Monday, November 01, 2010

American Smackdown in Paris: le croissant

Is it really fair to declare that one boulangerie makes the best croissant in all of Paris? Probably not. Is it fun to sample, compare and analyze in the quest to proclaim a reigning city champ? Bien sur.

So for the third American Smackdown in Paris, nine tasters—bloggers and friends, hailing from London, Australia, New Jersey and Paris, including a very special guest appearance by Carol Gillott—came together to declare whose croissant is the flakiest, airiest, most buttery and delicious in all of Paris.

What we were looking for:

The Exterior
A pleasant and consistent color and shape. Does it look like a French croissant? More important, is its shell crisp and flaky, leaving a giant bib of crumbs on your front side?

The Interior
Filled with light, tender layers. Is it stretchy, but not doughy or overly chewy? (A byproduct of overworking the dough, pastry chef Rachel Khoo, shared in her brief but thorough overview of the two-day croissant-making process.)

The Flavor
On a butter scale of “not nearly enough” to “gross, give me a napkin”, it should be squarely in the middle (or a titch on the gross side). A hint of sweet or salty, according to personal preference.

Overall Experience
Maybe it looks perfect, but doesn’t have the crispy bite that shatters crumbs everywhere. Or the inside is lovely and light, but flavorless. The croissant needs to have that certain je ne sais quoi that everything else in France does.



The Croissants
It was not easy coming up with the contenders to go under such scrutiny. In fact, I found it disappointing—sacrilegious, even—that the most current Best Croissant in Paris list was done by Le Figaro in 2006. While there is the official Concours du Meilleur Croissant, and plenty of bloggers who have done their own analyses, you’d think there would be a more celebrated declaration each year.

So for our purposes, I took David Lebovitz’s love for the “buttery beauties” from Au Levain du Marais; Gérard Mulot’s highly acclaimed croissants; and a third mystery contender, just to shake things up and keep it interesting.

And the results? Très surprising...

Au Levain du Marais




Surprisingly, this boulangerie fared the poorest. While the croissants received nods for “perfect form”, their flavor was “flat” and “not buttery” enough. The interior was too “dry”, “dense” and “leaves me wanting.”

Gérard Mulot



Personally, I liked the smaller, tubular shape of Gérard Mulot’s croissants, but that they look more like biscuits than croissants rubbed some people the wrong way. When it came to flavor, however, they reigned supreme: “Buttery”, “very buttery”, “super buttery”—the taste is “what I expect from a croissant”.

Mystery Contender



A near upset, folks! While “quite fluffy” and “perfect form!”, these offered “no crunch”, were “flat” and “flavorless”—perhaps a bit “too uniform”? Still, nearly half the tasters were in favor of these croissants… from Monoprix.

Au final, controversy, surprise, and a little disappointment. “None of them was my perfect croissant,” as Kasia said. Perhaps the fourth American Smackdown in Paris will have to revisit this French classic…

11 comments:

Les rêves d'une boulangère (Brittany) said...

Great post! Croissants are such a typical treat of France; so yes, you should definitely continue your search.

Lost In Cheeseland said...

Ooooohhhhh how I wish I had been able to make this smackdown!! When will the next one be? I MUST be there. Looks like it was thorough research, well done!

a Broad said...

Oh ~ to have been there ...
We have medialunas here. They look like perfect little croissants but they are soaked in honey.
After a few years now, I have adjusted.
I can no longer recall the taste of a real Croissant.
( you may feel sorry for me now)

ParisBreakfasts said...

Big Merci for the shout out!
The croissant smackdown continued for me the next day (much to the detriment of my waistline) since the St. Germain pool is nearby Gerard Mulot and a skip away from Pierre Herme. Plus there was the 'local' boulangerie on my street corner, which in the end won out for their hint of sel and the the unwindingness of the crispy dough, if that makes any sense.
Fortunately I left Paris in the evening, so no more croissant smackedowns for a while...
Loads of fun and I love reading your commentary here. I wish I had boned up and read it before attending.
There is no reason on earth why a big purveyor like Monop should not do a mean croissant, she said in defense of her lowly choice.
Carolg :)

Lana said...

So fantastic! Have you ever had Moisan? Small chain of biologique boulangeries and they have the best croissants/baguettes in Paris! Yes, I just said that!

Karin (an alien parisienne) said...

How fun to read the review! And once again, I can enjoy vicariously without making myself sick in the process, so thank you. :)

I absolutely loved this sentence: "On a butter scale of “not nearly enough” to “gross, give me a napkin”, it should be squarely in the middle (or a titch on the gross side)."

Hahahahaha! Brilliant. :)

I wanted to let you know that last week before you did the Smackdown, I had read this article about an almond croissant comparison:
A Life Worth Eating: Croissants aux Amandes. It is a SUPER comprehensive post (and a little pretentious, but the author is a serious Foodie, so it probably should be an exact and discerning write-up). I thought it might give you some ideas of other places to try, and maybe doing an almond version of the croissant Smackdown, too.

Thanks, Amy, for another great installment, and if you ever decide to do a tasting comparing olives, or pickles, or frites or something else without gluten or dairy, let me know! :D

Karin (an alien parisienne) said...

P.S. OMG, too, too, funny!! I just saw that you left a comment there at the link I gave you, hee hee hee!!

Well, I am glad you found the article! I re-read it just now (and saw you commented) and it really is an amazing write-up of almond croissants, huh. :)

Kasia Dietz said...

Regardless of the croissants being 'less than' (loved that you threw in a Monoprix 'surprise' btw, very sneaky!), it was a very well spent morning with one of France's specialties. I'm ready for more! Pain au chocolat, croissants aux amandes (one of my personal favorites)...saving my appetite!

Sweet Freak said...

Thank you everyone who attended and everyone who commented... these Smackdowns are harder to declare winners for than you'd think! Diligence, concentration, a willingness to forget about body fat ratios (!) - it's a tough job but somebody's gotta do it.

Candice, the medialunas sound pretty heavenly - croissant meets baklava??

Lana, I have not heard of Mosian - I'll add it to the list!

Karin, I will be happy to eat any pastry on your behalf, you know that, right??

Yes, the next Smackdown will have to be a good one... thinking cap going on right now...

xo

Anonymous said...

Thanks :)
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