A good croissant should stop conversation

Most croissants, in this era of Big and Bigger Food, are now industrially-made, spun off by high-tech machines by the thousands per hour, untouched by human hands, devoid of life and “tasting like emptiness,” as Pascal once sadly described.

Also, just like love or money, anyone can make a croissant. But there are, shall we say, degrees of expertise. There are recipes, videos, classes, workshops a plenty in Paris, pastry arts programs. Then there is the X factor: something that this confounding little pastry is more susceptible to than any other. So what gives this mysterious little moment of bliss such cachet?

Sometimes it is easier to say what something is not than what it is. Although considered a pastry, a croissant is not a muffin or scone, donut or cupcake, piece of pie or square. It is not bread. It is not puff pastry. Its degree in difficulty to create resembles a macaron, mille feuille, cannelé or choux not at all. It is not meant to be “a sweet.” And although croissants are everywhere, they are nowhere at the same time; ubiquitous and yet maddeningly elusive.

Although our croissant is crafted only from flour, butter, water, a dash of salt, a sprinkle of sugar and that all game-changing life-giving yeast, it is a simple (a hybrid between bread and puff pastry) but notoriously difficult dough to make well. The temperature of the air, the water, the butter, or strength of someone’s hands can all affect the end result.

An extraordinary croissant is a tightrope balancing act between good bread and fine pastry ~ truly an intuitive tango of alchemy between time and space gifting a culinary mystical experience ~ if you’re lucky. A croissant can easily be under-kneaded, under-baked, over-baked, bready, too dry, too salty, too sweet, greasy, stale, rancid or forgettable. And just because there are flakes, doesn’t mean it’s good; all wine is wet. 

The making of bread and yeasted doughs has often been compared to the process of crafting wine or beer as it is the fermentation process that plays a starring role in their characters. The magic ingredient is time ~ a date with destiny. And air. All good croissants have layers of air. And just like your mother said, looks aren’t everything. Can you tell a good vintage wine just by looking at a glass of it? A fine croissant falls far from just appearances.

So, to be a croissant connoisseur? One must speak the language of magic. Beyond taste and time and one’s senses. One must possess an insatiable curiosity for the impossible made possible. A dream made real. In these uncertain times, it is beauty to which we must resort. Edible beauty can be found. But it must be sought. Like hidden treasure in plain sight, it can be disheartening but do not be daunted. Follow your instincts. And discover how a croissant can be so much more than a hybrid between bread and puff pastry.

“The experience of Pascal’s will renew your faith in the experience of life.”

John Greaves