A Croissant Tour of Paris
The "A Life Worth
Eating" Perspective (Adam)
25 October 2009
When I first came to Paris I was determined
to find the best croissant in the city. But the longer I lived here,
and the more croissants I tasted, the clearer things became. There
are several boulangeries here that I would classify as having the
top tier croissants. Of those top bakeries differences come down to
personal preference. Do you prefer a sweeter pastry? More
substantive on the inside? How flaky? Even external factors like
weather and chance affect the outcome of these pastries: absolute
consistency is impossible and is at odds with artisanship. I
couldn’t pick just one place.
My tasting methods were efficient: there were no leftovers. (I
don’t want to talk about the health sacrifice I gave to complete
this delicious study.) I tried to keep things as consistent as
possible by visiting all the bakeries before 10am; nearly 50 of
them, in fact. If it was raining, I returned when it was sunny. I
visited each bakery at least twice.
So, listed below are the five bakeries I believe to have the best
croissants in Paris. They are in no particular order.
Laurent Duchêne, 2, Rue Wurtz, 13e
These croissants are big and bulky; yet, light and airy. Thick, dark
caramel bands wrap this pastry with blisters of tan revealing just
how thin each layer is. A side view immediately shows that despite
the croissant’s bulk, it was still composed of thousands of paper-thin layers. The croissant was sturdy; though, squeezing the
exterior would have broken the shell rather than spring back. There
was a very strong scent of toasted butter. This croissant was very
messy, and tearing off segments resulted in a distinct crackling
sound. Despite the shell’s dryness, however, the inside was
cavernous and moist with spiral-shaped webs revealing the inverse of
the piece I’d torn out. The flavor was salty with a hint of sweet
towards the end, followed by toasted butter.
This is one of the best croissants I’ve ever tasted. Almost hard to
tell whether it was salty or sweet since the two flavors were in
perfect balance. The shell had structure and protected the
croissant’s shape despite my 30-minute journey home through the
Paris subway system. My guess is the firm shell locked in moisture
allowing the croissant to stay fresh throughout the entire morning.
The inside was a nice mix between a hollow cave and a honeycomb,
ensuring that the crust’s texture was crispy and pronounced; but not
dominant. The ends of this croissant were blunt, making each bite
texturally equal: there was no bad bite.
Thierry Renard, 131 bis Boulevard de
Thierry Renard won the Concours du Meilleur Croissant, Ville de
Paris 2008, for having the best croissant in Paris. It’s easy to see
the elements that make this croissant so impressionable: it’s
ultra-light with thin flaking layers, has an airy soft interior with
a rich flavor of butter, and smells lightly toasted. The exterior is
diamond-shaped with one side slightly more pronounced as a
boomerang. The color is a light brown with random strips of shiny
dark brown showing where the pastry was glazed with butter. The
consistency is fluffy and the pastry looks more like it was rolled
than folded: it’s very round. The thin and crispy shell holds
together pretty well as flakes do not brush off easily. When broken,
however, make sure you have a napkin underneath to catch the thin
small pieces that come off. Inside is sort of like a collection of
flower petals: the glutunous webs stretch across the ringed
interior, each waiting to be pulled out and enjoyed. The texture was
chewy, and the inside tasted of buttered dough with a slightly
sweet, rich butter aftertaste.
These croissants were very enjoyable; but they could have been even
more enjoyable had they been cooked just a bit longer to eliminate
the doughy interior. This croissant’s outer shell is a very good
balance between ultra-thin and slightly thicker, bringing the best
of both worlds into a single pastry: thin enough to flake yet thick
enough to absorb maximal butter. The interior was beautiful, and the
thin mesh of butter scented rings gave the croissant substance,
while still keeping it feathery and texturally interesting.
Frédéric Comyn, 27 rue Friant, 14e
I read about Frédéric Comyn from
Chez Pim, who says this is the best croissant
in Paris. It also happened to win the Concours du Meilleur Croissant, Ville de
Paris 2007. Pretty strong recommendations. Strong enough that despite the
terrible weather I trecked out to the last stop on the 4, Porte d’Orléans, to
taste for myself. Sure was worth it. This croissant has a very distinct
spherical appearance; it is nearly as tall as it is wide. Its center arcs
upwards like a crescent instead of sideways, lifting off of the table. It is
quite tall, and perfectly symmetrical. The surface is shiny with copper and
bronze tones. A view from the side reveals a spiral with hundreds of fine
layers. The outer shell is slightly thicker than paper which gives it a
crispiness that is almost moist, since there is more volume to absorb butter.
