Tasting croissants in Paris - la dégustation
Buying a croissant is easy. Trying
to find the perfect croissant is, however, difficult and enjoying the
perfect croissant requires guidelines.
Did you ever imagine that a simple
pastry would involve such complications?
You may think that buying a
croissant at the bakery (boulangerie) is a simple matter of point
to it and pay. On the contrary, it should be an emotional experience.
This is a pastry that I never
considered buying before, unless it had almond paste or cream inside.
This humble pastry has a mode de
vie of its own: a history, a method of enjoyment and a carefully
orchestrated beginning. When made properly, the croissant bursts forth
with noisy, tasty life!
A Sunday article in “le Figaro
magazine” referred to the nine pillars of pleasure (volupté)
for appreciating a croissant. The author of the article asked two
well-known Parisian pâtissiers, Pierre Hermé and Laurent Duchêne
to “analyze what makes the heart of the croissant beat” (see the list
It was armed with this list that I
decided to cast carbohydrates to the wind, spending 0,85 to 0,90 euro
cents at five different boulangeries.
my neighborhood in the 11th and across town, I set out to
discover which croissants met the nine-pillar challenge.
The first to meet all of the criteria was close to home
at “au Levain du Marais” on boulevard Beaumarchais.
My husband and I sat in our living room (salon)
sharing thoughts on this simple pastry over a morning coffee. This event
resembled a wine or cheese tasting with running commentary. The
croissant left no grease on our hands. It burst with crunchiness all the
way to the last chew. The smell, taste, softness of the interior and
crumbs were right on target.
If I refer to the croissant as a simple pastry, it is not
to denigrate its preparation.
The baking process
The homemade dough is prepared the night before. The next
day it is worked and turned and flattened
with butter between the folds several times before its overnight rest
and rising. The rolled and curved crescents are then set out on
parchment paper awaiting their 15 minutes of baking on the day of your
Opinion on the life cycle of the croissant varies from
boulanger to boulanger – five to six hours to all day. The
type of flour and other ingredients vary according to the baker’s
choice. Your satisfaction is the final pleasure.
The croissants of Messieurs Solquè, Pouget and Voiriot
came under scrutiny. They were equally good but had to be tested while
walking on the street and in my kitchen instead of leisurely over a
All of these croissants had a nuance – the color, the
shape, an ever so slight variation in taste – but all crunched to the
The only disappointing croissant came from the bakery on
our street corner. It was so buttery that my paper towel was soaked; the
center was heavy and doughy and only the top was crunchy.
According to Mr. Pouget, this was due to insufficient
rising. He said his wife would have thrown it away. It’s a matter of
preference. Mme. Pouget doesn’t like an excessive amount of butter on
her hands. And neither do I. I pitched it after a few bites.
Imagine a shopping list having historical significance.
It helps if one is to dispel a legend.
On June 18, 1549, the bishop of Paris’ home shopper was
given a shopping list that included 40 croissants (quarante gasteau
en croissans). The bishop was giving a party for the queen of
France, (mother of three French kings, and noted instigator of a famous
massacre) Catherine de Médici. This banquet is noted in the inventory of
French cuisine’s history² published by the National Center for Culinary
Arts (Centre national des arts culinaires).
This written evidence beats the legend of the Turks’
laying siege to Vienna in 1683.
Further information about the croissant appears in 1807
when a correspondent for the French publication of Grimod de la
Reynière³. The author was taking an inventory of Parisian delicacies
and pastries eaten with the fingers and was amazed that the small coffee
pastries (petits pain à café) were disappearing.
Later in 1875, the society was once again a buzz with the
issue of croissants pour café.
The nine pillars of volupté
Has the croissant a season? Should it cry out in pain as
you crunch it? Is butter on your fingers a sign of a good or a bad
The nine pillars of pleasure from "le Figaro magazine"
layers (le feuilletage) – look for the layers, lots of
space, not flat and smooth; crusty exterior, soft inside
interior (la mie) – is light and agreeably honeycombed.
When you eat it, it should have crumbs. When you tear off the cornered
end, the soft interior should resist a bit and resist a little. It
should not be doughy.
hear (à l’oreille) – Ideally you should hear the crunch of
the crust. It should crackle the whole while you are biting into it.
As Pierre Hermé says: “you should hear the croissant suffer!” («On
doit entendre la souffrance du croissant!»)
taste (en bouche) – You should taste the amount of butter
rather than the sugar. However, the subtle taste of salt is the
crowning point of a good croissant.
makes a bad croissant (et un mauvais croissant?) – Look to
see if the bottom of the croissant is whitish; it was not cooked long
enough or was poorly baked. Is the croissant flat is appearance and
doesn’t seem to breathe or is it oozing butter?
(l’odeur) – This can be a giveaway, if the croissant smells of
yeast or the metal baking sheet. It should give off an agreeable smell
of creamy butter.
life (sa durée de vie) – The croissant has a very
short shelf life: five or six hours; outside of this, it becomes
stale. Don’t eat the croissant too hot, it loses its taste, its heart,
ingredients (les ingredients) – The choice of butter is
first and foremost. Pierre Hermé uses Viron flour, fleur de sel de
Guérande, butter from the Viette (Charente) region, course sugar and
of course water. But, mineral water.
season (la saison) – Does the croissant have a season? From
the end of October to the beginning of November is not a good time to
buy a croissant. At this point the wheat harvests are blended (the old
with the newly harvested). The dough is more difficult to control.
When ordering, ask for the croissant made with butter (croissant
au buerre). And although winter might be the croissants’ most
popular season, they are available all year round.
Tested and liked
Au Levain du Marais
28, boulevard Beaumarchais
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
and 32 rue Turenne, 3rd arrondissement
Closed Sunday and Monday
(individual, unique interior)
243 rue Saint-Jacques
Closed Saturday and Sunday
L'Atelier des Saveurs
Mr. Pouget (former 1st prize
winner of « Prix de la Meilleure Baguette de Paris »)
94 Boulevard Auguste Blanqui
Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Sunday 8 a.m.
to 2 p.m.
afternoon and Monday
61 rue de la
Galcière, open 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday.
by le Figaro
112 rue de Belleville (20th arrondissement)
48 rue de Tolbiac, 8th arrondissement
32 rue de Bourgogne, 7th arrondissement
le Figaro magazine, cahier no. 3, samedi 26 février,
Attitudes le moment du croissant -le croissant émietté – les neuf
piliers de la volupté - Fol et François Simon avec Gilles Brochard.
French cuisine’s history – Inventaire du patrimoine
culinaire français (Centre national des arts culinaire)
³ Grimod de la Reynière (Alexandre Balthasar
Laurent) French gastronome (one who appreciates the fine
qualities of food) published a famous almanac between 1803 and 1812 (Almanach
des gourmands). He is the originator of food publications (l’initiateur
de la presse gastronomique).
Book on the subject
Cherchez le pain : Guide des meillures
boulangeries du Paris (editor: Pilon) by
Steps to a
croissant with Mr. Pouget
The same dough is used for pain au chocolat
Mr. Pouget's pain au chocolat were excellent
compared to au Levain's -- he uses 3 sticks of chocolate!! and the
pastry was better.