Croissants aux Amandes
Ever wonder where the millions of unsold Parisian croissants go? The shelf life of a croissant is about four hours, which is why bakeries should never be visited after 10am: the croissants become hard, dry, and brittle. But the French, it seems, are very good at recycling. A day's old croissant is more often than not turned into a brand new sugared almond croissant by adding a layer of frangipane, sprinkling with confectioner's sugar, and re-baking. And for those who like sweet pastries, they can be quite tasty. For this tour, I visited the pâtisseries and boulangeries best known for exceptional croissants au beurre, with the thinking that the croissants aux amandes would be equally impressive. In general this held true, though there were a few surprises along the way. I started this journey without a sweet tooth and by the end, finished a few pounds heavier. Warning: this is not a post for dieters.
Jean Millet, 103 rue Saint-Dominique, 7e
Instead of showering their almond croissants with powdered sugar, Jean Millet coats each croissant aux amandes in sugar creating a sweet yet distinctly crunchy clear shell of glaze. The blackened ends are approach burnt, perhaps due to the addition of sugar before being placed in the oven. Sections of the sugar glaze that broke away from the shell appear a frosted white. The center of the croissant is golden brown with clearly defined ridges running across. The croissant has a horizontal slice splitting it in half where it was lined with a light layer of frangipane. But since the sugar shell turned solid, the croissant remained crispy -- not a as a result of a flakey texture, rather of hardened sugar. It was very sweet and tasted strongly of rum. The inside did have some air pockets but the layering mainly compressed into the frangipane producing a dense interior.
This was essentially a candied croissant. It was very sweet, and very flavorful. The dominant flavor and scent was of rum, followed by caramel and sugar. Some parts of the inside between the sugar coating and frangipane developed a texture very similar to rum-soaked raisins. Almost like a "croissant fritter," the French cousin of an American apple fritter.
Laurent Duchêne, 2, Rue Wurtz, 13e
Though flat in appearance, croissant aux amandes from Laurent Duchêne cannot be overlooked. After sliced horizontally and lined not with frangipane but with a clear sugar-almond spread, these pastries are abundantly topped with toasted almonds and powdered sugar. Rings of layers were still visible, though significantly covered by the powdered sugar. The thinness of the almonst filling causes the croissant to lose its texture, becoming soggy towards the middle. This pastry is best eaten with a fork and knife. The only parts of the croissant aux amandes that remain crispy are those which did not make contact with the filling, mainly the outer surface and ends. The flavor is of sweet sugar tasting slightly of caramel, with light notes of almond on the finish.
Despite not being the most attractive, this was one of the better croissant aux amandes. The lack of frangipane definitely helped. Even though these were very sweet, the exterior of the shell remained crispy and the toasted flavor helped to balance the sweetness of the sugary almond filling. Overall they were pretty well-balanced. My only complaint is the soggyness that resulted in the interior from the liquid filling. If that could somehow be cut in half, these would be outstanding.
Aux Castelblangeois, 168 rue Saint-Honoré, 1e
The croissants aux amandes from Aux Castelblangeois take the form of a shell with a vertical cut splitting it nearly in half. This is where the croissant was filled with frangipane. The croissant was just barely dusted with powdered sugar making the appearance dark brown and gold with sparse specks of white powdered sugar. The almond slices garnishing the top had been cut in half. The flavor tasted strongly of almonds and only slightly of sugar and vanilla. The frangipane was not evenly distributed -- three quarters of it was on the left side of the crossant. This preserved the cavernous interior as well as the flakey texture, while still adding an element of almond and sugar.
When I first saw this croissant I laughed at its unshapely and lazy appearance, particularly with the vertical slice that suggested its maker was trying to save as much time as possible. Then I tasted it and was pleasantly surprised. This croissant was not overly sweet, tasted like almonds, and still resembled the texture of a croissant. It seems that the vertical slice preserved the texture of the croissant's interior leaving it hollow and crispy. The one part I did not like about this croissant was the thick pile of frangipane that did bunch together on one side -- it was essentially all almond with no croissant, much like biting into a piece of soft marzipane. But the flavor was not cloying throughout, and would have paired nicely with unsweetened coffee.
