

                      That's just fine with me. As to the NYT/WSJ readers who dog the places touted in these articles, "Let them eat cute!"

                  3. I'm getting a feeling that a lot of posters don't live in Paris and are searching for the "best" of which some of us have taken a pledge not to respond to.
                    I guess that's OK but really, I walk out and buy whatever.
                    I know that's not PC or my most dreaded word - foodie - but it's real.

                    18 Replies
                    1. re: John Talbott

                      There are oodles of great butter croissants in Paris. They're so good on an average basis that it does not really matter to me where I buy them. Of course I'm always happy when I can drop by Dominique Saibron or Secco, or breakfast at Le Bristol where Laurent Jeannin makes such light croissants that you have to catch them before they start to fly, but good croissants are really one thing you don't need to bother too much to locate.

                      1. re: Ptipois

                        Indeed, every arrondissement has more than one good boulangeries. One does not have to cross town to get one's croissant, for xyz's sake.
                        Especially when it comes to croissant.
                        After all it is a breakfast thing. I can't cross town for my breakfast. It has to be nearby, very nearby. In the morning, I don't know about you, I am in comatose mode until I get my breakfast.

                        1. re: Parigi

                          What visitors seldom realize it that Paris is a collection of villages, each of which is really self-sustaining, with its own high quality boulangerie, patisserie, fromagerie/laiterie, boucherie et al. There is usually at least one stand-out in each community. Few ever make headlines while churning out consistent quality product, often an an astoundingly low price compared to those with hyped PR.

                          1. re: Parigi

                            I agree, and I have only to walk down the block for a Gateaux et du Pain croissant now that the shop exists on rue du Bac.

                          2. re: Ptipois

                            And no matter how good the croissants are at Pierre Hermé, not being able to buy one until his shops open at 10am just doesn't work.

                            1. re: PBSF

                              That's what I've been saying.
                              If you point a gun at me and force me to cross town for my breakfast, I will miss my metro stop and wake up in some suburb. -- How are the croissants in the burbs ?

                              1. re: Parigi

                                Whilst I totally agree that the best ones are local.

                                However, I once bought some on the way from the car park to see my GP at the British Hospital in Levallois-Perret - it as superb and worth a trip. But I never managed to find it again...!

                                1. re: PhilD

                                  Not croissants, but baguette! Last May 1 found us in Bievres. It was freezing. We were starving. The town was shut tight as a drum except for the fete. Finally, a simple boulangerie. " No sandwiches", says Chuck. "No, Chuck, ASK the nice lady." "Mais oui, madame. LOUISE!!!" and some munchkin in the back room brought us the all time best, finest, to drop dead for ham and cheese on a baguette we have ever had. For something like 2.50€.

                                  I'm going back. And Louise better be in the back room.

                              2. re: PBSF

                                The croissant Ispahan at Pierre Herme is worth the waiting

                            2. re: John Talbott

                              I'm not sure taking a pledge not to respond to "best of" questions is the fairest or most productive approach.

                              On the one hand, yes, there are some people at one extreme who, imagining there's a single "best" in the sense of an absolute rank order, develop an obsession with going there and nowhere else. The arguments against this approach are numerous: it doesn't give due respect or credit to the (possibly many) other people in any trade who are working hard and producing a top-quality result; it distorts the importance of a particular person or business in a way that can lead to a "honeypot" effect; it can end up driving worthy establishments out of business, if too much attention is paid to the hypothetical "winner"; it risks the creation of a "canonical" style imagined to be superior; perhaps most fundamentally, it imagines that there can be such a thing as an objective "best" in a qualitative area. I would agree with all of this.

                              On the other hand, however, a reverse extreme that some others take is that there are no meaningful differences in quality at all and that the choice should be made purely on the grounds of expediency. Suprisingly, this brings with it very similar problems: the driving out of business of quality manufacturers (since the necessarily higher cost of a top-notch product makes them uncompetitive in an indifferent market), a lack of due credit to any business (since they're all the same anyway), homogenisation of style (because it doesn't matter, so they will drift towards the cheapest approach), and also can lead to a general cynicism in the industry, if no one seems to appreciate their product beyond basic satisfaction of immediate need.

                              The truth is that there are real and meaningful differences in quality, and this doesn't stop at simple broad divisions between good and bad - there are always a smallish group of truly great places, pursuing their chosen craft with an obsession, who put out products so manifestly better than even the majority of "good" ones that it makes it worthwhile to seek out some places over others.

                              My suspicion is that many if not most people asking for "best" aren't expecting some absolute authoritative statement which attempts to narrow the choice down to a single establishment, but rather are asking for different personal opinions that identify the great from the good - they want to make it clear that they're seeking the extraordinary rather than the simply day-to-day acceptable. For similar reasons I suspect that most people who say they don't really care are really saying that while they may want something decent it's not as if price, time, and logistics are irrelevant. It's just 2 groups with a different "good-enough" threshold.

