Right here, right now. I’m calling a moratorium on cronuts /croughnuts.
Our subject today: croissants, as in our bakeries have gotten really good at making them recently. Have you noticed? Who better to discuss this with then Neil Robertson of Crumble & Flake Patisserie on Capitol Hill who’s in the running for the James Beard Award for “Best Pastry Chef” in the country. (Finalists will be announced next Tuesday).
I ran into Robertson last summer in New Orleans and scribbled on some cocktail napkins his thoughts on croissants. I recently went over my notes with him, and his opinion hasn’t changed eight months later. He mentioned five bakeries, not necessarily the five best since Robertson is too busy in his kitchen to visit them all. But they’re five places that have made an impression on him.
Robertson thinks the best way to judge a pastry chef or a bakery is by the classic croissant. “It’s either a good croissant or a bad croissant,” he said. “You have to develop the flavors. It’s all in the technique. There’s no hiding. No filling or flavors” added.
A good croissant “should have a beautiful honeycomb structure with large air cells with thin membranes in between. You should be able to see the layers of dough inside.”
With that, here’s Robertson’s thoughts on some local bakeries and their croissants:
Midori in Redmond: I haven’t been there but my friend brought me some croissants from there. I was very impressed. They were beautifully structured. They were textbook gorgeous.
Ines Patisserie (Will reopen in spring on Capitol Hill.) Nice macarons. Nice croissants. The baker is French. You can tell. It’s a classic French croissant…meaning it’s light and flaky, not overly buttery, so not greasy but still has a nice buttery flavor.”
Fuji: “Their croissant was the best I ever had. It was spectacular. It was so beautiful. The flakiness was perfect — you open and the honeycomb on the inside- it was really impressive. They also had a salmon brioche that was just lovely, impressive technically, really nicely done. But their quality is not as good as it used to be. It’s not the same anymore. (Their croissant now) doesn’t have the same structure.”
Honore Artisan Bakery: They’re doing very good work. Everything I have had from them is really nice — nice flavor and texture and structure with the croissants. (At other places) when you slice the croissant in half, it looks bready, dense like a brioche. [At Honore] the croissants have well-defined layers.”
Café Besalu: They are often held up as the best croissant in the city. I don’t know, but they are very good, very consistent. Everything overall is good.
Robertson was too humble to mention his own croissant. But what prompted me to corner him in New Orleans last summer was because I was blown away by his pastries, especially his smoked paprika-cheddar croissant. There wasn’t any meat in it, and yet it was one of the most savory croissants I’ve ever tasted. That’s because paprika, butter and cheddar work well together, he explained.
He also does a pistachio croissant on weekends and recently, started making a twice-baked pecan chocolate croissant, where he slices a chocolate croissant in half, brushes it with coffee and tops it with pecan cream and sprinkles with chopped pecans and bakes it again.
Your chance of trying all his croissants in one visit is slim. His bakery often sells out by 9 a.m. (Go on slow days — Wednesdays or Thursdays — if you’re not an early riser.)