As was true for my pastrami safari, searching for excellent/off-beat croissants is a worthy question for someone who puts her fear of allergies way ahead of her fear of fat pants. I have a long list of foods I can’t eat (or make myself enjoy eating: sorry fennel, green peppers, kimchi, etc), but I’ve yet to meet any not-vegans who don’t enjoy a flakey croissant, with or without filling, at breakfast or after. After writing up Momofuku’s genius croissant a la pastrami, I set out to find similar pastries that strayed from the conventional “pain au chocolat” path. Here are a few of my findings.
The Savory Legend: City Bakery’s Pretzel Croissant
City Bakery, as well as its more eco off-shoot chain, Birdbath, have two famed specialty items, one sweet, one salty, both completely unhealthy. The first, their hot chocolate, is just about out of season, but keep it in mind for next winter since it’s essentially warm, liquid pudding, like the milk with cocoa your mom used to make if she swapped out the milk for melted butter. The second, the pretzel croissant, is the most genius hybrid creation since the cockapoo or the Prius; it’s got all the exterior flakiness and interior chewiness of a croissant, but with all the salty goodness and pretzel flavor, so you will end up covered in both crumbs and seeds, and, if you’re not mindful, unable to fit into your not-fat pants.
This is the only croissant I’m aware of with a cult (hence its very own website). Like any good hybrid, it’s elements are better as a combination than they are solo. Unlike your average, filling-less croissant, the pretzel croissant has a unique, addictive flavor, and unlike a regular pretzel, it tastes good with jam or any fruity or sugary spread. The butteriness of the croissant keeps it from being too sour, and I’m a strong believer in mixing sweet and salty flavors—if I had a kinder metabolism, I’d probably dip one directly into that hot chocolate, but as is, I take my liquid chocolate butter and solid pretzel butter separately.
The Croissant-as-Candy: Breads Bakery’s Choco-Almond Croissant
I’ve written about Breads Bakery’s chocolate hamentashen, a.k.a., the first Jewish dessert I’ve ever eaten after a lifetime career of Jewishness that didn’t taste like it was secretly exacting some sort of discipline. Since then, I’ve become a huge Breads fan, mostly of their chocolate babka, which I like to bring to gatherings so I can A, be babka-evengelical, because everybody should experience a chocolate bread with actual Nutella in it, and B, eat it in the company of others so I don’t consume an entire loaf myself and sit there helplessly in my apartment as my heart to stops beating due to a butter overdose.
Along the same lines of epicurean excess, their chocolate-almond croissant is like the pastry version of that KFC sandwich that uses fried chicken as the bread. Not only is there a solid brick of chocolate inside, but for the almond filling, they use an extremely rich marzipan. I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t much like the flavor of marzipan, or are creeped out by what’s essentially a dessert shape-shifter (“it’s a tiny orange made out of something that tastes nothing like orange!”), but I am not one of those people. I love almond-flavored things way more than almonds themselves, from those crunchy Italian cookies to your crappiest Amaretto-flavored gas station fro yo, which makes Breads’ choco-almond croissant almost too beautiful to bear. Everytime I allow myself to have one, I’m reminded of the time I gave my late dog, King Buzzo, a particular rawhide treat that was somehow so amazing to him that he trotted around the living room several times with it in his mouth, crying, before actually digging in. It was like I had given him an Academy Award instead of some dried cow with dried chicken on it, and when I have the choco-almond croissant, I feel the same level of joy, minus the trotting and tears.
The (Not-)Croissant: The DKA
There’s been much internets talk lately about “The Cronut,” the new croissant-donut hybrid at Soho’s famed Dominique Ansel Bakery. From what I’ve read, it’s as flakey as a croissant, but layered with cream ganache, and there’s deep-frying involved, as well as roses and tahitian vanilla and all sort of other elements that make it sound like something from Dunkin Donuts but covered in food diamonds. What I managed to skim over, however, is that it sells out almost instantly, so when I showed up to try one in the afternoon, the cronuts were long gone. It’s for the best, though: the bakery’s usual croissant-esque specialty, the DKA, was intense enough to convince me that trying the Cronut would have sent me into some sort of sugary cro-hole that I’d need serious help to get out of.
DKA stands for ”Dominique’s Kouign Amann.” A kouing-amann is a pastry from Brittany, France, with the dubious/honored title of “the fattiest pastry in all of Europe.” As described in the New York Times, it’s “something like a croissant but with extra layers of salted butter baked between the sheets, and a crispy coating of caramelized sugar.” Dominique’s twist on it seems to be a little extra chewiness to the crust and interior, which gives it the texture of something fried, making it taste like the classiest fried dough/funnel cake you’ve ever had, maybe sold at a state fair where all the carnies had full sets of teeth. It’s also shaped more like a small cake or muffin, so the only thing separating it from being totally donut-like is the lack of a hole in the middle.
Even if it lacks the ganache and fanciful touches of it’s Cro-sin, the DKA is insanely good (and, even though it’s not that big, insanely bad for you—seriously, if you have a family history of heart disease or diabetes, or a high school history of bulimia, don’t even walk down the same block as this bakery). It’s the most unique of all the croissants I tasted, even if it is the most deadly.