IMG_3448Of the many things to love in France, one of the most delicious yet most mundane is the croissant. It is nothing short of miraculous that a mixture as simple as flour, butter, milk and yeast and not much else can turn into complex layers of flaky crispness and chewy softness.

I have many happy croissant memories. My grandmother made a kind of croissant, which she or one of her grandchildren dubbed “piggies.” The secret ingredient, not very French, was mashed potatoes. I haven’t made piggies or croissants because I am spoiled, with delicious ones far too easily obtained at nearly any bakery. IMG_3455Perhaps luckily, our local bakery had awful croissants. The baker, a heavy drinker who sometimes was so overwhelmed by hangovers that he burned the bread and everything else, also was a chain smoker of the ancien régime, not the one in which clergy and nobility lorded it over the peasants, but the one in which smokers had the right to light up wherever they pleased, whether that be on the Métro, in a movie theater, or in a restaurant, other people’s lung be damned. Certainly a sole proprietor slaving away alone in his atelier had the right to puff at will, even after the laws changed in 2006 to forbid smoking in public places. We took our business to a nonsmoking bakery.

The baker had his retirement lined up; he found a young couple to buy out the bakery. Lo and behold, just before the couple signed on the dotted line, a young entrepreneur in the village put up a big sign on the grange he was renovating: Bakery opening soon. This space on the main road had plenty of parking, unlike the smoker-baker, who managed to get the mairie (city hall) to draw a 15-minute parking space on the street–just one. And 15 minutes would not dissuade, say, parents parking there while dropping off or picking up their kids from the school across the street–parking is scarce in the heart of old villages.

IMG_3454
Look at the height of that crest!

The young couple realized they would be outgunned by this new bakery and backed out of the deal. Now the baker continues to work–the bulk of his retirement was going to be the sale of his bakery, which now is worthless–but people are coming out of the woodwork to frequent the new bakery, where the bread is not only smoke-free but also delicious, and so fresh it’s usually still warm or even hot.

That reminds me of another bakery we used to go to, in a nearby village. It was on a little street barely big enough for a car to pass. No traffic, whether by car or foot. Sleepy. But it had a following. It was always packed, a jumble of people with no discernible line, but make no mistake, everybody knew whose turn it was. There was a constant buzz of conversation, plenty of it gossip, but as I didn’t live in that village I didn’t know who they were talking about so vividly. But if the gossip was anything like the other main topic, the weather, watch out. Every weather forecast I overheard at the bakery was 100% accurate.

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Holds its shape when bit; doesn’t collapse into flatness. Good distribution of bubbles.

The bakery had a pain de campagne (country bread)–a very large, deformed lump that had just the right crust on the outside–a little crunchy but nothing that would break a tooth–with a chewy inside whose bubbles were nice and even. The baker’s wife would use oven mitts to hand them out, and I would have to juggle it in my hands, like a nervous football player fiddling with a ball on the sidelines, as I walked back to my car parked way down the street where it was wider. The car windows would steam up so much so fast I’d have a hard time driving the last few feet of the five-minute trip home. The Carnivore and I would eagerly cut into the bread, butter it, with the (totally unnecessary but delicious) butter melting immediately. Sometimes we ate the entire loaf in one sitting. It cost €2.

IMG_3449
Speaking of butter, there’s enough to make you lick your fingers. Even the bottom is beautiful. Sometimes I see croissant nature vs. croissant au beurre. As if there’s any question! Au beurre!

Back in those days, we’d treat ourselves to croissants on Sundays. All things in moderation, pain de campagne excepted. Our kid was a baby then, and thus an early riser. Soon our kid was talking and demanding to be allowed to hold the bag of croissants for the ride home. On setting out the croissants with our coffee, we were surprised to discover all the ends had been eaten off already. Then came a period of rejecting the ends and eating only the middles. How I miss those days. Every time I see a baby, their thighs with those rings of fat, like croissants rising, almost ready to be baked, I want to gobble them up. No wonder the old fairy tales involved old ladies eating children. I read somewhere that it’s this delight in children that helps us get through years of wiping their poopy butts.

IMG_3452
Who wouldn’t steal a flaky tip like this? Look at all those layers. 

Sadly, that bakery closed quite a few years ago. For a while, we held our noses and went to the village smoker-baker, especially because I passed it on the school drop-off/pickup walk. Then a bakery opened in Carcassonne that was very good, with baguettes traditionelles, the old-fashioned kind, with a thicker crust and chewier sour-dough-like insides that make the regular baguettes just not worth one’s time. But sadly, that baker died, and while the guy who took it over is still better than the smoker-baker, he can’t hold a candle to our new bakery.

