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Croissant battle royale, Seattle style


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The plain croissant is not only the true test of a pastry shop's mettle, it's one of my favorite foods. Sure, I'm happy with pain au chocolat or an almond croissant, but a morning with a good plain croissant and a cappuccino is about as good as it gets. Has anyone ever devised a better butter delivery mechanism?

So I've been informally surveying the Seattle croissant scene in search of pastry nirvana. I've tried all of the most recommended places except one (Le Fournil), unless you've got some secrets for me. I went to Le Fournil one day and they were out of croissants. It's inconveniently located for me, in that I go by it on the bus almost every day, but it's halfway through my bus ride and I'd have to get off and catch another bus or walk across the bridge. The bridge is rickety, and I could drop my croissant.

I have one criterion for croissant excellence: it should be as much like the croissants served at Poujauran, in Paris, as possible. The Poujauran croissant is an exercise in balance. You can taste the yeast, but it doesn't beat you over the head with it. The exterior is brown and flaky, and leaves crumbs on your shirt (this is very important), but it yields to gentle pressure. When you take a bite, the croissant resists just slightly, like al dente pasta, and then absolutely disappears in the mouth. The crumb is impossibly delicate.

Briefly, I considered trying to make my own croissants. Then I asked nightscotsman whether he'd ever made them, and he said, "Yes. Badly." If nightscotsman thinks they're hard, forget it.

Here's where I've been:

1. Hiroki. Good flavor, but the texture was like a dinner roll. Someone (was it nightscotsman again?) told me he's stopped making them until he can automate the process. I'd be willing to give them another try when they return.

2. Grand Central. I should note that I didn't even realize they made croissants until I got a press release about them. This is a very good croissant in a kind of Big Flavors American style: it's extremely flaky (not quite yielding enough) and quite yeasty. It doesn't show a lot of restraint, but not bad.

3. Essential Baking Co. Taking the opposite tack from Grand Central, this croissant is quite large (too much crumb), lighter in color, and with only a hint of yeast. A bit too subtle. Recommended in a pinch.

4. Cafe Besalu. Bells ring and celestial trumpets blow. This is easily the best I've had in town. Halfway between the Grand Central and Essential styles, this is near-perfect. (Laurie and I went this morning, and I'd never been before.) If I had to make a criticism, it would be that they don't make a very good cappuccino.

Anything I'm missing? I'll get to Le Fournil next week.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Briefly, I considered trying to make my own croissants.  Then I asked nightscotsman whether he'd ever made them, and he said, "Yes.  Badly."  If nightscotsman thinks they're hard, forget it.

Yeah, well... but I haven't tried making them for about 15 years. So inspired (or shamed) by this thread and the other one on croissant recipes, I've just started making a batch. I'm using the recipe that Elizabeth 11 posted from Sebastien Canonne. Since I'll be making them in a few months at the French Pastry School with Jacquy Pfeiffer looking over my shoulder, I might as well get some practice in.

I thought Le Fournil's croissants were good, though I haven't had the ones at Besalu.

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4. Cafe Besalu.  Bells ring and celestial trumpets blow.  This is easily the best I've had in town.  Halfway between the Grand Central and Essential styles, this is near-perfect.  (Laurie and I went this morning, and I'd never been before.)  If I had to make a criticism, it would be that they don't make a very good cappuccino.

Does Cafe Besalu have pain au chocolate? I appreciate the purity of the plain croissant, but chocolate (and pork fat) makes everything better....

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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Try the croissants at North Hill Bakery on 15th Ave (Capitol Hill). They make decent pastries.

"Save Donald Duck and Fuck Wolfgang Puck."

-- State Senator John Burton, joking about

how the bill to ban production of foie gras in

California was summarized for signing by

Gov. Schwarzenegger.

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Does Cafe Besalu have pain au chocolate?  I appreciate the purity of the plain croissant, but chocolate (and pork fat) makes everything better....

No, but they have a croissant filled with pork fat, piped from a pastry bag. Okay, actually they do have P au C. MsR, I will definitely try the place on 15th. I could have tried it yesterday when I was up at Sonic Boom hearing the Long Winters. That would have meant croissant for breakfast and croissant for mid-afternoon snack, but I'm dedicated.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Strictly for scientific purposes, I ate a croissant for a snack today. :laugh:

Since I was at Pike Place Market, and walking by Le Panier, I stopped in to try their basic croissant, which I have had so long ago my memory of it was fuzzy. While ok, it was nothing to write home about. High points for flaky crumbs and bits landing on my top, but the flavor was a little bit lacking. Not too yeasty flavor which was fine, but also not a real nice buttery flavor either. I supplemented mine with a additional pat of butter.

I have to admit, like heyjude, I'm a sucker for the large box of croissants from Costco. I warm them up in the oven which crisps them up a bit, and serve them when I have overnight guests in lieu of toast.

I have fond memories of the Golden Croissant in Richland that my Vietnamese friends used to own. She went to Paris to learn how to make them, and her ham & cheese croissant was my favorite. I have not found one in Seattle that is as good. But sadly, she sold her store, and I have not been there in a number of years.

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Cafe Besalu is a big favorite (and has wonderful pain au chocolat as well as dreamy ginger biscuits). I'm surprised about the coffee - Meg is one heck of a barrista. Maybe you got someone else.

Try Le Pain du Four, on 4th Ave, North of Battery. Very French, very buttery.

How about the Boulangerie on 45th, near Meridian (?) Haven't been in a few years, but they used to make pretty fine pastry.

The croissants at Gelatiamo do in a pinch. Probably won't make you go out of your way though.

