Dear Francophile, here we are in another Francophile postcard from France. Just like the podcast where we've started exploring the Côte d'Azur, the weekly postcards from France are a little moment of what Francophiles love about France. Those quirks, moments and places that just bring France alive even when you can't be there.
Today's postcard features a lot of butter and something very delicious...croissants, of course! But can you be sure it is an authentic, traditional croissant?
Today's postcard is all about that delicious moment in the early morning when you've ventured out to the local boulangerie, and bought the light, warm and buttery masterpieces that are freshly baked croissants. Those early morning walks through a town or village just smell so divine. I particularly love the early summer mornings with the quiet streets being cleaned, the sense of anticipation of another beautiful day dawning and the unmistakable aroma from the boulangerie (which is already open) serving customers. Regulars are waiting in a wedge to order their usual and pay at the counter, clutching their daily bread and morning pastries as they leave with a cheery "bonne journée". It's a ritual I simply never tire of - in fact finding the boulangerie you really love while away on holiday is part of the fun, isn't it?
So, if you want a good croissant, what are you looking for and how can you find it?
Well, whether you're in Paris, Nice or La Rochelle, the same rules apply. Smell the butter! Yes, you might be surprised to learn that many croissants are made with cheaper margarine fats instead of butter (and those in supermarkets, well, please avoid them!)
A truly delicious croissant should be straight, this is the first tip for finding a proper butter croissant. The ordinary crescent shape ones are usually those not made purely with butter. A croissant au beurre is vital to your experience and enjoyment of this yummy viennoiserie. So look for the shape, and check the signs outside the shop to see if the products are made onsite (fait maison). A huge 80 per cent of croissants are made in factories, frozen and baked at bakeries across France. If you want a more artisanal approach and to avoid the factory-made or margarine croissant then the choice of bakery is pretty important!
Unlike the baguette tradition, which has to be made from four simple ingredients and made from scratch on site at the bakery (its production is subject to regulation), pastry does not have the same designation or controls. So if you were surprised, like me, that the macarons of Ladurée are all made in Switzerland (which you can find out about here), you might want to know where your croissant is made. Why not find out and buy where you feel good about the ingredients and process? It can be trial and error to find the croissant you prefer with just the right pastry crunch, soft interior and delicious smell. It's a hard job, but someone has to do it... 😊
Here at this boulangerie in Nice, which supplies the delightful luxury Negresco Hotel, you can find a real croissant made with pure butter and taking three days to make. That is the reality - a lot of good things, like slow fermentation bread and good croissants take time.
This great Insider report on real croissants, with some behind-the-scenes footage to see the dough being made in all its precision, contains lots of information on what makes a good croissant (in French with English subtitles.)
So choose your artisan boulangerie and find those straighter croissants (although confusingly in the video the croissants can be quite like a crescent even though they are made with pure butter and on site!) Yes, every illustration of a croissant tends to be crescent shaped but those are generally the ones to avoid. Since the 1970s, croissants and food industrialisation means that croissants in the classic shape are usually margarine-based and factory-made. You can buy ready-made industrial doughs in the supermarkets to bake at home but is that the pleasurable moment at breakfast you were hoping for?
The flaky, beauty of a pure butter croissant in the form seen today has been around since the 1920s and the story goes that the croissant has had many previous incarnations with a history that people still write books about!
In search of the perfect croissant, in One More Croissant for the Road, journalist, author and cyclist Felicity Cloake cycles her own Tour de France, a journey around the hexagone in search of the French regional classics as well as good pastries. As she cycles, she rates each croissant and details her meals (or lack of them) from cassoulet to crêpes, Basque cakes to croissants in Paris. For more on her wonderful and amusing trip around France you can find her story here. She includes the 'vital statistics' of the trip at the end of the book where you can see she cycles over 2,000 km and ate fewer croissants than I expected (35 in case you're wondering.) Cloake writes a column about the perfect version of dishes and cakes, which you can find at The Guardian and in her other book gathering these recipes.
Love pastry but prefer no gluten?
If you’re looking for gluten-free pastries, then there are a few options across Paris including Noglu.
Are you gluten free by preference or a celiac? If you don't speak fluent French, you can get a detailed card to take with you to restaurants, cafés etc that helps you to explain what you need in French. It's written by a celiac and fluent native French speaker so it's bound to be useful. A great idea for safe travels!
For croissants made entirely laminated by hand, try Liberté on rue Poncelet (17e; also in other arrondissements of Paris.)
Where did you have your favourite croissant? Was it breakfast on a café terrace watching the world go by, or sitting at the zinc and having a croissant from the basket on the counter? Perhaps you are the one who ventures out to buy the bread and pastries in the morning, returning to the apartment, gite, campsite or villa with breakfast for everyone.
Whichever way and wherever you eat your croissants, enjoy! Bon appétit !
If you’d like to have a go making croissants at home, this is a recommended recipe and instructions. I haven't yet dared to try to master this technique but if I can prepare myself for some buttery disasters, and keep going I might just manage it! For more on making viennoiseries, I love Christophe Felder’s wonderful classic, bright pink book called simply, Patisserie. The brioche is delicious, so why not try making some more from this fabulous book?
Do you enjoy an artisanal, traditional croissant when in France, or something else?
These postcards from France remind me of the happy times I've travelled through France and yet there's still more to discover. There's always another region, another town or beautiful village (officially a Plus Beaux Villages or not). There are customs and regional food and wine to discover as well as accents and words you might have never heard before.
Tell me, what do you love about France? It could be a fragrance, a texture, a town or city, even a museum or view... let me know by contacting me or on Instagram. I'd love to hear from you. 🥰 Let me know if you enjoy croissants too!
Before you go, dear Francophile...
For more France, why not join the curious Francophiles exploring France every month? The free newsletter goes out every first weekend of the month and includes events across France and often dips into delicious food, culture, travel, music, film, style and more. The France in Five feature brings together the month's top highlights with stories, links and classic French traditions.
It brings France to where you are. So if you're newly enamoured with France or a Francophile of long-standing passions, join us now!
By joining you'll also receive every Postcard from France delivered to your inbox in the blog digest. I'd love to talk France with you, so join me in France, wherever you are. Subscribers get all the podcast news before anyone else and are the first to get exclusive news, giveaways and future offers from Francophile-friendly courses and online stores too.
Sign up for the newsletter here (it goes without saying that there's absolutely no spam and your privacy is protected. You can subscribe at any time, but I hope you stay and make 2022 a year to delight in the country we love so much.)
Welcome to France Where You Are!
A brief note on affiliate links: In 2022 I decided to serve my listeners and readers with a global book delivery service so that everyone worldwide can access more easily the books I love and recommend. This is via Book Depository and while I only recommend excellent resources, by using the affiliate links often provided here on the blog, you are supporting the upkeep of this ad-free website, blog and podcast with a tiny percentage going to the show. I appreciate your support, which is at ZERO cost to you and does not alter the price you pay.