The Croissant Hunt

March 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

I was, the other week, in a cafe in the Mission that recently closed and re-opened under new ownership. We looked at the selection of baked goods in the cabinet and I casually remarked that their supplier must be the Devil’s Teeth bakery, since I recognized the carrot cake. Silence followed. Apparently it isn’t ‘normal’ to have an encyclopedic knowledge of your city’s pastry providers. So as I am not planning on being on Mastermind any time soon (“My specialist subject is the Baked Goods of San Francisco, Magnus”), I need some kind of outlet for this fanaticism, and I thought I might do a little series of posts on my favourite cakes and pastries as an adjunct to my (neglected) SF cafe listings.

First of all, I apologize to those not in San Francisco, for whom I imagine this array of delights could well be torturous (on the other hand, when you plan a visit to our lovely city, you’ll be all set!). I did try and siphon off these posts to a separate page, but it’s beyond my very limited technical capabilities right now. So enjoy the eye candy, and get your cake on, wherever you might be.

I’ve long harbored dreams about taking Viennoiserie classes and having croissants on demand at home, but my fantasies were quashed when I realized the class I was planning to take would teach me how to knock out a hundred or so pastries at a time. Even Ollie and I on a good day would not do justice to such a quantity. Not one to waste energy, or the opportunity to eat breakfast, I’ve since turned my attention in the direction of seeking out good croissants from the professionals. I like my pastries light, airy and flaky: not anemic but neither past the deep golden part of the colour spectrum. Since such treats are calorifically ‘rich’, I want to be sure that the croissant in question is worthy of the indulgence. I’ve mistakenly eaten dry, pale, lumpy specimens from hotel breakfast buffets that have left me feeling sullied and dirty: the ‘walk of shame’ of the pastry world. No more of that.

I had heard really good things about the croissant at Thorough Bread and Pastry, and decided to make the small trek there this past weekend to bring back samples. The bakery, which is by far the closest thing I’ve seen in California to a French boulangerie, was founded by the people running the San Francisco Baking Institute, the very home of the Viennoiserie course I have ogled in the past. Their French roots show through as soon as you cross the threshold from Church Street into the cafe. Counters gleam with fruit tarts, petite gougeres, decadent creamy eclairs. Baguettes line up in rows like soldiers behind the counter, begging to be united with a hefty dollop of brie. And the cafe itself has the kind of European charm that the trend for artisan interior design, usually featuring taxidermy or hunting paraphernalia, seems to have eschewed of late. There are small tables for two, slightly too close together, rather than the communal piece of hand-sanded wood. There are chairs with backs, of the kind your grandma might still have in her dining room, rather than metal high stools or benches. And although I didn’t head out back, there’s a cute little patio area, which looks perfect for discretely sweeping away all the crumbs you are going to create when you rip into your croissant.

I will keep you hanging no longer: this is, to the best of my knowledge and experience this far, the best croissant in San Francisco right now. You tear it open (croissants should always, for my money, be pulled apart by hand, never bitten into) and flakes drift down onto your plate as the perfectly soft interior reveals itself. A good croissant structure means that the dough breaks imperfectly as it stretches – this means that you should end up with a piece that hollows out a bit and a piece where the spongy interior has attempted to hold together. It’s a sign that the dough has the kind of springy structure which you desire. At the same time, the middle should be highly aerated, showing how the butter has puffed apart the layers. And the exterior should be a deep golden but not so much that is has become overly brown. The Thorough croissant ticks all these boxes perfectly. Douze Points to the French.

Thorough Bread and Pastry
248 Church Street San Francisco

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