I like the ritual of “breaking bread” with someone – it’s welcoming and has a tinge of warmth to it.
This is my thought while eyeing the golden croissant poised between my fingers. My girlfriend and I are at a café in Paris.
Helene-Marie prefers a morning baguette and I prefer a croissant, and this leads to the discussion, which is the preferred choice in Paris?
Looking up while tearing into my morning treat, I notice a sign announcing that we are at the bakery which recently won the competition for the best butter croissant in Paris, making it arguably the best croissant in the world?
Beckoning the Waitress over I ask if she can shed any light on our question. Without answering she saunters off only to return with a pixie-like-woman in an oversized t-shirt dusted in baking flour and a warm smile. Isabelle is the Boulangerie owner and baker of the “world’s best” croissant.
She starts, “let me clear up something about both. Neither the Croissant nor the Baguette originated in France.
Legend, says that croissant originates from Vienna. It’s been said that to celebrate the demise of the Turkish forces during the siege of Vienna in 1683, the local bakers created the brioche in the shape of the crescent – which formed part of the Turkish flag. The idea was to show the enemy that they’d had a “bite” taken out of them.
History tells us that croissants were first sold in Paris between 1837 and 1839 when 2 Austrian bakers, August Zang, and Ernest Schwarzer opened a Viennese bakery.
But the original croissant was made with brioche dough and called the Kipferl until just before the end of the 19th century when French bakers replaced the dough with puff pastry – and voila the French Croissant was born.
As for the baguette, it seems that August Zang brought along with him a deck oven. This allowed for steam to be injected directly into the oven. The steam settled on the dough of the baguette, allowing it to expand, making the crust crispier and the dough lighter.”
As she continues the aroma of freshly baked pastry tugs at my nostrils fighting for my attention, but Isabelle’s story wins the battle.
“A good croissant should have a golden, flaky, buttery crust that crumbles in your grasp. The smooth, delicate curls of the pastry inside should melt underneath every bite. Best enjoyed plain, sometimes with butter and jam, but never with something savory.”
Just as Isabelle’s about to answer my question of which the preferred choice is, she’s pulled away by the fretful waitress who leads her into the bakery.
In 2013 Ridha Khadher’s life changed forever. It was then, that he entered the competition for the best baguette in France and at his 1st attempt he won. Word of this delicious bread soon reached the ears of the Presidential Palace and shortly thereafter he was commissioned to supply not only the Presidential Palace but also all of the government ministries in Paris with their daily feed of baguettes and “Viennoiseries”- croissants, pain au chocolat, and pain aux raisins.
Amid the organised chaos in his bakery, he offers us a black coffee and a pain Chocolat.
Between delicious mouthfuls of disintegrating pastry and chocolate, I mumble my question, hoping for a clearer answer.
“Which is the preferred choice in France, the croissant or the baguette?”
“It’s not that simple,” he responds.
My sense of disappointment plays second fiddle to the culinary theatre that is playing in my mouth. This mouthful of pastry has my undivided attention. So good that I’m wondering if it would be rude to ask for an encore.
“Even though both the baguette and the croissant are associated with France they are very different,” he continues.
“The baguette can be eaten at any time of day and with anything. In the morning you’ll see people eating with a little butter, maybe some jam and even possibly dunking it in their coffee. During the rest of the day, they’ll have it with a meal, and use it to wipe up the leftover gravy from a stew. The baguette is also the bread of the people – where one stick can be shared between friends or a family, bringing them together. The croissant is eaten in the morning – unless you’re a tourist who will eat it any time of the day. It’s something parents would buy on the weekend for a Sunday breakfast – making it a slight treat. To be honest neither is the preferred choice as they’re both loved equally by most of France.”
Happy with the outcome we say our goodbyes. As we’re leaving the boulangerie Ridha stops us and slips 2 baguettes into our bag.
“These were meant for the President but there’s enough to go around,” he winks.
Sitting on the banks of the Seine, snacking on our Presidential loaves
“Hey, we’re breaking bread with the President – he just doesn’t know it,” giggles my girlfriend.
Ridha Khader’s bakery:
Au Paradis Du Gourmand
156 Rue Raymond Losserand
La Maison d’ Isabelle (The best croissants in the world)
47ter Boulevard Saint-Germain