In search of the best croissant in Paris
Is there anything more delicious to start the day than breakfast with a good croissant? I am in Paris and I cannot be satisfied by just any kind of croissant. I want breakfast with the best! I decide to go to the city’s most famous boulangeries to discover the best croissant in Paris, maybe even in the world…
It is a good idea to get an early start. We want to taste all of the croissants before 10:00 AM, which is not an easy feat! First we must find each bakery. Then, we must wait for the croissants to be served fresh out of the oven. So the sooner we arrive the better, and the boulangeries usually open at 7:30… With map in hand, we begin!
How to identify a quality croissant
What characteristics should you look for in a good croissant? There are some simple guidelines to help you recognize quality and distinguish between an artisan product and an industrial one. Even in Paris, the birthplace of the croissant, 85% of croissants for sale are frozen industrial products.
Look – Appearance is very important. Here are the elements that you should pay attention to:
- A well-made crust with caramel color: Make sure that the croissant is well cooked, that it is bright and has a caramel or intense gold color. Don’t trust pale-colored croissants. These could be industrially produced or made with margarine (or worse yet, palm oil). The croissant must be well cooked so that it can develop all of its complex aromas and flavors.
- The griddle mark: The base of the croissant must be cooked more than the top part, due to its contact with the baking sheet. This is a sign that the croissant is made in an artisan oven, since industrial ovens do not produce this mark.
- The feuilletage,or lamination, has to be evident: If the feuilletage layers are not visible, it is indicative of bad quality. To verify if it is correct, we conduct the feuilletage test. There are two ways to carry out the test:
- The first consists of trying to lift the “crest,” or collarette, of the croissant (the top layer in the center): if it is handmade, the pastry sheets will separate in layers, while an industrial croissant will break and fall apart.
- The other method is to pull one end of the croissant (les oreilles, the ears, as they are called in French), turning in the opposite direction from which it was rolled, in order to undo the feuilletage. If the layers separate, the croissant is handmade.
- The handmade croissants are all different: Being handmade, their shape varies from one to the other, contrary to industrial products.
- Don’t pay attention to the shape of the air pockets, or crumb; it is not a criterion of quality.
Smell: First, smell the croissant’s exterior. Then, open it to appreciate the aromas inside.
- The outer crust must be a concentrated scent of roasted flour and caramel. If the croissant is undercooked, it will not caramelize well and the aromas will not develop perfectly; therefore, the croissant will lose much of its aromatic complexity.
- The inside of the croissant must have scents of butter and fresh cream, hints of yeast (due to the poolish, or starter dough) and nuts. They should be well integrated, balanced, and none of them in excess.
Taste: Both the texture and taste of the croissant are important.
- The crispy exterior and melt-in-your-mouth interior: Due to the well-caramelized feuilletage we look for a crispy outer texture in a croissant. However, the inside must be tender and moist.
- The taste has to be endless and complex, reflecting the scents of caramel, butter, yeast, and nuts. The more persistent and enjoyable, the better.
Croissants from a baker and croissants from a pastry chef
We can distinguish between two styles of homemade croissants.
- Croissants boulanger, bakery style: usually under cooked (less puffy), made in a bread oven where heat comes from below.
- Croissants patissier, pastry style: puffier, spongier and with bigger crumb, baked in ventilated ovens that make the croissants rise even higher.
We will try both types of croissants since both professional styles create a great product. In addition, we will see how there are bakers that make pastry croissants and pastry chefs that prepare bakery style croissants.
The best croissants of Paris: winner’s list!
In searching for the best Parisian croissant, I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to decide which one to choose!
Even in the jungle of industrial counterfeits sold in artisan style stores, Paris has a number of magnificent professionals who make extraordinary croissants. Consequently, it is worth your while to spend a weekend in this city.
To choose the best among these croissants is now a question of personal taste. If I had to choose one to eat for breakfast every morning, I would choose the Christophe Vasseur croissant. But being able to decide freely, I would eat a different croissant each day.
I have divided them into three categories:
1. Incontournables (Unavoidable croissants)
2. Maître de’œuvre (Master croissants)
3. Croissants de fantasie (Fancy croissants)
1. Incontournables (Unavoidable croissants): Impressive and, as the Michelin guide would say, worth a detour to look at them. After eating these croissants, you’ll recall all of life’s aromas, flavor and texture.
