The Great Torontoist Challenge: Croissant Edition

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The Great Torontoist Challenge: Croissant Edition

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Photo by blmurch from Flickr.
Flour? Check. Yeast? Check? Three pounds of butter? Mais, bien sûr! While we realize that we have been a bit starch heavy as of late here on Torontoist, we just can’t help but love these sorts of snacks, and what could possibly surpass any of our previous contestants, in terms of pure indulgence, than the ultimate bakery offspring, the croissant. With a self-made commitment to run at least 10 kilometers afterwards, and a list of some of Toronto’s finest patisseries in hand, we embarked on our journey into the land du beurre.

The Contestants

Oh, the French and their whimsy-filled bakery names.

  • Clafouti. Across Queen Street from Trinity Bellwoods, Clafouti often has a line stretching out the door for their delectable baked delights, which include several variations on croissants. Be advised, Clafouti bakes in limited numbers, so when they’re gone, well—zut alors pour vous!
  • Patachou. Situated, since 1978, in the tony neighbourhood of Rosedale, Patachou is not only a purveyor of pastries and the “city’s best jam,” but is also a favourite spot for locals to enjoy a glass of wine and a slice of quiche.
  • La Bamboche. A visit to La Bamboche’s website will make it clear that their cultural inspiration is not only being sourced from France. Located off Yonge Street, near Eglinton Station, this bakery’s chef patisserie was trained in Japan, and his wares are said to be, as a result, Japo-influenced. We didn’t notice any wasabi flavoured croissants or azuki bean brioche, but maybe we weren’t looking hard enough.
  • Pain Perdu. Deemed by the National Post to be the creators of Toronto’s Best Baguette, Pain Perdu’s staff are actual francophone, adding a pleasing authenticity to the whole experience. It should also be noted that they have not, contrary to any literal translations you may have heard, lost their bread.

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Photo of croissant from La Bamboche by Julie Reitsma.

The Criteria

  • Freshness. Smell, squishiness, obvious baked-that-day-dom.
  • Appearance. Nice colour, nice shape, does it have the hand-made look?
  • Tearability. Is it flaky, with soft innards evident? Does it do that un-coiling thing that croissants do when you tear them?
  • Greasiness. There’s heaps of butter in these things, but is it the right amount or borderline fast food?
  • Flavour. Buttery, indulgent loveliness?

Additional Criteria

Délicieux et économique!
Clafouti ($1.45); Pain Perdu ($1.70); Patachou ($1.75); La Bamboche ($2.00).
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Photo of croissant from Pain Perdu by Julie Reitsma.

Results

  • Freshness. Patachou—9/10. The perfect scent of recent bakedness and a flaky yet yielding squish makes this our freshest contestant.
  • Appearance. TIE: Clafouti and Pain Perdu—9/10. Both relatively classic in shape, these croissants were also a colour indicative of not being boiled—a definite plus.
  • Tearability. Patachou—9/10. The perfect tear, this contestant uncoiled in just right way, like some sort of edible, baked spring.
  • Greasiness. TIE: Clafouti and Patachou—9/10. You could enjoy either of these without a napkin, but still have that nice buttery sheen on your fingers.
  • Flavour. Patachou—9.5/10. Divine.

Conclusions

In what is a rare feat, every contestant in this challenge was, on a whole, good—these are some of the best of the city, and not one tasted like it came out of a tube. That being said, the least favourite of our contestants, by a hair, was La Bamboche. While La Bamboche’s offering had an appealing look, classically shaped with a nice uniform colour, and it was definitely fresh, it was lacking in a few croissant-key ways. The smell, while pleasant, was a wee too loaf-of-bread-like, a trend that continued on to the flavour, which was noted to be not quite as buttery as a croissant should. Texturally, La Bamboche’s entry was quite dense, not as flaky as our other contestants and didn’t score high when it came to the tear. The density of the innards made for a doughy experience, which, when combined with the breadiness of it, made us feel that this croissant was moving a bit too close to dinner roll country—a dangerous place to be.
Pain Perdu’s croissant smelled of buttery promise. Pretty to behold, this entrant was essentially classic in style, but was imperfect enough to confirm that it was made by hand and not a beret-adorned robot. Though flaky when torn, Pain Perdu’s innards were revealed to be quite dense, and though not bread-like, à La Bamboche, they were, unfortunately, pretty bland. You really don’t need a napkin with this one, and to be honest, while we didn’t think we’d have to say this about a croissant, it really needed more butter—how they get it to smell as they do will remain a mystery.
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Photo of croissant from Clafouti by Julie Reitsma.
In second place—golden brown, super fresh, classically shaped—is Clafouti. The cheapest of our contestants, it was also the smallest, but what it lacked in girth it made up for in butteriness. Clafouti has almost managed to achieve the perfect balance—a napkin would be nice, but it isn’t totally necessary, and the flavour, though at times a wee bit yeasty, was mild, yet indulgent. Clafouti came close to taking home the sash for freshness, but maybe went too far with the concept, creating a croissant that’s squish was perhaps attributable to slight under-cooking, which could also explain the yeasty hint. Still, minor imperfections aside, this is a lovely croissant; we believe that Clafouti does know how long to bake their wares, and perhaps just had a hiccup that morning. All the necessary buttery bits were there, and when we took one of the left-overs and added ham and cheese, we swear we saw the shining lights of gourmand paradise.
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Photo of croissant from Patachou by Julie Reitsma.
We have to begin, for lack of a better place, with the overall look of Patachou’s croissant. We had never, up until this point in our illustrious food-consuming careers, felt that a pastry came so close to telling us to rock-on. A touching point for conversation to be sure—one judge said it almost seemed crab-like—it made for the only fault in this otherwise flawless croissant, and our reason for it being a fault is perhaps, to be frank, a bit hair-splitting—in essence, it makes for difficulties, sandwich-wise. Skepticism brushed aside, this, our freshest of croissants, had the most perfect tear of any of our contestants, uncoiling in such a way that the shell and the inside were exposed, but not fully separated. The smell and flavour were, as stated above, nothing short of divine. The butter level was spot-on, indulgent without being gluttonous, and while a napkin would have been handy, we happily lived without. In the end, perhaps Patachou, and rightfully so, knows how good their croissant is, and in some sort of “you don’t even want to ruin this experience by making it into a sandwich” way, they decided to go with the least accommodating shape they could think of. To this we say: fair enough and bon appétit.

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