This past June, Will and I spent two weeks in the north Marais area of Paris in a 5th floor walk-up flat. Despite the numerous winding flights we had to negotiate, we spent every single morning exploring the neighborhood to get fresh bread. There were—and I do not exaggerate—no fewer than four boulangeries within a block of us in each direction. There might have been more (likely, there was!) but we only frequented those four.
We made a point of visiting each store with regularity since we liked each for different reasons, but our favorite boulangerie was one which had received second place prize in the Paris croissant competition. While we had seen that advertisement on their storefront window, we were not able to go to this particular one until we had tried the others because this particular store was closed the first two mornings of our stay in the area. Perhaps that’s just as well. After we tasted the prize-winning croissant, we realized that there was indeed a difference between just excellent croissant and AMAZING croissant.
Excellent croissants have nice flakey layers of pastry, smell of fresh butter, and a delicate glaze on a slightly crusty top. AMAZING croissants have all of that and then also a caramelized and crunchy buttery bottom crust that’s a darker brown than most croissants and is almost pure butter. Once we’d had those croissants, it was difficult to go with just any old Parisian croissant. Then, once we returned to Chicago, we were almost despondent because—really—nothing here came close (not even to the plain old excellent ones in Paris).
Then I got clever. For a Christmas present, I got Will a croissant baking class at Baker&Nosh, a place I read about in Yelp reviews which declared theirs the best croissants in the area. Before the actual class, we took a trial run to the café to taste their croissant. At $3 (and only available on weekends), it was a bit expensive for how small the croissant was, especially since ALL the Paris boulangeries had their larger croissants priced in the narrow range between 1 and 1.25 Euro. But still, the flavor was promising, and the bottom crackled with a caramelized butter crust.
So, I waited with bated breath on the night of January 27 (a bone-chilling, record-breakingly cold Monday) as Will went to bake. He came back with a bounty: 4 regular croissants, 4 pains chocolats, 3 ham-and-cheese croissants, 3 almond croissants, and some savory pastry sticks. (Pictured above.) They were fabulous!
When the weekend came, I was prepared. I got a pound of 83% butterfat European-styled block of butter (my contribution to our project), and told Will that I wanted him to make some more croissants before he forgot any special methods he just learned. I even offered to “help,” though that amounted to nothing more than rolling a few croissants and pains chocolats (because he thinks I make them “prettier”). All the while, I insisted that he write down special details and notes on the recipe he brought back. Then I just ate and ate and ate—and took the occasional sip of French Roast coffee.
Now I have to find other “gifts” for Will that can pay such dividends!