Great croissants are notoriously challenging to make--layering cold butter between dough and folding it back on itself, rolling out the dough again, then refolding until there are hundreds of layers of dough-butter-dough that puff up in the heat of the oven. Check out this video to see the process in action.
The problem with croissants is the same thing that happened to real bagels. They've been dumbed-down over the decades into the horrible, flabby, enormous catcher's mitts you find everywhere from Burger King to the corner gas station. This week, we remedy that with great croissants from two OC bakeries.
My go-to bakery for croissants is Irvine's Layer Cake Bakery. The plain croissants are fantastic, but the almond version elevates them another level. Baked crisp on the outside, yet still tender and moist on the inside, it pulls apart with just a hint of glutenous resistance.
Let's take a look inside:
The laminated dough puffs up into perfectly delicate layers, rich with the taste of butter, but not in the least bit greasy. The corners and bottoms have just enough browned crispiness for toasty flavor and satisifying texture contrast with the interior. The frangipane at Layer Cake is made from coarse-ground almonds, and combined with a generous ratio of pastry cream. It's about as good an almond croissant as I've had in Orange County.
It's a basic truth that the best French bakeries in Orange County are run by Asians. But recently, a friend (thanks, Adam C!) tipped me off to Au Cœur de Paris in Westminster, which is owned by a Frenchman. Located in a unlikely concrete office space on the outskirts of Little Saigon, Dave lavished praise on its macarons last week--and for good reason.
Me? I think its pâté chaud, the Vietnamese savory puff pastry filled with a small meatball, is the best I've had anywhere. More on pâté chaud in another post. Today, we're talking almond croissants, and Au Cœur de Paris is neck and neck with Layer Cake Bakery for the best in Orange County.
On my last visit this Monday, the skies were gray and the air a touch humid from the recent showers. The almond croissants looked a little bummed out about the weather because they weren't their usual perked-up and perfect puffs. I suppose any baker can have an off-day when the weather conspires against them, but the pastry was delicious as always, just not as pretty as they normally are. You have bad Mondays--so can baked goods, okay?
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The almond filling at Au Coeur is ground fine, making the filling smooth-grained and more refined in appearance for lack of pieces of brown skin. The pastry cream flavor is discernible, but there's not as much in there as Layer Cake's. I'm a sucker for that rich vanilla custard in any pastry. Both of these bakeries make an exemplary almond croissant that I'd put up against any bakery in Southern California. For this battle, that little bit more generous portion of pastry cream and the ever-so-consistent quality wins it for Layer Cake Bakery.
Layer Cake Bakery, 4250 Barranca Pkwy., Ste. I, Irvine, (949) 786-0223.
Au Cœur de Paris Bakery (also known as Le Versailles), 9441 Edinger St., Westminster, (714) 775-8465.