Once upon a time, my neighborhood bakery made a distinction that defines the single most important element of success in the enduring quest for the perfect croissant.
The perfect croissant is to be defined in terms of shape, size, color, texture, features and taste according to this formula:
- Shape: tall, perfectly curved; flat on the bottom, fluffy on top. : height should be exactly two thirds of the width;
- Size: 3 bites, no more, no less;
- Color: gold with tiny slivers of white and burnt orange in the folds and at the seams;
- Texture: crusty shell on the outside, soft and airy on the inside. Holds well together, shouldn’t give out much crumbs.
- Features: none!
- Taste: the perfect croissant is a) plain and b) not about butter.
Rare as is true love, Perfect croissant is rarer.
Jean de La Fontaine
For croissant is a pure symbol, an ideal, like Love, Trust or World Peace, if you are serious about it, you are not looking for Love and a Sizable Bank Account, Trust and also a Side of Fries or World Peace and Free Roller-Coaster Rides; You are not looking for croissant and something else either. Adding stuff to the quintessential croissant is like applying make-up to a marble statue or demanding that Venus get a boob job.
So, speaking for instance of “Chocolate Croissant” is already uttering an oxymoron, referring to a chimera, naming a freak of nature, rated W for Wrong. Chocolate croissant might taste good, but it’s not a croissant. French language is at least clear about that.
Although the deviant practice of “enhancing” the plain croissant is as widely spread in France as anywhere else, “chocolate croissant” is referred to as “pain au chocolat” (“chocolatine” in the South); language thereby reflects the instinctive knowledge that any addition to the croissant generates a different beast.
Also, plain means plain. Croissant should taste like croissant, not like melted butter.
So, the neighborhood bakery I knew as a kid made the most interesting distinction, and one that has been long lost. For your daily croissant, you had a hard choice between “regular” (croissant nature) and “butter” (croissant au beurre). I realize that the distinction will seem factitious, since you just can’t bake a croissant without a lot of butter. Still, if you ask me, there’s definitely a way to do it just right (“nature“) and a way to overdo it (“au beurre“). Although she acknowledged more vulgar tastes and appealed to a growing audience by offering “croissants au beurre“, my childhood baker also understood the secret of this Art very well: in a perfect croissant, the taste of butter should absolutely not overpower the taste of dough.
Too much butter compromises everything: the shape (the folds tend to grow flat, instead of slowly curling in the oven to finally resemble the pursed lips of a Renaissance Angel, as they should), the color (solid yellow), the texture (too crumbly) and, of course, the taste.
I have to admit that the modern taste has given preference to the “croissant au beurre” and that too much butter has become the new normal. But it’s only by going “nature” that you shall hit the perfect note which, time and again, will reward you with the divine, unaltered, uncompromised gustatory experience that led mankind to the culinary breakthrough known as croissant.