I haven’t always loved croissants. As a kid I found them a little boring and I much preferred a pain au raisin (raisin swirl) or a chausson aux pommes (puff pastry filled with apple compote). Even chocolate croissants weren’t exciting enough, the chocolate too dark and bitter for my taste buds.
Just as I left France at seventeen, I rediscovered a love for croissants. I’d moved to the US for college, but I always tried to find a job or internship in Paris over the summer. Those first few years, through college and grad school, I returned to France for long stretches of time, often living in different neighborhoods depending on where I worked. My favorite moment was always that first morning, just off the plane, when I walked to the closest bakery for a croissant. Now that I’m no longer on a student or teaching schedule and my summers are spent in NYC, I can’t as easily satiate my longing for croissants.
New York is blessed with excellent artisanal bakeries. There’s very good bread (Orwashers’ baguette and Arcade Bakery’s mîche are standouts), but I’ve found it challenging to come across a truly great croissant. Often they’re flavorless, dense, bready, too soft, too dry, or too sweet, and occasionally, they’re even rancid. So, where does one find the perfect croissant in this city?
Thankfully, at Martha & Marley Spoon we have a team of food specialist who cook and eat for a living, meaning they’re the toughest critics and the greatest cheerleaders of food obsessions. And so, one day I decided to bring in croissants from various New York bakeries to determine the best croissant in the city, aka the battle of croissants.
We decided the best way to taste them was to try them side by side. We divided the contenders into three tastings, deciding 5 was about as many croissants we could take in one sitting. And we always tasted them in the morning, when they’re freshest, sometimes still warm from the oven (I’m looking at you, Arcade Bakery!).
For a pastry so simple and humble, I was amazed by the variation in shape and color. Some were dark, almost brown, while others were golden like fresh yolk. We began by studying the concentric layers of crust, then we sliced them in half and breathed in their scent. Savory, sweet, yeasty?
We do care about appearance, especially when the croissant’s beauty relies entirely on its shape and shine. But flavor and texture are everything, and that first bite is the most important. You’ll instantly know if the top flake is crisp and the center soft and pillowy. A few seconds later you’ll distinguish the flavor, which should be the essence of butter.
Epicérie Boulud, helmed by the talented François Brunet, has by far the most beautiful croissant. You’ll find concentric layers of laminated dough overlapping in gorgeous parallel lines. A crisp and shiny top browned to perfection. Sadly, the croissants didn’t have the rich flavor of butter we so long for in a pastry. Instead, we recommend you try their fantastic Nutella pain au chocolat, where nutella and chocolate thrive alongside.
Bien Cuit’s croissant had the most potential. A beautiful exterior, a crunchy shell that provides a satisfying “crrrrrr” sound as it shatters upon the first bite. The pleasant flavor of real butter. And yet, despite all the praise, their croissants were just too “bien cuit” (well-cooked), meaning the crust has a bitter aftertaste. My father, who is somewhat of a croissant snob, told me they were burned. He’s right, croissants shouldn’t be charred.
L’Imprimérie, a newcomer to the pastry scene, is our favorite recent discovery. We couldn’t get enough of their ham and cheese croissants (shaped like a pain au chocolat), and we were excited to try their plain croissant. I had two different experiences. The first time, the flake was light and airy with a delicate butter flavor. The second time it had a yeasty flavor that distracted from that stunning flake, and the bottom was a little too dark. We hope they figure out any cinches over the next few months, as we’ll certainly be returning for more!
Mille-Feuille’s croissant, our culinary director’s favorite, had the most intense butter flavor. It hits you on the nose with savory, almost briny notes. The lighthearted should tread carefully, be prepared for a pure butter experience. We recommend their chausson aux pommes, as the sweet creamy apple filling so perfectly balances out the savory puff pastry.
We had high hopes for Lafayette’s croissants because we’re so in love with their almond croissants (a super crunchy body and a subtle almond-scented filling) but the croissant itself, after a few tries, disappointed. A beautiful shape and expert lamination, but the interior was somewhat dense, like bread.
The winner. For me, hands down, Ladurée’s croissant. I’m an ends person—I love golden bits and crunchy knobs, and Ladurée’s is the only croissant in New York City with such crunchy ends. You’ll notice its unusual shape, thinner arms that connect in an embrace. But the flavor is what won me over: glorious butter essence. It’s on the sweeter side with a hint of salt, the interior soft and light, while the exterior maintains a lovely crispness. Beware, Ladurée sells out throughout the day, so best to stop by in the early morning if you’d like a fresh pastry.
What did we learn? The team was divided—while a few of us agreed on a winner, there was no clear consensus. Our favorites came from Ladurée, Mille-Feuille, and L’imprimérie. But I have a confession. The best croissant came from Benoit’s incredibly young and talented pastry chef, Thomas Padovani, who was raised in Corsica and worked at the Plaza Athenée. He’s been hard at work on pastries for the fall, and we were lucky to try a few of his early attempts in June. While the croissants hadn’t perfectly risen, the crust had an unparalleled crunchy flake and the butter flavor was intoxicating. I can’t wait for him to perfect his croissant, because when he does, it’s going to be fabulous, and you’ll be running to Benoit for a weekday breakfast.