Boulanger Julien, 85 rue Saint Dominique, 7e
These croissant aux amandes resemble a twisted paper pouch a parisian pâtisserie might give to hold its pastries. Either that or a very fatty fish. The exterior has clearly visible layers, with fanning on one end of the pastry. The colors are light to dark brown, completely covered in white powdered sugar. Garnishing the top are a handful of thinly toasted almonds bound by a paper-thin spread of frangipane. This croissant was split horizontally and again spread with a very thin layer of frangipane. This croissant was crispy and shattered on my table with each bite. Despite being filled with frangipane and cut in half, the inside remained cavernous and was not soggy.
This croissant aux amandes is proof that frangipane does not have to be the enemy. Despite being layered two times with this almond paste, the texture remained crispy and the croissant did not lose its shape or texture. The ends of this croissant were the best part as they had little to no frangipane yet still tasted of sugar and almonds. The ends were also the crispiest part. The flavor tasted very strongly of almonds leaving my palate with the flavor of vanilla for quite some time afterwards. What most impressed me about this croissant was how even despite the almond-ization it still resembled a croissant -- many many layers of delicate crispy pastry crisping and making a mess with each bite. This was delicious.
Thierry Renard, 113 bis Boulevard de l'Hôpital, 4e
Croissants aux amandes at Thierry Renard come in the shape of an arrow, and are heavy, flat, and spongy. The surface is covered by a strip of custard which develops a more chewy texture when baked in the oven. The entire pastry is covered with powdered sugar and toasted almonds. The smell is of vanilla, likely due to the custard sitting on the surface. The inside texture is of cake, with no clearly identifiable layering. Breaking off a piece releases powdered sugar into the air; there are no flakes that fall off.
This is another croissant that was completely destroyed by spreading a wet custard on top of a delicate structure. The end result was a messy heap of sugar, bread, and custard that didn't even resemble a croissant. The flavor was overwhelmingly sweet and of vanilla. The only part of this croissant that tasted like almond were the pieces of almond up top; otherwise this would be a vanilla custard cake.
Frédéric Comyn, 27 rue Friant, 14e
After having read about Frédéric Comyn from Chez Pim's post on the best croissant in paris, I decided it wouldn't be a ridiculous assumption to make that their croissants aux amandes be fantastic as well. I decided wrong. Frédéric Comyn's croissant aux amandes is not the most shapely; it is more like a heap of croissant parts and almonds piled together and buried in powdered sugar. Some parts of the croissant were a very dark brown, almost burnt, while others a pale yellow. This almond croissant, thankfully, was not filled with frangipane; rather everything was baked together giving the interior a chance at not being wet. The surface was not crispy; rather, it was hard in certain places from having dried out in the oven. The inside was moist and dense; there were no visible bubbles or holes. The scent was of maple syrup, which when combined with the flavor of the very sweet, bread-like interior texture, reminded me of pancakes.
The almond croissants at Frédéric are overlooked and not given nearly so much attention as the regular croissants. They almost appeared to be an afterthought lacking form, balance, and flavor. Is it too much to ask for an almond croissant that resembles a croissant? This was more like a sweet and soft bread pudding. It was cloying. There was no visible layering, and the airiness that makes a croissant unique was nonexistent. Stick with the regular croissants.
Le Quartier du Pain, 74 rue Saint-Charles, 15e
This croissant aux amandes was flat and wide, loaded with toasted almond slices and powdered sugar. The weight was heavy, and a clear lateral slice was visible where this pastry had been filled with frangipane. The pastry was not crispy, and was wet due to the filling of frangipane. Pieces of either end break off like cake. It's possible to see that at one point the croissant aux amandes had layers, but they were so compacted together that they had little to no effect. The color was uniformly light brown, even on the bottom which was the exact same color as the surface. The entire pastry was very greasy. The taste was of frangipane and slightly of vanilla, sweet, and cold from the frangipane paste.
