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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 below).

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.

Traveling between 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 purchase.

 

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 coffee.

 

All of these croissants had a nuance – the color, the shape, an ever so slight variation in taste – but all crunched to the last chew.

 

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.

 

History

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 croissant?

 

The nine pillars of pleasure from "le Figaro magazine" are:

 

  1. The layers (le feuilletage) – look for the layers, lots of space, not flat and smooth; crusty exterior, soft inside

  2. The soft 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.

  3. What you 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!»)

  4. What you 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.

  5. What 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?

  6. The smell (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.

  7. Shelf 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, it fades.

  8. The 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.

  9. The 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
11th arrondissement

Closed Tuesday and Wednesday

and 32 rue Turenne, 3rd arrondissement

Closed Sunday and Monday

 

Bruno Solquès (individual, unique interior)

243 rue Saint-Jacques

5th arrondissement

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

13th arrondissement

Tuesday to Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Sunday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Closed Sunday afternoon and Monday

 

M. Voiriot (organic baker)

61 rue de la Galcière, open 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

13th arrondissement

Closed Saturday and Sunday.

 

Others tested by le Figaro

Christophe Michalak

25 avenue Montaigne

8th arrondissement

 

Grégory Desfoux

112 rue de Belleville (20th arrondissement)

48 rue de Tolbiac, 8th arrondissement

32 rue de Bourgogne, 7th arrondissement

 

References

¹ 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.

 

² 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 Steve Kaplan

 

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.

 

pain au chocolat