As the Oxford Companion to Food puts it, the first mention of the croissant in French cookery appeared as a brief reference in 1853, with a further blip ten years after in 1863.  By 1875, the croissant found its third reference in Husson's Les Consommations de Paris, but by that point it had already been demoted from being a 'fine' pastry good and into the 'everyday' and 'ordinary.'  Oh, those fickle French!

There's been quite a lot of chatter about the state of French cuisine and its supposed demise.  Sarkozy has suggested that it be preserved on the UNESCO heritage list and yet others are claiming that the better French restaurants are in Japan.  We're not entirely convinced, but we were curious about how croissants fare at a few of the more traditional French bakeries in town.

Patisserie Bordeaux
Patisserie Bordeaux ($1.60)
3675 10th Avenue W
Vancouver, BC
(604) 731-6551

Nestled into a Kitsilano mini-mall, the Patisserie Bordeaux seems as cozy and familiar as an old sweater, even on the first visit.  A young girl - who surely must be younger than the bakery itself - works the counter, tells us about how popular the almond croissant is (it regularly sells out, natch) but how her favorite must be the fruit tart.  Our butter croissant sits in a basket amongst the other breads in the higher shelves in the back, as though it were a family portrait on a mantle.

  • Butteriness: 3.75 out of 5.  You can tease out the butteriness in Patisserie Bordeaux's croissant, and it sure as heck ain't made with margarine.  It's got that perfect subtleness for those that crave a little taste of butter but don't necessary want to be walloped with it.

  • Flakiness: 3 out of 5.  We're assuming that the Patisserie Bordeaux bakes its croissants in the morning and leaves them out for sale.  As we got there after 1pm, the flakiness had succumbed to the autumn humidity, though the layers and pockets of air were still evident, nostalgic for its earlier glory.
  • Lightness: 4 out of 5.  Soggy or not, this croissant had lots of air and lightness in it hours after its prime.  
La Petite France

La Petite France (I really can't remember, and it really doesn't matter)
2655 Arbutus Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 734 7844

At one point in time, we used to visit La Petite France every weekend to have their croissants, eavesdrop on the odd bits of French we'd overhear from the staff and curse our misfortune for having missed out on the infrequent three course French brunches that the bakery would put on every month or two.  That quaintness seems to have faded dramatically over the years, though the delightful cakes are still present.  Now if we could only say the same for their croissant....

  • Butteriness: 1 out of 5.  It breaks my heart to rank La Petite France's croissant in the same category as IGA's, but whoever made the croissant we had must have used all the butter for the cakes.

  • Flakiness: 0.5 out 5.  La Petite France's croissant was really more a dinner roll shaped like a crescent.  You could slather gravy and leftover turkey on this thing and have a good sandwich, but a croissant this is not.
  • Lightness: 0 out of 5.  If you recall, I had posited that even a bad croissant was better than none.  There's always someone out there eager to prove me wrong.

Plaisir Sucre
Plaisir Sucre ($2.74 including HST)
2668 Arbutus Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 736 0515

Directly across the street from La Petite France lies Plaisir Sucre, where an old Swedish bakery used to be next to an independent bookstore.  The small bakery looks pretty much exactly the same, though now with less ligonberry.  It's much more of a bread shop than La Petite France's cake shop, so that might explain how the two can co-exist in such close proximity, though Plaisir Sucre's got that added intimacy and rustic quality that its neighbour misses.

  • Butteriness:  2 out of 5.  I'm sure that Plaisir Sucre makes their croissant with butter, but it's impossible to taste it given its sweet glaze, true to the bakery's name.  It reminds me of the time I bought a strawberry flavored croissant in Italy without knowing it: I didn't finish this one, either.
  • Flakiness: 1.5 out of 5.  I'm not sure if it was the late hour in the day or the sugar, but there wasn't any discernible flakiness to Plaisir Sucre's croissant, despite the look of its exterior.
  • Lightness: 1 out of 5.  As with the La Petite France croissant, this was a solid mass, with the exterior one giant lump of heavy dough, though one with one gasp of airiness trying to get out.



Betty said... @ October 27, 2010 at 9:23 AM

La Petite France used to be so good. Such a pity.

Tough Cookie said... @ October 27, 2010 at 11:39 PM

Great reviews. Have you tried Vancouver Croissants (found in the frozen section of Whole Foods and baked at home) - TO DIE FOR!

Anonymous said... @ October 30, 2010 at 10:00 PM

I've noticed Faubourg Paris is opening a branch in Kerrisdale. I'm hoping the croissants there live up to their Parisian counterparts!!!

rachel grav said... @ November 3, 2010 at 7:11 PM

Oh thank you for saying what I already had suspected.. and by the way, the shwarma next door to the Patisserie Bordeaux is pretty good, especially if you tell them that you really like the sauces. The pickles are home made and the place is just grubby enough to be real... thanks joe, you make me drool.

rachel Grav said... @ November 3, 2010 at 7:13 PM

whoops, I eat shawarma, not spell shawarma..

W. said... @ February 10, 2011 at 3:35 PM

You were so right about Plaisir Sucre's croissant. Not that enjoyable.

I also tried Crepe and Cafe (http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/14/1523033/restaurant/Dunbar/Crepe-Cafe-Vancouver). Really liked their croissant. Sweet crepes are just ok. Will try savoury crepes next.

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