Ah, the world of croissants. What makes them all so different?
This has been my question for a number of years. Being a pastry chef, I never wanted to admit it to anyone until I found the answer.
Traveling to France, Italy, Portugal and Argentina, I got really confused when it came to ordering a croissant. All croissants are not created equal.
First, let’s be straight where the croissant came from. The croissant was invented in Austria in the 1600’s supposedly after the defeat of the Ottomans. It was the baker that stayed up all night that gave alarm to the Turkish troops coming to siege the city. The baker made these crescent-shaped pastries, the crescent being the symbol of Islam.
But I didn’t write this to find the origins of croissants, but to find what makes them so different from one country to the next.
In France you will order a croissant for breakfast, lunch or a snack. They are crispy, baked with the best butter and light and airy so you can’t really feel guilty about eating pastry.
There is no argument that the French make the best croissants- they are the typical croissant we think of.
But, other countries have adopted the croissant to their own and make it hard for me to choose what’s best.
In Italy, the croissants are called “cornetto” and they are much heavier, sweeter and more bread-y than the French one. But, just so delicious. Italians make them with eggs, while the French just use lots and lots of butter.
Most people in Italy just eat them in the morning because they are sweet, often dusted with powdered sugar and filled with jams or honey. The other thing to love about Italian croissants are the multigrain ones. I know it’s a pastry so I’m not looking to be healthy, but the “cornetto integralle ai frutti di bosco”or a wheat croissant filled with berries of the forest are the best. They taste like berries of the forest too, or maybe it’s just because I’m in a place where pleasure is the theme of the day, every day. They are just too good and I have made a quest of finding the real Italian croissant in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, my search has been unsuccessful and I will probably just have to make it on my own.
Similar to Italy, Portugal does their version. In Portugal it’s all about “nata” or cooked cream and you will find that the most popular croissants are filled with cream. They also get the sprinkle of powdered sugar on top. The only difference I find from Italian ones is the size. They are just huge! They are often too big for me to eat in one sitting, but instead of saving it for later, I just sit longer. True foodie, I guess.
In Argentina, they are even sweeter, and called “medialunas” or half-moons. Often they are smaller and you order 3 of them at one time to make up for their small size. They are so delicious, but will leave you needing coffee or tea. Instead of a dusting of powdered sugar, they get a sugar syrup glaze on top which makes them sparkle and shimmer, and makes it even harder to resist. Similar to the Italian ones, they are made with eggs, like a brioche dough which makes them a bit heavier than a classic croissant. To add to that, many of the medialunas are made with lard, or pork fat which makes them heavy and thirst-enducing.
So, if you asked me to pick one I would probably hit you with a question, like what time of day is it? I mean if it’s morning definitely Italian style, or after lunch, maybe a medialuna with a cafe con leche or coffee and milk. Or if I didn’t eat dinner the night before (rare), than a huge croissant com creme (with cream) in Portugal. Or for lunch, a ham and cheese from France.
The point is they are so delicious and my weakness (maybe yours too if you’re reading this). Perhaps you could gather that about me, choosing to dedicate a post to this sinful treat I probably over indulge in when away from home. Not only does that morning croissant satisfy my sweet tooth, with my powdered sugar mustache, but it is that moment in the day where time stops a bit. When I put the phone away and watch the locals get on with their day, say hi to their friends, complain, gossip and let their kids indulge while they just take a coffee. Most of the time I don’t understand anything their saying, and maybe that’s the enjoyment too. It’s just the perfect “chaotic” morning that I miss so often from my travels.
|Classic French, flaky and light|
|Italian wheat croissant filled with berry jam|
|Portuguese cream-filled croissants|
|Shiny, glazed medialunas from Argentina|