The Clair Damon croissant: Beautiful and well made, a clear example of the croissant patissier. Perfectly cooked, with an intense golden color, it has a rich and prominent laminate. It is larger in size (I have tasted them on three different occasions) and tends to have an element characteristic of façonnage, where the tip of the collarette almost curves under the croissant. Well-crusted due to the masterly feuilletage, which is a fabulous contrast to the croissant’s interior that melts in your mouth. The smell is very balanced, with scents of butter, light hints of yeast and toasted nuts.
Des Gâteaux et du Pain. 63, Boulevard Pasteur www.desgateauxetdupain.com
The Christophe Vasseur croissant: Here we have the croissant boulanger prototype, well cooked, slightly raw but very lightweight at the same time. The base of the croissant clearly displays the griddle mark. It is a croissant that wants to be different and perfectly reflects the character of Christophe Vasseur and his constant search for excellence. It has a very original form with big ears where the feuilletage really stand out (it almost looks like a lobster tail…). The exterior smells like caramel and roasted flour, while the interior is very complex: scents of fresh butter, cream, almonds, white flowers, and a hint of poolish. When you take a bite of this croissant, you will experience immense pleasure: crunchy, with a thin laminate that falls apart in your mouth, but still very tender and soft on the inside. A long, complex, infinite taste…I liked it so much that when I finished the tasting I could not resist and immediately ate another.
Du Pain et des Idées. 34, Rue Yves Toudic www.dupainetdesidees.com
2. Los croissants maître d’œuvre (Master croissants): Masterpieces from two great bakers known for their placement in the famous competition, Meilleur Croissant au Beurre AOC Charentes-Poitou (Best Croissant with AOC Charentes-Poitou Butter),organized by the Chambre Professionnelle des Artisans Boulangers-Pâtissiers de Paris(Professional Chamber of Boulangers-Pâtissiers Artisans in Paris).
The Frédéric Pichard croissant (Best Croissant in Paris, 2011): What to say about Frederic Pichard! His boulangerie is one of my favorites and is a must-stop during my gourmand escapades to Paris. We have already spoken about his philosophy and his passion for raised dough, as well as his fabulous baguette tradición (baguette tradition). His croissant is no less. Named Best Croissant in Paris in 2011, it is well baked, containing Feuilletage with a crunchy exterior and tender inside. Typical scents of butter, fresh cream and yeast. The croissant and baguette tradición are best sellers in his boutique, but the different types of brioches and pastries are also extraordinary.
Boulangerie Pichard. 88, Rue Cambronne
The Benjamin Turquier croissant (Second Best Croissant in Paris, 2013): This is an example of a croissant patissier made by a baker. In perfect regular form, it is a beautiful sight. It has a gorgeous laminate, though not especially crispy. It is well developed and lightweight. Benjamin Turquier also has a second bakery just down the side street, Rue de Saintonge, which is open on Saturday. Here, you can taste the croissant in peace while drinking coffee. This is another obligatory stop in Paris, since it is right across from Jacques Genin’s pastry shop…
134RDT. 134, Rue de Turenne
3. Los croissants fantasie (Fancy croissants): I must confess that I am a purist. For me, the croissants have to be nature (natural), with classic butter, preferably Issigny or Charentes-Poitou denomination of origin. I am not very biased towards fancy croissants, with their added ingredients and flavors, though they are fabulous. In any case, here, I want to point out two croissants that have convinced even me that they are worth trying.
Sadaharu Aoki’s Matcha croissant: With this Matcha croissant, Sadaharu Aoki achieves a perfect fusion between East and West. Very crispy and smooth with a masterful laminate, Aoki also strikes a perfect balance between the aroma and flavor of green tea with classic butter, fresh cream and yeast. A sample of how the Japanese work to reach perfection, as corroborated by the elegance of the wonderful pastries you can try in their Port Royal boutique. You can sit in the boutique and taste the croissant alongside a cappuccino, which could almost be Italian, or a good coffee, which is not so easy to find in Paris. The perfect breakfast!
Sadaharu Aoki. 56, Boulevard de Port Royal www.sadaharuaoki.com
Pierre Hermé’s Ispahan croissant: The list of our favorite croissants in Paris would not be complete without mentioning the most famous Pierre Hermé. Unfortunately, while his nature croissant proved to be disappointing (I tried on more than one occasion so I advise you to forget him), it is still worth trying the Ispahan croissant. The aromatic complexity of this brilliant combination of raspberry, rose petals, almonds and litchi makes this a different croissant. The exterior has bits of dried raspberries over a pink glaze, while its interior hides pink almond paste, raspberry compote and litchi, which dissolve in your mouth and blend with the rest of the croissant.
Pierre Hermé. 72, Rue Bonaparte www.pierreherme.com