                              In that light not responding at all to "best" questions is just keeping hidden all the possibly worthy establishments that might benefit from a mention - and if you don't mention anything it is certain they won't go there unless it's already well-known. That's not doing the business any favours.

                              As other posters have mentioned, Paris does operate rather as a series of semi-independent villages, with good establishments in each, but if they're not mentioned, they're certainly not going to make headlines or get noticed, and again this risks them eventually being driven out of business.

                              I personally don't buy the low price argument though. Real quality doesn't have zero cost. A truly high-quality place will inevitably have to charge somewhat more than a mass-market place. Now yes, there are always a few places trading exclusively on reputation, who use this as a way to inflate prices beyond their intrinsic value, but I *don't* believe that all people operating in the business are bound to be cynical operators or that developing a good reputation inevitably corrupts people.

                              1. re: AlexRast

                                Alex - I don't disagree with the arguments in theory. But in practice we need to look at the range of options. So to the question, where are the best croissants in Europe, then its easy the answer is going to be France. Where are the best croissants in France though is more tricky, I think its reasonable to say that French (artisan) croissants are in the worlds top 5% so you are already far far better than the ones available in most cities.

                                You then distil this down to Paris and ask for the best of the best, and that's where it gets tricky as you are already at the top level, and at a level many will fund superlative. Only the real croissant geek will be able to tell whether croissant A, B, or C is better as they are all superb and better than anything most visitors have eaten.

                                Thus seeking out the best of the best croissants is going to be an unfulfilling exercise for nearly everyone. In Paris most people will will find a better croissant than they have had before within their neighbourhood.....30 minutes on the metro won't improve the experience. And are they secret? Of course not, they have queues, they are artisan bakers, they look good. And at this price point a mistake isn't tragic, its just an excuse to try the next one.

                                Many of the "best" questions in Paris sort of fit into this model. Baguettes, patisserie, charcuterie, wine bars, french bistros, "palace" restaurants etc etc. Its unfortunate most cities don't have food that meets the standard of Paris, its even more of a pity that these cities only have food of this quality in pockets (and I have lived in other great food cities but none like Paris).

                                So for these cities the "best" is really going to be unique and on a pedestal. So it is essential to seek it out, but in Paris the best is far from unique, the best forms part of a pack, and therefore no need to feel stressed that you may not be at the absolute pinnacle of the best, because, to be honest, most people couldn't tell the difference between the best and the 100th best in a city like Paris.

                                1. re: PhilD

                                  I think a note of caution and real life is in order here. First, I don't think it's a given that it's automatic that the best croissants are going to be in France, and it's even less of a certainty that an arbitrarily chosen shop in France or, specifically, Paris, is going to be good. Like most places the majority are going to be...average.

                                  The same is true of, e.g. coffee in Rome, sausages in Berlin, bagels in New York, or dim sum in Hong Kong - anything reasonably cheap and part of the daily life of a community. The idea that "all places are good" in a given city or country for a given product is one of the more common and less accurate of broad generalisations in my opinion. People are people wherever you go, and commodity markets are always filled with a lot of very average goods. There isn't any sort of mystique surrounding particular products in particular areas, that makes the *average* level of quality fantastic.

                                  However, in an area with a large population, where a given item is popular, and especially when it's part of the popular culture, it's highly probable that there will be a greater *absolute* number of really good establishments, because there's more local demand, but this is in the context of a greater number of establishments, period. As the market gets larger the distribution of quality/price/convenience gets closer to a smooth curve rather than a stepped or isolated scattering of points, so more of the high end is exposed (but also more of the low end). That does make your chances of finding a good place for croissants or whatever higher than in a low-population, uninterested culture (e.g. I doubt the croissants available in, say, Berwick-on-Tweed are anything particularly special, although there can always be freakish exceptions). But all of this is just a function of statistics and numbers. If you want quality, you still have to know where to look and how to search - because to the uninformed person wandering the streets of Paris the number of shops selling croissants is so large even within a 5-minute wander that they'll have no way of being able to single out a given place.

                                  I also would disagree with the idea that most people won't be able to tell the difference - because it's my experience time after time that anyone can tell the difference between great and good instantly. Indeed, that is part of the definition of great: something so manifestly excellent that to everyone who experiences it, it's instantly self-evident that it's in an entirely different category from usual or even good. In the case of food, that difference is particularly stark because greatness evokes a powerful, visceral reaction that you can't mistake or ignore - and if it doesn't do that then it's not great. Greatness is not a difference in finely graded distinctions.

                                  However, that doesn't necessarily make it something you'll need or even want to have every day; if you live in Paris, self-evidently practical considerations, if nothing else, are going to come into play on a day-to-day basis; if that really wonderful patisserie or boulangerie is 8 metro stops in the wrong direction away, it's going to become an occasional treat rather than a daily visit. I do think however it's worth supporting such places with regular "occasional treats" - to make sure they have a reason to stay in business.

