Thursday, August 27, 2015

One writer, four croissants, one mission: Orlando's best croissant

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2015 at 12:20 PM

I woke up this morning as I usually do: with a hankering, followed by a sense of deep sadness. 

I tweeted from my funk:

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A couple of minutes later, another Orlando Weekly food writer tweeted back at me:

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I felt like one of those obnoxious people who thinks Orlando is sub-par in just about every way and makes no effort to prove otherwise (you all know these people). 

I am not one of those people. I love this town. I was born here. It's a very cool place if you make the effort to go out and find The Greatness.

So, I got up, got dressed and set out to find The Greatness — in croissant form.

I planned my route. I live near SoDo, so I decided to work northward, ending up in Winter Park, where I work:

1. Benjamin French Bakery 
2. Backhaus
3. Olde Hearth Bread Co. in East End Market
4. Croissant Gourmet

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At each bakery, I purchased a plain, traditional croissant (because that was the whole point), and a specialty croissant: apricot, raisin, almond and chocolate (bought in the same order as the bakeries listed above). 

Once I got to work, I bribed my colleagues into helping me with a completely blind taste test. They listed the croissants  and put them on plates and then mixed them up so I wouldn't know which was which. Here are the four (clockwise from bottom left):

1. Croissant Gourmet
2. Olde Hearth Bread Co.
3. Backhaus
4. Benjamin French


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Now, I'll give you a brief rundown of my qualifications (aka #humblebrag): I went to culinary school in Chicago and learned to make these things firsthand from some of the Windy City's top pastry professionals. I lived in France and ate one every freaking day. I've been eating professionally and writing about it for almost 10 years.

Also, if you haven't figured out by this point in this post, I get hyper-focused on one food craving and will not rest until I've satisfied it.

That's it. I hope that proves I'm not some yahoo who's just out to destroy reputations here. That being said, everyone has different tastes. I hope you'll go out and do your own taste test and find your own favorite. (When you do, let me know.)

How you know a good croissant: Pull either end of the croissant and the middle should come right out in a lovely, shiny roll of smooth, soft dough. Following that, you should sigh deeply and then die right on the spot. That's what good pastry should do to you: kill you dead (if it's not the ethereal quality of the pastry, it'll eventually be the butter, so either way). 

After 20 minutes of earnestly pulling, prodding, crackling, and tasting, I had accomplished my laminated-dough mission:

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Here are the results (you — and @faiyazkara — have waited long enough):

#1 WINNER: Backhaus — Crispy, crackly, super-flaky outside. Pulled apart easily with a beautifully buttery center. Flavor was a little bit sweet, a little bit salty. With every bite, I sighed deeply and slipped further from mortality.

#2 RUNNER-UP: Benjamin French — It was *really* close. The flavor was the real deciding factor here. Benjamin French's croissant was all the things Backhaus' was, but the Benjamin French croissant had the slightest bitterness that I couldn't attribute to any one ingredient. I'd love to know what butter each bakery uses, since there's really more butter in croissants than there is anything else.

#3: Olde Hearth Bread Co.:
 Passable. Nothing more. No crisp exterior, no pulling of the center, minimal buttery decadence. 

#4: Croissant Gourmet: For a bakery with the name of the pastry in its branding, I would have expected much better. Simply put, this croissant would be best served as part of a budget hotel's continental breakfast. Bummer.

I didn't get to every bakery in Orlando, so of course this ranking is by no means exhaustive of all the good pastry-making going on here. Two I wish I'd hit up: Le Gourmet Break and Charlie's Bakery, both of which do excellent things with flour and yeast and butter and water. I also have to give honorable mention to Segafredo Zanetti in the Mills Park complex, which serves their croissants (which are enormous, btw) split and griddled until golden and caramelized. God bless them.

As for me and my house, that German bakery in Ivanhoe Village is my new French pastry paradise. 



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