Some people go to Paris to snap selfies under the Eiffel Tower in their Breton-striped tees, but I went to Paris for another reason: croissants. Although I didn’t grow up in France (and I’m not a pastry chef), I do consider myself something of a croissant connoisseur. So on my recent trip to Paris, I set out on a croissant crawl. My mission was to find the greatest selection over the span of just a few days. The criteria were minimal: The pastry shops had to have some kind of significance, whether historical, recommendations or just plain famous; and the pastries themselves had to be fresh, soft and buttery on the inside (but not greasy), and crispy and flaky on the outside (but not firm).
Mastering the art of the croissant is not an easy task. The delicate little crescent-shaped delights are so simple in their ingredients yet so complex in their method and skill. While in Paris, pastry chef Florian Eude told me that the cardinal rules for producing a good croissant are leaving the pastry in the fridge overnight, not working the pastry too hard, using a cutter (not a knife) and spraying the pastry (rather than using a pastry brush). “It makes it more beautiful,” he said.
Eude is the former sous pastry chef at Pavillon Ledoyen (a three-Michelin-star restaurant) and current head pastry chef at the Hotel Molitor in Paris. I also asked him to end the “croissant with butter vs. croissant without butter” debate. “A croissant without butter?” he asked. “That is not a croissant”. Well, that’s settled.
Finally, although I’d put together my own carefully curated list, I asked him for recommendations. Here, a guide to my croissant crawl, where I ate all the calories (so you don’t have to).
① Stohrer Bakery: Ancient history
“Eating a croissant is an experience,” my French friend Valentine tells me when I start explaining my croissant crawl. “You have to go to a café, sit down, order a croissant, have a coffee, read the paper . . .” she continues. Well, I say, then that’s what we’re doing tomorrow morning. We’re up early, and many of the cafés are just opening their doors, so we find a typical café where we can sit outside and gawk at the surroundings. The waiter tells us that they don’t have any croissants, but if we go around the corner to Stohrer Bakery, we can pick some up and eat them here. “Stohrer has been here since the time of Napoleon.” That’s several hundred years ago, for those who don’t know their French history. “It’s going to be the best croissant of your life,” he tells us. When we google Stohrer Bakery, we discover that it’s the oldest bakery in Paris, which has been making pastries since Louis XV’s reign. Back at the café, we tear the treats apart. They’re crispy and buttery, not too dense or too salty. Paired with coffee and good company, they’re perfect.
Photos: Courtesy of Mary Holland
② Des Gâteaux et du Pain: Pastry chef approved
I’m thrilled when Eude suggests Des Gâteaux et du Pain, because it’s already on my list. The pastry shop is run by a female pastry chef, Claire Damon, and is allegedly “a pastry shop for Parisian people.” When I get off the Metro, it’s evident that I’m in a real Parisian part of the city, because there’s not a selfie stick to be found.
Situated on a corner, the exterior of Des Gâteaux et du Pain looks more like a Tom Ford store than a pastry shop, with slick, black glass sliding doors that swish open as you enter. The all-black interior is even more sleek, with polished glass cabinets. It’s astoundingly intimidating, and I have to remind myself that I’m here to pick out a pastry, not a dress for the Oscars. I order what I came for and decide to eat it as I make my way back to the Metro, because scattering crumbs inside feels like a sin. It’s the most beautiful croissant I’ve ever seen, and the skill involved in making it is obvious before the first bite: golden brown with perfect layers. I almost don’t want to tear it apart, but when I do, the flaky exterior and soft, doughy interior are more than worth it.
③ La Pâtisserie Cyril Lignac: The chocolate contender
I found La Pâtisserie by Cyril Lignac online while trawling the Internet for “good pastry shops in the 16th” (the neighborhood where I’m staying). I set off early one morning and find the shop, its interior as plush as a five-star hotel lobby. The glass display cabinet is heaped with flawless pastries, but I don’t see any croissants. When I ask for one, the women behind the counter tells me she’s sold out and offers me as consolation a fresh pain au chocolat, which she reveals from a secret stash below the counter. I don’t have anything against pain au chocolat, but I don’t particularly like chocolate in my croissant—too many become pain au chocolat chip. Also, Eude had informed me that a pain au chocolat is not a croissant—“a croissant is a croissant,” he said pragmatically—but I’ve come all this way, so I buy one anyway. Thank God I do. The mixture of crispy, buttery textures is perfect, and the smooth lashings of chocolate have a Nutella-like consistency. It is utterly sensational. Maybe I do like pain au chocolat after all.
④ Molitor: Right under your nose
I don’t have time to visit a pastry shop for breakfast the next morning, so I decide to try a croissant at my plush hotel. The Molitor is as design savvy as it gets, but it doesn’t have the kitchen space and equipment to make croissants, so they aren’t made on-site. But then I remember Valentine telling me once, “There are no bad croissants in Paris.” It’s true. Not only is the Molitor croissant perfectly buttery, it’s also the perfect size: not too big and not too dense. I could definitely eat this every morning.
⑤ Pierre Hermé: The one that got away
Pierre Hermé is renowned for his macarons, but I also heard from Eude that he makes a killer croissant, especially the one with rose, litchi and strawberry. I’m not entirely sold on this idea (I don’t like things in my croissant), but if a pastry chef tells you to try a pastry, you do it. So I go in search of this fabled Pierre Hermé croissant. The city is peppered with Pierre Hermé pâtisseries, but I decide to visit the one close to the Jardin des Tuileries. When I arrive, I discover it sells only macarons. The next day, I go in search of another Pierre Hermé pastry shop. Obviously, I find the other one that also sells only macarons. The storekeeper tells me that they make croissants only at two of the pâtisserie shops, which are on the other side of the Seine. They are both too far—I have a flight to catch—so I make the decision to let the Pierre Hermé croissant live on in my imagination.
⑥ Arcade Bakery: Closest to home
Because I’m such a croissant snob, I’ve done my fair share of croissant crawling through New York, too. Hidden in the lobby of a building in Tribeca is a “secret” bakery, which makes Parisian-approved croissants (I can confirm this, because my Parisian friend has approved of them). Owned by baker Roger Gural, the bakery is open only Monday to Friday, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., which is completely inconvenient if you have a job that isn’t in Tribeca. If you do work in Tribeca (or you don’t have a job), you’ll find the best croissants in New York, as well as a selection of gluten-filled treats, including bread, pastries and pizza. For those of you who don’t work in Tribeca, it might just be easier to book a flight to Paris, in which case, please consult my list above—and enjoy.
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