Despite the thicker shell, this croissant is not greasy. When it fractures, it
leaves behind large pieces with thick flakes. This was not a delicate croissant;
rather, it was substantive and strong. The interior is cavernous with large webs
of pastry stretching between sides of the outer shell. The flavor is of salt and
toasted butter. The outside surface tastes sweet in some parts, as if it was
lightly brushed with butter containing a hint of sugar.
This croissant was wonderfully different: hundreds of light layers thick enough
to absorb butter without feeling greasy. The salting was significant making this
pastry perfectly straddle the line between savory and sweet. The inside was
hollow with pronounced layering. This bold croissant needs absolutely nothing
else to be enjoyed, no confiture, no coffee … nothing; it can stand completely
on its own. Maybe it’s a good thing Frédéric Comyn is a bit out of the way.
Otherwise, I’d be 500 lbs.
Le Quartier du Pain, 74 rue Saint-Charles, 15e
I learned about Le Quartier du Pain from my bible
Paris est à Nous –
Paris Gourmandises guidebook which says that Le Quartier du Pain has
the best croissants in the city. It’s certainly possible. The
diamond-shaped croissants here have an inflated appearance, and are
slightly larger than average. However while large, they are still
essentially weightless since these croissants are light and airy.
The first thing I noticed were the hundreds of layers clearly
visible on the surface, some were shiny and brown, others were matte
and bronze colored. The croissant had a very strong smell of toasted
butter, the 30 minute subway back to my apartment holding this bag
was torture. It’s hard to call the shell of this croissant crispy
since it’s ultra thin, I think flakey is a better word — much like
the brown skin that surrounds an onion. Because of the ultra thin
shell, this croissant did not shatter but flaked all over the place:
it was very messy. One edge of the croissant was minimally frayed;
but since the croissant was uniformly thin it didn’t add any
additional textural element to the exterior. The inside is chewy and
fluffy, and pulling a piece does not uncoil the croissant rather
tugs at the surface from the inside — that’s how thin this is. The
flavor is of butter, but not overly toasted or salted. This would be
excellent company with a coffee.
I very much liked this croissant for its texture, weight, and smell.
It has significant body on the inside, so for those who seek
something crispy this is not going to fit the bill. I found the
flavor gentle, which would be perfect if eating this pastry with a
hot beverage or
confiture. The only thing to be aware of is that it
is greasy: eating with several napkins is obligatory, unless you are
next to a sink to constantly wash your hands. But this croissant may
be the single most masterful pastry I’ve seen in terms of skill —
there is no other croissant whose layers are so cleary detectable
and thin. It is truly a work of art.
Au Levain du Marais, 28, Blvd Beaumarchais
I first read about the croissants at Au Levain du Marais from David Lebowitz,
who says that this is the best croissant in Paris. Frankly, it might very well
be. The croissants from Au Levain du Marais are not so crescent shaped as they
are diamond shaped. With the exception of fanned out frills on one end, these
croissants are nearly perfectly symmetrical. The croissants have beautiful broad
stripes of pretzel brown and amber that alternate the surface. Each tip has a
beautiful fanning of layers making it clear just how much work actually went
into this edible art. The width gently tapers off at each side, without any
striking changes in size.
When I first tried to pull out a piece, I had trouble grabbing hold ! My hands
crinkled through the soft and delicately crispy shell, much like crumbling
tissue paper used to package gifts. I realized more care would be necessary, and
I began to tear off a piece with as little force as possible, so as not to
destroy the texture. The fanned end was light and crispy but not dry, more like
a butter wafer. This was the first bite of the croissant I took, and my favorite
— each part of this croissant has a different texture, and since none of these
parts are dry, each is absolutely rife with the flavor of toasted butter with a
hint of sugar and salt. The inside of the middle is very soft with clearly
visible layers of rings. Stretched across these rings were thin webs of soft
dough, full of moisture. This was a very messy croissant to eat, since it
shattered all over the plate. Some parts of the outer shell tasted sweet — hard
to tell if they were sitting next to some other sweet pastries or if the shell
was lightly brushed with some kind of sugar. Regardless, absolutely delicious.
It was a bit of a travel for me to get to this bakery; but shortly after
finishing this croissant I hopped right back on the subway to get a couple more.
These croissants were wonderful.
© 2009 A Life Worth Eating. Used by permission. All rights
reserved. "A Life Worth Eating : New York Perspectives on
International Cuisine" www.alifewortheating.com