Best Croissant in New York 2019
Opening the door to my earliest memories of Paris—'Bonjour, mademoiselle!’ calls a waiter in formal black attire at the former hotel Celtic on rue Balzac, as he briskly crosses the room carrying a breakfast tray on which sits a pot of coffee, a small pitcher of warm milk, a jar of confiture de fraise, a small pot of butter and a basket containing a crusty mini-baguette with a faint dusting of flour and two golden croissants. Having grown up on Wonder Bread whose slogan was ‘Helping build strong bodies 12 ways,’ I never knew bread could taste so good if made with no more than four basic ingredients – flour, water, leaven and a little bit of salt. It’s a government rule. Add oil and you have Italian croissants. Hands down, I thought it the most perfect Continental breakfast in Paris.
As 2019 walked in the door, I began to wonder if it was possible to find a croissant in New York to rival the crispy, finger-licking buttery croissant of dreams? What makes for a great croissant? According to Chef Emilio at Financier Patisserie, the secret lies in having the right amount of butter and butter fat. Remembering those mornings so long ago in Paris, I can attest to a serious case of buttery fingers.
But New York is not Paris, with a patisserie on every street. So where to go? Surprisingly, it wasn’t all that hard to find what I was looking for. Within a few blocks of home, the fragrant aroma of something sensational baking in an oven, brought me to a standstill, had me peeking in the window of a small shop, ‘The Madeleine.’ Within all was in readiness, and off to one side a stand-up counter for those in a hurry. Featured that morning were cakes—Galette des Rois, the King’s Cake—which are sold in all French bakeries to celebrate the Twelfth Night of Christmas. This is a time for families to gather, to eat the cake in which is baked a hand-painted ornament, and to take down the tree and put away the holiday trimmings for another year. But I’m not looking for a cake, only a croissant. Owned by a husband and wife team—he an engineer from Guadeloupe, she from Paris—The Madeleine makes an incredibly delicious croissant that’s flavorful, buttery and slightly chewy. All of which stacks up very well against those in memory, if perhaps somewhat smaller. Okay, but is it the best in New York? I’m off to find out.
Next up, Maison Kayser, the one on Third Avenue at East 87th Street (above). Eric Kayser and his team have won Best Baguette in New York, will he win Best Croissant? The cakes and pastries are dazzling, the shelves lined with fabulous breads, and being that it’s mid-morning I have a choice of tables. What’s new and notable is a sign on my table saying they are going cashless. Yet, when the head of the family of six across from me takes out cash, it’s accepted. I question the waiter, who says you can still pay in cash, but only if you have the exact amount; they don’t make change. I hear millennials prefer to go cashless. And what of the croissant? Surprisingly good, but not as buttery or as beautifully coiled on the inside as those in my Paris breadbox of memories.
Moving along, I head for Grand Central Station, set upon checking out the croissant at Financiere Patisserie (above), located a few steps from the East 42nd Street entrance of the gorgeous landmark terminal. (Everlasting thanks go to Jackie Kennedy Onassis who spearheaded a rescue of the glorious terminal from the wrecker’s ball.) Business is brisk as I arrive, and Financier glitters and gleams, in part, due to a sharp-eyed young girl who’s busy removing any fingerprints that may have been left behind on the glass cases. A sign indicates that Financier Patisserie won the Grand Prix for Best Croissant in 2018. One bite tells me it’s is a worthy contender for the Desperately Seeking Paris Award for 2019! Breaking it open, the folds are picture-perfect, the butter-to-flakiness ratio excellent.
But still, it’s too early to say. I head for the main market at Grand Central Station, which is something that every visitor to the city should do. There the 13 vendors include Bien Cuit, Ceriello Fine Foods, Dishes at Home, E.A.T. Gifts, Eli Zabar's Bread & Pastry, Eli Zabar's Farm to Table, Li-Lac Chocolates, Murray's Cheese, Oren's Daily Roast, Pescatore Seafood, Spices and Tease, and Sushi by Pescatore. It’s a wonder! Years ago, we had a pied-a-terre in the Murray Hill area, and I shopped there regularly when in New York. To return now, if only to check on the croissants, felt like a homecoming. For a walker in the city, the joys of New York are only challenged by those of Paris.
The genius behind Bien Cuit is Zachary Golper, one of America’s most celebrated bakers of small batch artisanal breads. The name Bien Cuit comes from the French expression meaning ‘well done’, which describes the darkest, crunchiest loaves. He uses a baking process that brings out the flavors of the local grains. What’s more, the natural caramelizing caused by the heat, brings out a sweetness that the young lady behind the counter explained was a by-product of slow-baking. When I broke open the Bien Cuit croissant, the buttery coils that were so beautiful, brought to mind a free-flowing, non-hexagonal honeycomb. Here’s the good news: If you’re not in New York, you can go on-line and order the fabulous breads from Bien Cuit in Brooklyn. Check it out, the offerings are sensational. And if following Zachary Golper’s recipes— Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread— you could become the best bread-maker in town.
Gabriel Kreuther, the president of the 2018 blind-tasting jury and chef-owner of the eponymously-named Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurant, explained: ‘A good croissant is a crispy, flaky puff pastry. But when you pull it apart, the coils must unroll slowly. This is a sign that the dough has been well made (ah-ha! bien cuit!) and that the butter to dough ratio is balanced.’
Desperately Seeking Paris could not have said it better herself. Bien Cuit has the most flavorful and buttery croissant I tasted last week, and the dough unrolls ever so slowly. For all those reasons, Bien Cuit gets my vote for the Absolute Best Croissant in New York.
That’s all for today, mes amis. Profitez de votre ‘bien cuit’ croissant! But tell me, where do you buy your croissants? Hope to see you back next week when I’ll have a prize-winning croissant and a cafe au lait ready for you. Jusque là…until then.