The consensus among our friends is that the new bakery is good to the point of being bad. “We’re going to gain weight with croissants like these!” one moaned.IMG_3457

 

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41 thoughts on “Croissants

  1. Good croissants are hard to find these days, aren’t they?? We have three bakeries in our village, plus the bread from SPAR and Intermarche, and each does something well, but not everything!! Baguette a l’ancienne from one, pain aux raisins from another, croissants are variable, pain au chocolat aussi… Still, we’re so lucky to have all that choice!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You ARE lucky. We used to go to another village, rather far, but if the hunters came through beforehand, they would be all out of croissants. And, since it was a little village, they wouldn’t bother to make more!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The things they call croissants here in Arizona! We are always on the lookout when we travel here in the US for something halfway as good as a European croissant let alone a French croissant…..the pickings are slim!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am drooling over these photos! I very much miss eating fresh croissants and bread from local boulangeries in France. Even in NY, where we can get some decent bakeries, it’s not the same!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It alway amazes me of the different texture and taste of croissants in the different regions of France. The bakeries with the line out the doors are the only ones to visit. Last year while in Uzes there was a headline in the paper that a certain Boulanger was voted the best
    in France. I wonder how one could decide that. It’s so subjective. Now a pain aux raisins, that gets my attention…..
    Ali

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We have 3 bakeries in our village (of 1000 people, a third of whom live in the nursing home — so I’ve no idea how we support that many bakers!) Everyone goes to all of them, because they all do different things and have different products that one does better than the other. Fortunately I live within equal distance of all of them, so it doesn’t make any difference to me which one I go to in terms of time.

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    1. You ARE lucky! People probably also go to all of them because they are friends or somehow related to all of them. Some of my friends here keep going to the smoker-baker because he’s a second-cousin or they went to school with him.

      Like

  6. Oh, those photos. I’ll be in Paris in a little over three weeks. My first stop will be a boulangerie. First, to breathe in the glorious scent of freshly baked bread. And second, to pick up a croissant. Yum. Can’t wait.

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  7. I have been reading your posts for some time and just want you to know how I love the way you give these small details of daily life in France.  This one especially reminding me of the wonderful croissants I have had in France!  Also, love the historical posts of Carcassone and other sites.  You have opened up a whole new side of the country that we have been missing when traveling there.  Hope to visit soon. A loyal follower

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  8. In our new village in the Lot-et-Garonne we were told by the previous owners of our house that the bakery was not good! Luckily the baker has retired this summer and a young couple are starting up soon, can’t wait! I make my own sourdough bread in the winter but still need a baker for the croissants and summer baguettes. Great photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am conflicted about croissants but as I can no longer eat bread (sad face) or anything that combines wheat and yeast, the conflict can now end. On the one hand – total deliciousness and only about three will do. On the other – messy. I always looked as if my breakfast had exploded and left me hapless. I hope you enjoy every butter-filled mouthful. As I weep…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Somehow my husband manages to leave a scattered haystack of crumbs, but I make sure to get every last morsel into my mouth.
      I know so many people who have trouble with gluten, and now, yeast. However, one friend, well before all the gluten-free stuff took off, gave up bread in a last-ditch effort to fight migraines. He and his wife had found a mislaid loaf of industrial bread in a cupboard, and it showed no signs of decay/mold/rot despite being something like a year past its sell-by date. They kept it, untouched, on the kitchen counter to monitor. Deciding that it was some kind of wheaty Dorian Gray or worse, they swore off industrial bread. Migraines disappeared. Another reader of this blog confessed that her gluten allergy disappeared in France–possibly because the bread here is baked fresh and made to eat today, not tomorrow (day-old baguette could be used for paving blocks or roof tiles). So the culprits are neither gluten nor yeast but the nasty chemicals that allow industrial bread to be sold for weeks. Not a doctor, but just sayin’. OTOH, allergies happen, and if you have the same thing with homemade bread, then you have my condolences.

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      1. I do, which is unfortunate. I tested myself on my friend’s superlative sourdough, made with the finest heritage flours…no luck. That was the acid test. I don’t worry about it here in the UK, even though bread has improved immensely recently but I am sad when in Europe. I was driven to watch my husband eating fabulous bread in Greece this summer, occasionally picking up a piece just to smell it. Bit unnerving, I imagine.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Although I love croissants when I am in a French bakery I really prefer to have a baguette or if I am completely honest, an eclair for breakfast, every day. Then I have the baguette for lunch!

    Beautiful photos by the way.

    Have a great weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. One of these days my friend, I will be coming and you and I are going to drink champagne and eat sweets and of course talk until we are blue in the face.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I loved your stories about the bakers and the bakeries and the photographs of croissants!!! They almost border on cruel because I couldn’t lay my hands on one… even close to being that good… if my life depended on it. Warm, homemade flour tortillas… That’s another story… I try and ignore them for the sake of my thighs! xoxox, Brenda

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  12. I am not a huge fan of most croissants so I’d welcome your super decadent baker with open arms. Better one rich indulgence from time than those airy, tasteless things that pass as croissants in many bakeries. You are lucky to have choices!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Your luscious pics makes me want a croissant and I shall go out in search today. It’s a true marvel that even though it seems that in France every citizen has a fine baker either a few minutes walk or drive away, they still can make delicious baked goods with their own fair hands. But given the amount of time required to make a buttery, flaky croissant from scratch, it’s not worth mastering since a delicious croissant is a mere moment on the lips!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m actually grateful that we don’t have a local baker near here that can make good croissants. None of my clothes would fit me anymore. We sometimes make the trip into Toronto to visit an authentic French bakery and gobble up as many authentic baked delights as possible. They also make a delicious eclairs, with real pastry cream. How I hate the fake cream filling they use in North America.

    When I lived in France I became hooked on chaussons aux pommes. There was one particular bakery in Montpellier that had THE BEST chausson aux pommes I’ve ever tasted.
    Now that I’m so much older I would gain 5 lbs by just looking at them.

    Suzanne
    http://www.suzannecarillo.com

    Liked by 1 person

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