I spent my junior year of college studying abroad in Paris. Between classes at the Université de Paris on philosophy, electronic music, psychology, and other esoteric subjects for a food and beverage major in hotel school, I studied croissants. Of course, I didn’t take a course or anything. I just went from bakery to bakery for a year looking for my favorite croissant au beurre.
A great croissant is a work of art. The challenge is maintaining an ethereal crunch on the outside and a pull-apart chew on the inside. Croissants should be ever-so-sightly salty, with a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth quality and faint after tastes of yeast and wheat. A greasy croissant is a no-no. So is one that is overproofed or underbaked. And one made without butter is unthinkable, but common. I was puzzled to see croissants labeled natures and au beurre in most bakeries, and horrified to learn that natures meant the croissants were made with something other than 100% pure butter.
Unfortunately croissant research conducted more than 20 years ago isn’t very helpful today. I couldn’t tell you where to go in Paris for a perfect croissant any more, though I still know one when I see one.
One of the revelations of my research was the croissant aux amandes fourés, that is, the twice-baked almond croissant. Filled with almond paste, flattened, baked to a crisp, dark brown, and dusted with icing sugar, this elegant refurbishment of leftover croissants ends up being almost better than the original. I particularly loved the version produced by a small bakery on Boulevard du Montparnasse, dangerously close to the the main office of our study-abroad program.
Craving something sweet, the other day I happened into Madeleine Patisserie on West 23rd Street on my way to a tai chi class. Though billing itself as the “Maison du Macarons,” in the past I’ve been unimpressed with the texture and flavor of Madeleine’s macarons. (Closer, though not quite equal to the perfected macarons chez Pierre Hermé are those sold online by Mad Mac.) Contemplating what to eat instead, I noticed a flat, crisp, well-baked, sugar-dusted almond croissant sitting in the back of the display case. I confirmed that this was what I thought it was, with the addition of chocolate, and ordered two, one for Nate and one for me, intending to eat them for dessert after dinner later that night.
While walking to my class, I took a bite of the croissant. And then I took another. And soon I had eaten it all. Its crunchy, almondy, buttery deliciousness took me right back to Boulevarde du Montparnasse in 1989. It was superb. I thought about eating Nate’s croissant and not even telling him I had bought them, but I feared the extra weight and richness in my stomach might shift my center of gravity and derail my tai chi.
I’ve since been back to the bakery several times, leading different friends to the display case, and the highlight is always the almond croissant. My advice to you?Eat this!
132 W. 23rd St., between 6th and 7th Aves.
New York, NY 10011