Monday, August 25, 2014

Croissant and Viennoiserie Diary

August 2014
As I left a meeting with my oncology nutritionist, on Manhattans Upper East Side, I noticed Gotham Café advertising Balthazar goodies inside. I've been craving a gluten treat ever since my daughter Caitlin sent an email from Paris describing the perfect crunch, chew, and buttery savor of a superb croissant. Granted, sweet carbohydrates weren't on the doctors recommended foods list; but I have been eating gluten free for years and wanted a bit of carpe diem during chemo. I'll soon be eliminating carbo sweets, except for rare occasions, and embracing cruciferous veggies within a Mediterranean diet to better improve my chances against the cancer. But this week...I'm on a farewell spree...

Balthazar Almond Croissant
It smelled buttery and almondy as I bit the end to ascertain the quality of the dough. It was texture perfection, lofty and well layered, flaky crunch outside, softer but maintaining tender layers inside, and a perfect golden brown. The flavor was good, butter and flour were fresh, but the taste didn't leap to heavenly. My next bite, with base and topping, sent me into bliss. The majority of the croissant had toasted almonds slices set into a thin frangipani coating on the top. The almonds amplified the crunch and shatter of the outer crust. The marzipan flavor was perfectly calibrated to the ratio of dough in a mouthful. Sweet but not too sweet. As I waited for my bus and took bites I must have looked like an addict scoring a hit. It was the best almond croissant I've ever had. Balthazar has a commercial bakery in New Jersey supplying many cafés in the city and a walk in bakery at 80 Spring Street, in SoHo, NYC.

The delicious Balthazar almond croissant is sold in many locations.
Yes, the inside of the Balthazar almond croissant is as good as it looks, crisp and tender buttery  layers, lofty and light.

Balthazar Chocolate Croissant
Having read online that Oren's Daily Roast, in my Columbia University neighborhood, sold Balthazar baked goods, I waited on the long line as my husband and dog regarded me mournfully through the window. The rack held a line of chocolate croissants that were uniform and squarish with a shiny top layer that proved to be a thin brush of egg glaze. Unfortunately the croissants were dark and appeared to be over baked. They looked factory produced, while the Balthazar almond croissants have more variety in shape, giving them a hand crafted appearance. The over baked proved to be true, when sniffing them there was an smoky scent. The multilayered dough had a dry slightly bitter burnt flavor. The real surprise was in the chocolate filling, deliciously bitter sweet and respectfully subdued in quantity so as not to overwhelm the other flavors. I wished I could have experienced one baked correctly and I need to do so to make this a fair review. But even so, I suspect this chocolate croissant will only prove to be good but not memorable. My husband said good layers, burnt flavor.

Balthazar chocolate croissant, over baked.

Balthazar chocolate croissant, lovely texture, chocolate restraint.

La Toulousaine Raspberry Croissant
I discovered there was a French bakery nearby on 942 Amsterdam Avenue (between West 106th and 107th Streets). I got there with Jim and our hound by 8:30 am to have a large choice of fresh offerings. The raspberry croissants were large long irregular rectangles, lavishly dusted with confectioners sugar, and smelled delicious. Despite being somewhat flat, there were many layers inside. The crust didn't have quite as much crunch as I like but was tasty, well layered, and baked to a golden color. The inner layers were soft, due no doubt to the wet influence of jam during baking. The filling was thick and very sweet but not over powering. It was utterly delicious and earns the reviews it gets online. Bring a wipe or napkin for the powdered sugar and sticky jam that will trace a smile around your mouth.
La Toulousaine pain aux raisins on left and the amazing raspberry croissant on the right.
La Toulousaine raspberry filling, just the right amount of goodness.

La Toulousaine Pain aux Raisins
The circular raisin ring had been treated with a thick pour of clear sugar glaze and a central sprinkling of chunky sugar crystals. Both choices worried me, these are treatments I'm used to from vending machines and Dunkin' Donuts. The dough wasn't sufficiently flaky. In taste it was superior to commercial products but fell far short of what I'd expect from a real French bakery. I took only two bites. My daughter Caitlin, just returned from a month Europe, where she became an expert consumer of pain aux raisins, said it wasn't bad, she's had worse, and only took one bite. If you prefer your pain aux raisins extra sweet and soft, you may like this, but for me it was only passable due to the fresh ingredients.
La Toulousaine pain aux raisins interior. Too sweet?

La Toulousaine Almond Croissant
It is clear the pastry chef at La Toulousaine prefers the Viennese approach which adds creamy fillings to the interior. This almond croissant appeared limp on the rack and looked insufficiently baked inside. I found the overall flavor to be decent but had no desire to eat more than a third of it. The interior was unappealing, it tasted like wet under baked dough. The outer crust didn't shatter or crunch although it had a good flavor. The next day I stopped by and said the croissant had been under baked, "oh no,'" said the woman server, "it is the filling." I had not experienced it as a filling, only clumpy gooey dough. Another rack of damp defeated almond croissants waited on the shelf. I wouldn't recommended this when such better alternatives exist; do order the raspberry croissant.
La Toulousaine almond croissant
La Toulousaine almond croissant interior.

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