You’ve probably heard the saying that Champagne isn’t true Champagne unless it comes from the Champagne region of France, otherwise it’s just sparkling wine. Well, as I sit here anticipating National Croissant Day on January 30, I’m wondering if the same thought process could be applied to croissants.
Are croissants truly croissants if they are made outside of France? Some may say yes – a croissant is a croissant – whether you are in Chicago or in Paris. But have you ever eaten a croissant in Paris or even anywhere in France? While there is no guarantee that you will be served an authentic French croissant every time in France (yes, even bakeries in France cut corners), enjoying an authentic croissant in France, especially Paris, basically ruins any other croissant experience you will have anywhere else in the world. And it’s not just because you’re eating your pastry while staring longingly at the Eiffel Tower. A croissant in France tastes different – better – because it is different and …better. So what’s the French secret?
It all comes down to butter.
Now, that may seem really obvious and simple, but butter in France (and much of Europe) is not your average butter. Let’s put this into perspective. In the U.S., butter must contain at least 80% butterfat, while French butter must contain a minimum of 82%. And when you’re a French pastry chef, even the bare minimum in butterfat isn’t enough to make quality croissants. French pastry chefs often use beurre sec, or dry butter, that is cultured and has 84% butterfat to make their croissant dough. This small difference may seem insignificant but even a slight increase in butterfat plus the added cultures can change the flavor, texture and workability of the butter, and hence the overall flavor and quality of the croissant.
While you can find quality European-style butters with 82% milkfat in the states (ie. Kerrygold), finding a butter with 84% butterfat is a little harder to find and definitely more expensive.
But let’s be honest, even if you were to find the best butter in the U.S. and use other quality ingredients to make your croissant – a Paris croissant will always be better, because, after all, it’s Paris.
Happy Croissant Day – Enjoy!