Here’s the croissant that won. Note the careful radial layering of pastry levels, and you can almost smell the butter.
What are you looking for in a croissant? This quintessential French pastry — shaped like the horns on a steer — should be flaky, buttery, and paradoxically both light and substantial at the same time. Yet, within these conceptual confines, there’s a lot of wiggle room. Some are bulbous, some shrunken. Some a major feed, others a featherweight snack. Fork in the Road went on a mad dash through the city’s croissanteries this last weekend, and here are the best we tasted.
5. Francois Payard Bakery — If there were a golden mean in croissantdom, this product hits it perfectly: the right size, of medium weight, and consistent from specimen to specimen. Look at the croissants lined up in the glass case, and you’ll see they’re all nearly identical. Is this a good thing? Maybe not, it depends on your perspective. 116 West Houston Street, 212-995-0888
4. Le Pain Quotidien — We don’t like this ubiquitous Belgian chain much — it has gobbled up space all over the city, and the quality of its bread has declined. Not so the fancy French pastries, and, lucky for us, its croissants, which remain generous and bulbous, are a little bit sweet, with a rich unfolding of flavor in the mouth. The only defect: They’re a little on the oily side. 1271 First Avenue, 212-988-5001
3. Tartine — At a mere 4.5 inches, this is the smallest of the great croissants. Not to be confused with the Tartine in San Francisco’s Mission district, our own Tartine is located in the West Village and was founded by French people from Brittany. Their idea of a croissant is the kind of thing you might bring with you on a sailing craft: tough skinned, darkly browned, and as buttery as the sun looks on a clear but blustery day. 253 West 11th Street, 212-229-2611
2. Bien Cuit — This revolutionary Cobble Hill bakery is most famous for its diverse roster of large and earthy breads, and the croissants keep pace: bigger, darker, chewier, more substantial, as if a croissant were trying its damnedest to be a full loaf of bread. A sandwich made with this behemoth is called a hero. 120 Smith Street, Brooklyn, 718-852-0200
1. Patisserie Claude — The eponymous Claude repatriated himself to France a couple of years ago, leaving his assistant in charge of the baking. Guess what? The croissants are even better than when the old man — a real neighborhood figure for decades in Sheridan Square — was in charge. The crescent-shaped pastry is way buttery, flaky, and so rich tasting that one is easily enough. 187 West 4th Street, 212-255-5911
Payard: 6″ $2.50
Pan Quotidien: 5.5″ $2.75
Tartine: 4.5″ $2.50
Bien Cuit: 7″ $2.85
Claude: 6.5″ $2.25
Tomorrow: A first look at Avenue A’s Croissanteria.