                                  Of course as you say a mistake isn't tragic - indeed it's perhaps an excuse to try them all! :-) But for the visitor on holiday or on a business trip, with limited opportunities and possibly no prospect of a return any time soon, they are likely in a mood to optimise their chances, if nothing else. That's where a little information is better than remaining silent.

                                  Parigi, words may have meaning but most people are not technical scientists or grammarians who are taking pains to use explicit and unambiguous language. They want to convey their ideas simply and approximately.

                                  Even if we did want to split hairs over terminology, though, saying "what's your favourite" or "what do you like", does not, in fact convey the idea of identifying the great from the good - because someone's personal favourite may include factors other than intrinsic quality of the croissants on offer, and furthermore because there are others who aren't really bothered about great versus good anyway, who might respond with favourites based on a "decent" level rather than an "excellent" level. It's a bit like asking "what's your favourite chocolate" - a question that's not likely in a random group to identify the great. For similar reasons there is probably a big difference between someone saying "We're staying in (x), what's convenient?" and "We just want anything and aren't too fussed; which one is the nearest?"

                                  However, it's not necessary to have done an exhaustive sampling to be able to answer a "best" question - unless the person asking the question is going to hold you responsible for your statement as a matter of absolute empirical fact. (And as I've mentioned, that kind of expectation is absurd). It's sufficient to have tried enough to understand what the landscape of possibility looks like, and then it's easy to extrapolate from that to identify the place(s) in your own experience for which a case can be made that they're the "best" (A list of recommendations is usually more informative than a single choice)

                                  1. re: AlexRast

                                    I can't agree that the principle of extrapolation from extensive sampling applies to determining what is the finest. It is the "est" in best and finest that is the deal killer. It suggests that there is only one that fits the determination, while sampling can well leave out that one example.

                                    FWIW, I don't eat croissants. I just don't much like them.

                                    1. re: AlexRast

                                      Fantastic ! Croissant hair-splitting again. We needed it so bad.
                                      You know, around here, we just walk in, buy them, and eat.

                                      How many viennoiseries can dance on the point of a needle?

                                      This is our everyday food, folks. No need to write a thesis on it.

                                      1. re: AlexRast

                                        That is 2 minutes of my life I won't get back.

                                        1. re: AlexRast

                                          I don't think I said every croissant in France is better than another country. My argument would be if country A has a distribution around lets say 6/10 then France's distribution will be around 8/10. So chances of having a good to great croissant are far higher. And arguably the averagely bad one in France will still beat the average in other countries (Tokyo maybe the exception) as the upper decile or quartile may well be better than all but the odd outlier in country A.

                                          And clearly not everywhere is good in a neighbourhood. But the great are simple to find. I seem to remember that when I lived in Paris I had about 6 to 10 bakeries within a reasonable walk, but of those, I discount the shell garage, a number were not artisan bakers, and a few didn't do butter croissants. That left a small number and the queues outside were the final clues.

                                          I agree it maybe easy to tell the difference between good and great. But I am not so certain many people can tell a great one from another great one unless that is their day to day standard. I suspect if they travel from great bakery to great bakery they will find them all fantastic. And if they come from a country or city which only has average ones then a great one will be such a revelation they will think them all good.

                                          Then there is the other intangible. If you go to your great neighbourhood bakery early in the morning they will be good and fresh from the oven - which maybe is the difference that makes the difference. Timing your run to a great bakery across town will be more tricky and to frank pretty soul destroying before a coffee and a nice warm croissant.

                                          1. re: PhilD

                                            (PhilD, in case it wasn't clear, I was replying to AlexRast. I totally agree with you here.)

                                      2. re: AlexRast

                                        "My suspicion is that many if not most people asking for "best" aren't expecting some absolute authoritative statement "

                                        Words have meaning.
                                        Then they can simply ask: "what is your favorite" or "what do you like".
                                        Until I have sampled all croissnts in Paris, I am simply not qualified to answer the "best" question, and probably none of us are. It is not that we are withholding info.

                                    2. Another question is which bakeries DO NOT start each morning unloading the delivery truck load of two day processed dough and simply finish bake on site in time to sell for the wandering customer looking through blurry eyes for something to match up with much needed coffee.

                                      Of course my question implies total on site processing AND baking is superior to whomever fills the truck and just asks your local guy to brown it up in time for us to stagger in.

                                      I have a guest coming to visit with a hunt for the ultimate croissant high on his blurry eyed agenda. The walks should be beneficial. I plan to follow. Will report.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: hychka

                                        @ Alex Rast

                                        You were joking of course when you used Rome with regard to coffee, weren't you?

                                              1. re: Parigi

                                                @ Rio
                                                Not really back. Saving that for our trip to Paris later this year and trying your fabulous coffee places.

                                                But after that treatise from Alex, was merely wondering why he singled out Rome in general for coffee. Naples, Mantova, Milan, Trieste, Udine yes, but Rome?