I honestly don't understand how anyone could sell a soggy croissant with a straight face. Croissants should never be filled with anything, let alone a thick paste like frangipane -- it completely destroys the texture and turns a once light and crispy piece of art into a dense and soggy cake with no life. The only thing crispy on this pastry was the toasted almond; but the inside was so wet I'm pretty sure I could have rung the entire pastry out and gotten drop of water and grease. It almost seems as if this was sitting at the bottom of a large pile of almond croissants all morning; but that still doesn't excuse the lateral incision and stuffing of frangipane, which is unforgivable. I also found the croissant very sweet, as if I was eating spoonfuls of frangipane directly. No good.
Au Levain du Marais, 28 Blvd Beaumarchais, 11e
The Croissant aux Amandes from Au Levain du Marais look, feel, and taste more like cake than croissants. In fact, the first identifiable characteristic is a horizontal slice going through the middle of each croissant, like a layer cake, where a layer of frangipane was spread with a knife. The croissant was covered with a large spoonful of powdered sugar. The color was mostly amber with patches of dark brown hidden underneath the white sugar. Aside from a few tiny pieces on each end, this was not a crispy croissant, and aside from the fact that at one point the layers were folded, had little to do with a croissant. This seemed more like an almond cake.
The inside was moderately greasy, though it was hard to tell whether this was caused by the large amounts of frangipane or the pastry itself. Due to its custard-like density, the frangipane tasted much colder than the rest of the croissant, and stuck to the thin layers of pastry forming indistinguishable layers of pastry and cream making uncoiling impossible. The inside tasted like crème brûlée since the frangipane was more like a vanilla crème than almond paste, with the toasted caramel flavor coming from the top layer of the crust. The flavor was sweet; but not cloying, and there was little trace of salt.
I didn't like this almond croissant so much as I did the regular butter croissant. For me it was too soft, tasted too much of vanilla, lacked a crispy shell, had too dense of an interior, and had too much powdered sugar on the outside. I don't think frangipane is an ingredient that belongs inside croissants since it's too heavy and creamy to enjoy what makes a croissant so delicious in the first place: its light, fluffy, airy, and delicate texture that tastes slightly of toasted butter.
Philipe Gosselin, 125 Rue Saint-Honoré, 1e
Gosselin's croissants aux amandes are flat, wide, and dense. Black ridges surround the edges, just crossing over into burnt territory. The entire croissant is covered with powdered sugar, which stuck out profoundly against the black regions of this pastry. The surface was very crispy, but only for a thin layer which quickly changed to wet. This was a messy croissant. There was no noticible layering inside the croissant, the interior more like a bread pudding of cannelé with a spongy texture. There were few visible bubbles at the very bottom. The inside was moderately greasy, and the frangipane could have been scooped out with a spoon. There was no uncoiling as I pulled off a piece, the inside was too dense and wet for that. The top of the croissant was garnished with a single almond slice. The flavor was overwhelmingly of vanilla, and was very sweet. Pieces of the edges had a very strong burnt flavor.
The first thing that struck me about this croissant aux amandes was how flat and wide it was. I've seen similar things, but they usually involve baking cookies at high altitudes -- these croissants were squished -- too dense ! The smell of vanilla was very pleasant, except the taste too strong and way too sweet. Where was the almond flavor? But above all that, these were left too long in the oven; I found the burnt flavor too overwhelming and could not finish this.
At the end of my adventure, the thing that struck me as most interesting was the diversity of textures and flavors I encountered. With a butter croissant, there's a fictitious ideal of the perfect pastry for which all bakers strive to reproduce. There are no such guidelines for almond croissants: some are airy cakes, others more like dense bread pudding with abundant custard. Some even have brittle candied shells. The nice thing about these pastries is that they all do keep quite better than regular croissants, making for an excellent mid-afternoon snack.