Uh, Dahlia Bakery? Can't remember seeing them, but worth checking!

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Matthew,

I'd add one more thing to your list: I think the perfect croissant should have a flleting sweetness that comes form using really good butter.

I like the Grand Central version, too. Piper Davis (daughter of Gwyneth Basetti, GC founder) runs the Portland GCs w/brother Ben, and Piper did a lot of research and testing with laminated doughs before they actually started selling croissants.

I know I sound like a broken record when it comes to Ken's Artisan Bakery, but he's got some really great pastry chefs and the crossiants, according to both francophiles and actually French-persons (er, freedom-persons), are "joost laak we geet in paree."

There's also a little bakery-cafe down in Lake Oswego (posh suburb..the bakery is in what used to be a sort of poor relations area called Lake Grove that was annexed to make more room for SUV parking) called Le Province that makes grreat brioche. Fortunately, the Torrefazione branch across from my building carries them, and I'm about to go get my morning cappucino and cheese brioche (filled with a sweetened cream cheese..mmmm).

Jim

olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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Hey Jim - is Three Lions still in downtown Portland? They used to have good puff pastry stuff, so I would think their croissants might be worth checking out.

By the way, I was really pleased with the way my at-home experiment in croissanting came out. Very light and yeasty, but next time I would bake them a bit longer for more crust. You can read about it on the Croissant Thread here (scroll down).

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There's a little neighborhood place called the Original Bakery in a distant corner of West Seattle that used to make a pretty good croissant and some of the best brioche I've ever had. I haven't been there for quite a while, though, so I don't know if they're still good.

If you're ever down near the Fauntleroy ferry terminal, Original Bakery is a few blocks southeast of the dock, up the hill, and is worth a taste.

I might have to go there tomorrow just to see...

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is Three Lions still in downtown Portland?

Yes...both at SW 10th and Alder and in Old Town at NW Davis and 5th.

I haven't had any of their pastries for awhile, but they used to be good. The focus seems to be more on cakes. Before the bakery boom of the last few years, Three Lions was one of the few places to make high-quality, European-style pastries.

Jim

olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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Best to cross Original Bakery off the list for croissants. I was just there this morning, and they said they only make croissants sporadically and randomly. :sad: They do still make brioche, though - on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

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  • 2 weeks later...

oh my god. I went to Cafe Besalu this morning and had one of their croissants. They are killer good. Each bite was ecstacy. (Can you tell how long its been since I've had a croissant, let alone a good one???)

thanks for the research mamster!

Born Free, Now Expensive

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Hmm, is that Cafe Besalu Jacques Pepin is sitting in, in today's PI column? I think H-CC bribed him with James' pastry (quiche, tartlet and croissant)! Looks like he ate somewhere other than Harvest Vine afterall. (edit: I meant, in addition to.)

(BTW, I recommended Cafe Besalu to you all September 11, 2002 when the question of decent pastry in the area first came up. Well, don't listen to me - it saved you 8 months of calories :laugh: )

Edited by tsquare (log)
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Is it just possible that Jacques ate in . . . BOTH places? A crazy, wacky idea, I know.

"Save Donald Duck and Fuck Wolfgang Puck."

-- State Senator John Burton, joking about

how the bill to ban production of foie gras in

California was summarized for signing by

Gov. Schwarzenegger.

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tsquare, I remember your Besalu recommendation. Laurie went there a couple years ago, but it didn't really enter my consciousness until Tony Bourdain mentioned that Hsiao-Ching took him there and couldn't stop gushing about it. Moral of the story: if you want to sell me pastry, be a celebrity.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Madonna recommends the Boston Cream Pie at QFC.

"Save Donald Duck and Fuck Wolfgang Puck."

-- State Senator John Burton, joking about

how the bill to ban production of foie gras in

California was summarized for signing by

Gov. Schwarzenegger.

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...Moral of the story:  if you want to sell me pastry, be a celebrity.

Don't you mean 'Morel' of the story?

In any case, its the same reason that you haven't tried Brasserie Margaux despite me gushing over their crappy sauces for at least six months now....

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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Anything I'm missing?  I'll get to Le Fournil next week.

Did you ever make it to Le Fournil ? It's convenient for me, so I'm curious how it stacks up against Cafe Besalu.

North Hill Bakery on 15th is even more convenient (like, "2 minute walk" convenient) but I've not been blown away by their croissants - a bit too doughy for my liking - so I usually drive down to Le Fournil.

Now, if we're talking "best ever", I don't think one could improve on a fresh croissant from the late Zerban's in Camps Bay (South Africa) after a 40 mile bike ride along the coast. *sigh* I'd stop off on my way home and pick up a dozen, and do my utmost to ride the last couple of kilometers with the bag over my handlebars without eating all of them. Ahh, the memories.

- S

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Cafe Besalu, no question. I have spent many euros on métro tickets just hunting down reputedly excellent croissants in Paris. I'd put Besalu up there with the top 10% of Paris boulangers.

On a perfect day, le Fournil comes close, but on an average day they are just very good. I go there often because it's convenient. Le Fournil is better than le Panier, Boulangerie, and others that have been mentioned. I really like some of Fournil's fruit tarts, too. And their lunch special is a real deal - $7 for any drink (e.g., double latte), any pastry (which alone could be $3 or more), and a generous sandwich on an ok baguette.

Boulangerie was once wonderful, but that was many years ago.

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I've still not been to Le Fournil when they weren't out of plain croissants. I did go to North Hill and their croissant had good flavor but I agree it was too doughy. They have really attractive bakers, though.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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