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If you want the finest croissants outside of Paris, head to Patisserie Claude. Claude retired some years ago, but he passed on the recipe and it's as good as ever. The shop is located on West Fourth Street in New York City, but it's worth the airfare -- especially if you bring back enough croissants to stuff your freezer.
Otherwise, we have some worthy specimens closer to home. Here are five places to find crisp-on-the-outside, buttery-on-the-inside croissants.
5. Paul Bakery Café
Yes, we know it's a chain -- no need to raise your voice. Thing is, the Paul folks have been baking croissants since the first branch opened in Lille, France, in 1889. Paul uses the same basic ingredients as anyone else, but I guess a century or so of tinkering with the recipe helps one achieve a nice crisp crust ($2.45). We frequent the Lincoln Road venue, but there's also one at 14861 Biscayne Blvd.
4. La Provence French Bakery and Café
Another chain, another story. This one involves David Thau, a native of Aix-en-Provence, who in 1995 visited South Beach and noticed there were no quality croissants (actually, it was quality bread he noticed lacking, but we're tweaking things a bit for the sake of narrative flow). So David went back to Provence, trained at bakeries for two years, and returned to open La Provence French Bakery and Café in South Beach. There are nine shops in and around Miami now, so one could be excused for thinking perhaps something gets lost in the mass production of croissants -- but like at Paul, they've simply gotten the process down pat ($2.31). It won our Best Croissant in 2005.
3. Le Royal French Bakery
This tiny café, located in a strip mall on Red Road, is owned by French twins who specialize in rolling copious amounts of beurre into dough and making gloriously authentic croissants (note the developing theme of French-owned bakeries?). There are six varieties, but we stick with the real deal -- sans ham or guava or whatever ($2.50). Very flaky. Very light. Very soigné. Heck, we like Le Royal's croissant so much we named it Best Croissant last year.
2. Buena Vista Deli
Claude Postel and Corentin Finot debuted this French deli/café in January 2010 as a sequel to Buena Vista Bistro up the street. Corentin is there helping to make you feel at home as you settle in with your croissant ($2) -- with café aux lait, of course. Claude is the masterful baker who makes these croissants so delicious. They taste even better with some of BVD's homemade berry jam.
1. La Brioche Dorée
Edouard Maillan was the original proprietor of this boulangerie et patisserie just off 41st Street in Miami Beach.The business changed hands in 2003, but the recipe lives on. So did our acknowledgment of its exemplary croissant, as evidenced by "Best Of" nods for its crescent-shaped rolls in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2006. Eventually we stopped giving it the award because it was getting ridiculously repetitious, but that doesn't mean La Brioche stopped making great croissants. The secret here is the use of French butter, which everyone knows is better than any other butter. It has to do with butterfat-to-water ratio, but let's not get into that now. The minicroissants here are especially popular -- the rationale being that eating a small croissant is less fattening than eating a large one. This is true, except most people eat so many of the small croissants as to make the point moot. Regardless of size, La Brioche Dorée is, like the others on this list, French and experienced. We can therefore deduce that those two factors are most important in creating a great croissant. And also why there are so many great croissants in France.