Am I the only one infatuated by all things French? Even placing the word “French” in front of a noun makes it sound better. Think of bread, for example…
I would love to wake up in Paris one morning, get dressed to look simple but chic like a true Parisian, then run to the bakery and have a croissant with a cup of coffee. Oh, stereotypes!
How close can I get to my dream while living in Austin? I can definitely find bakeries that make croissants. The only question is: how authentic are those croissants? Out of this question the idea for a croissant crawl was born: one day, four bakeries, four croissants. The winner takes all.
Since I’ve never been to France, I can’t rely on my own judgment. So I invited my French friend Agnès to join the crawl and give her expert opinion. As we begin, we need to understand what a true French croissant is.
What Makes an Authentic Croissant
The most important part is layering. The French word for croissant dough is “feuilletée” which stems from “feuille”–piece of paper. A croissant is like a stack of paper. It should have many layers on top of each other and lots of space inside. The texture should never be flat or uniform.
Croissants should be crispy on the outside while soft and fluffy inside. The exterior is extremely flaky and breaks apart once you touch it. You can even hear the sound of crust breaking when you bite into it. The color should be golden brown all around.
The interior shouldn’t be doughy. When you try to tear it apart, the dough should resist a little and stretch.
An authentic French croissant is intensely buttery and doesn’t taste like added sugar.
Now that we know the criteria, we can compare! Remember, we are not simply looking for a tasty croissant in Austin, but for an authentic one.
The first stop on my crawl and the northernmost point of the route is La Pâtisserie. This is an adorable little bakery with a great choice of macaroons and French pastries. Here’s the thing: a croissant is a tricky piece of pastry that’ll tell you a lot about itself before you take the first bite. Just by looking at it and breaking it apart, you can say whether it will taste good. The croissant at La Pâtisserie is a little too dark with bubbles on the surface, which might mean the dough was rolled out too thick and air had trouble going out. It breaks like bread without giving resistance, and the texture is dense and doughy without layering.
Verdict: It tastes good and would work well with jam, but it’s far from a traditional French croissant.
602 W. Annie St. and 7301 Burnet Road Ste. 102 – Website
Texas French Bread
Next we head towards downtown and make a stop at Texas French Bread, which has been around since 1981. This bakery is cozy, comfy and pleasant all around.
The croissant here looks good with a golden color. But when we break the pastry apart, it doesn’t flake well and the texture inside is a bit too heavy and doughy. Nevertheless, the taste is delicious–intensely buttery. The fact that it isn’t authentic doesn’t stop us from enjoying it! I personally love the crunchy corners–my favorite part of any croissant.
Verdict: Great taste, but not close to a French croissant.
2900 Rio Grande St. – Website
1886 Café and Bakery
Our next stop on this croissant crawl is downtown Austin. The Driskill Hotel is one of my favorite spots in the city, probably because I never expected to find such chic and grandeur in Austin. Having breakfast at 1886 Bakery inside the hotel will instantly transport you from the capital of Texas to the finest dining room of Europe.
Once again, my friend and I start scrutinizing the poor croissant, looking at it from different angles, breaking and pulling it apart. It’s gorgeous! Beautiful color, tall, flaky. And the texture…the best comparison that comes to my mind is that of a pizza slice being pulled off the pan. The cheese strings stretch and won’t let go. When I try to tear off a piece of this croissant, the dough gives resistance and it takes a couple of seconds to stretch it and finally break it off.
Verdict: One of the best examples of croissants we’ve tried. Perfect texture, buttery taste. Close to a French croissant.
604 Brazos St. – Website
After the fancy setting at 1886, the open patio at Easy Tiger feels especially casual and relaxed. I have to admit I love this place and often get bread loaves from the bakery. Although I had never tried their croissants, I had high expectations.
This croissant is smaller than the others we tried, dark golden brown in color with slightly burned ends. It even smells of fire–not something you’d expect of a croissant. We bite into it…“That’s it!” is the first thing Agnès says. The last stop of our crawl brings the best croissant of the day. Both the texture–flaky on the outside, with dozens of layers inside–and the taste–buttery and not overly sweet–match the criteria for an authentic French croissant.
Verdict: True French croissant with perfect taste and texture
709 E 6th St. – Website
We finish our croissant crawl at Easy Tiger. There are many more bakeries that make croissants in Austin, but there’s a limit to how much butter a human being can consume in one day. The fact that we did find a perfect French croissant makes this crawl a success to me. But even if we hadn’t, a day of eating our way through some of the best Austin bakeries is better than any other day!
@theAustinot wants to know:
Which bakery makes your favorite croissants in Austin?
I seem to remember the Elizabeth St Café does a pretty good one. I can’t wait to try Easy Tiger’s!
Baguette et Chocolat on Bee Cave Rd. Far to drive but totally worth it, and not just for the croissant.
I loved this post! My grandmother used to wake up at 4am in the morning to bake fresh mini croissants and pain au chocolat in her tiny Paris apartment kitchen when I’d go visit her in the summer. I think heaven is waking up to that smell! I will have to check out Easy Tiger’s croissant!
This may sound crazy but Trader Joe’s frozen croissants that you let rise and then bake are the closest thing I have found to the real French ones, and my husband is French!
I second Baguette et Chocolat. They have excellent croissants