The Winners!#1: Ceci-Cela
A good croissant is hard to find. To turn a butter-based dough into a pastry that's simultaneously soft and flaky, shatter-crisp and mouth-meltingly tender, is a difficult thing indeed. With such a pure flavor—butter, heightened by salt and united with flour and transformed into a layered, stretchy dough—the quality of those ingredients and the skill of the pastry chef is critical. And if they're not handled properly, you'll end up with a pastry that's doughy, or flabby, or tough, or bready—not qualities you want in a truly great croissant.
Frankly, plenty of imperfect pastries still taste delicious, particularly after they're popped in the toaster oven or slathered with Nutella. But where can you find a perfect croissant, straight from the pastry case? We wanted to find out.
Each croissant was rated in four areas: crust, interior, flavor, and overall enjoyment.
- The ideal crust should be distinct from the softer interior. It should be extremely flaky and shatter when torn or bitten into. It should be extremely crisp, but not crunchy or tough. Each layer of flaky pastry should virtually melt on the tongue, but not feel greasy in your hands. It should be an even, golden brown color all around.
- The interior should be feather-light with many layers. It should be tender and moist but not gummy or doughy. The layers of dough should show plenty of stretch and separate gently from each other when you pull at them with your fingers.
- The flavor of a croissant should be intensely buttery with a natural dairy sweetness. It should not taste like added sugar or be cloying. It should be well-seasoned, but not so salty that you can't imagine eating it with jam or preserves.
We spent several months tasting dozens of New York croissants in preliminary rounds, most of them multiple times; the top croissants (essentially, anything we'd want to eat again) went into the final tasting round.
The Bakeries: La Bergamote, Patisserie Claude, Cannelle Patisserie, Bouchon Bakery, Petrossian, Desserts by Michael Allen, Patisserie Madeleine, Bakeri, Patisserie Margot, Francois Payard Bakery, Financier, Almondine, Ceci-Cela, Balthazar, Colson Patisserie.
Eliminated in the prelims: Taralluci e Vino, City Bakery, The Adore, Silver Moon Bakery, Joyce Patisserie, Saint-Honoré, Le Pain Quotidien, Pret a Manger, Zabar's, Soutine, Citarella, Trois Pommes Patisserie, Rheon Cafe, Brasserie Cognac.
We then fanned out over the city, retrieving croissants from their bakeries and assembling them back at Serious Eats World Headquarters for an epic breakfast of a taste-test. None of the tasters knew which croissant was from which bakery; each taster started with a different number, in an attempt to cancel out the effects of palate fatigue. The croissants were cut into quarters or sixths with approximately constant ratios of crust to interior. (The ends of each croissant were cut off, so that no taster had the end as their piece to sample. Sitting back to watch the taste test, I got to snack on a tall bag of croissant ends—my favorite part of the pastry.)
Our Top 15
Honorable Mention: Bakeri
14. Madeleine Patisserie
13. Margo Patisserie
12. La Bergamote
11. Cannelle Patisserie
9. Colson Patisserie
8. Bouchon Bakery
7. Almondine Bakery
6. Patisserie Claude
4. Michael Allen Desserts
3. François Payard Bakery
And the Winner... Ceci-Cela
Buttery, light, flaky, and all but perfect, Ceci-Cela's croissants won this taste test with the most decisive victory we've ever seen. Every single taster ranked it first or second; on an "overall satisfaction" scale of 1 to 10, averaged between all the tasters, it bested the second-place croissant by a full point and a half. Some comments: "Great butter flavor!" "Perfect flaky shatter!" "Pull-apart layers!" It's a croissant that inspired exclamation points--and it's hands-down our favorite croissant in New York.
PS: Kenji emailed us after the tasting:
I just calculated how much butter we ate during that croissant tasting. If you ate the whole piece of each of the croissants, you just ate about 8 1/2 tablespoons of butter (a little more than a stick). Cheers!
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