MONTREAL — Croissants are everywhere, from haute cuisine restaurants to little patisseries on many corners. The wafting smell of butter and yeast arrests pedestrians, leading them by the nose through open doorways. This city is a croissant-lover's paradise; the only hard part is deciding which ones to buy.
Far too often, croissants bake up flabby and doughy, more like bread than delicate pastries. A good, French-style croissant is made with butter (never another kind of fat), which is folded into the dough to create the pastry's signature layers. When the croissant emerges from the oven, it should be golden brown, with a smell that is equal measure flour, butter, and fermentation. Texture is of utmost importance. The interior should be soft and layered; the outside, flaky and crispy. Plain croissants, made with butter, are called au beurre, while others might envelop a sweet or savory filling, like chocolate (au chocolate), almonds (aux amandes), cheese (au fromage), and more.
Though some excellent croissants are made across the city, one name keeps popping up on best lists: Patisserie Fous Desserts, a pastry and chocolate shop that earned its laurels by winning a 2011 contest hosted by the newspaper La Presse. The bakery is owned by Franck Dury-Pavet, originally from Lyon, France, who began making pastry at age 13. Dury-Pavet gained experience at bakeries all over France, and was inspired to move to Montreal by a Quebecois pastry chef.
But crafting an extraordinary croissant was not an easy process. Baking is a sensitive operation, dependent on ingredients, altitude, and seasonality, among other variables. "When I first tried to make croissants here in Montreal, I cried," says Dury-Pavet, in his native French. "The ingredients are different, and they respond differently."
Pastry chef Ariann Langlois, 29, has been working at Fous Desserts for five years. She runs the recently opened Fous Desserts food truck, which carts freshly baked croissants around the city every weekday. Patrons can often find it on the corner of De la Commune and Mill, on the Ilot Charlevoix, or at L'Autre Marché Angus, a market on rue William Tremblay. According to Langlois, Fous Desserts is "a traditional place, because we do traditional pastry, but we get very creative." That creativity shines through in inspired croissants like the "King Kong," filled with a mix of chocolate and banana, and the ''Balboa,'' with pastry cream and fresh raspberries.
Within walking distance of Fous Desserts is Patisserie Au Kouign-Amann, a bakery named for the layered Breton pastry of the same name. French-born owner Nicolas Henri perfected his recipe by "doing test after test after test," says pastry chef Lisa Vording, who has worked at Au Kouign-Amann for seven years. "You can't make a croissant perfect the first time; it takes a lot of experience."
And Au Kouign-Amann's butter croissant is close to perfect, sold warm and fresh out of the oven. Butter is the most popular variety, but the almond is delicious too: day-olds cut in half, filled with almond cream, sprinkled with sliced almonds, and baked until crispy. Ham and cheese are stuffed with ham, Emmental, grated cheddar, and a bechamel sauce, and heated to order, ideal for lunch.
Downtown, a fine croissant is at O Plaisirs Gourmands, formerly known as Olivier Potier Patisserie. The shop, which opened in 2011, uses recipes from Paris to make croissants in butter, chocolate, and almond varieties. The top-selling almond croissant is "maybe the best in the city," says owner Jean-Daniel Fatras. O Plaisirs Gourmands is a lunch destination, too, with a few tables and a small cafe menu of salads and sandwiches.
Le Paltoquet, in the borough Outremont, serves a fantastic butter croissant, which tastes just right alongside a latte, eaten at one of the tiny cafe tables. Two other wonderful bakeries, Mamie Clafoutis and La Croissanterie Figaro, offer competition from just a few blocks away.
Now that you know where to look, brush up on your French and repeat the words you'll need to know: un croissant, s'il vous plait.
Le Paltoquet , 1464 Avenue Van Horne, Montreal, +1 514-271-4229
La Croissanterie Figaro , 5200, Rue Hutchison, Montreal, +1 514-278-6567
Mamie Clafoutis , 1291 Avenue Van Horne, Montreal, +1 514-750-7245
O Plaisirs Gourmands , 1490 Sherbrooke West, Montreal, +1 438-381-6111
Patisserie Au Kouign-Amann 322 Avenue du Mont-Royal, Montreal, +1 514-845-8813
Patisserie Fous Desserts, 809 Avenue Laurier East, Montreal, +1 514-273-9335
Cristin Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.