Crescents and Con Artists

Every Christmas without fail, my family enjoys croissants as part of the morning meal. We pop them into the oven after seeing what Santa left in our stockings (but before unwrapping anything under the tree). So last week, as I loaded our Easter ham into the garage frig, a tantalizing thought occurred to me: the leftover Christmas croissants are parked right next door in the freezer. Could they possibly be as light and flaky as they once were, four months after their initial rise-and-shine?

If you know anything about authentic croissants, “rise and shine” is a fitting description.  Thanks to some seriously active yeast, croissants rise to a soft, pillow-y consistency.  Thanks to a whole lot of butter (and a little egg yolk), croissants finish with a pleasing sheen on their delicate, crispy crust.  If there’s a more decadent baked good on the planet, my crescent-shaped ears are open and listening.

Austrian kipferi

Croissants have been around a long time.  They got their start centuries ago in France Austria as the more pedestrian kipferi yeast bread roll.  Eventually the French stepped up the game using leavened laminated dough and butter, ending up as the light, flaky, many-layered version you know and love today.

Croissant means “crescent” of course (which is why I get hunger pangs whenever I gaze at the moon).  Croissant also has an elegant pronunciation.  Turn the “roi” into a “weh”, drop the final “t”, and keep the sound a little inside the nose.  Cweh-saw.  Congratulations!  You speak French.

Even “crescent” has a dignified definition: a shape resembling a segment of a ring, tapering to points at the ends.  Can you picture it?  Sure you can, because now you’re thinking of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls.  They’re so “American”, aren’t they?  We take a centuries-old, meticulously refined shoo-in for the Baked Goods Hall of Fame and reduce it to sticky, doughy, fast food; vacuum-packed into a can you open with a spoon.

The Poppin’ Fresh family

[Speaking of Pillsbury, here’s something you didn’t know about the Dough Boy, otherwise known as “Poppin’ Fresh”.  He has a family!  His wife is Poppie Fresh, his kids are Popper and Bun-Bun, his grandparents Granpopper and Granmommer, and his Uncle Rollie.  Don’t forget the dog (Flapjack) and the cat (Biscuit).  In the 1970s you could purchase the entire clan as a set of dolls.]

BK’s “Croissan’wich”

Pillsbury isn’t the only crescent con artist out there.  Burger King made a name for itself with its popular Croissan’wich breakfast entrees.  And Galaxy, the Williams-Sonoma mail-order croissants my family and I enjoy at Christmas, start out as frozen minis, rise impressively overnight on the kitchen counter, and bake to an excellent knock-off of the bakery-made originals.

The preparation of authentic croissants requires time and attention we Americans don’t have the patience for.  Watch the following video (which is thirteen minutes long so… maybe not) and you’ll learn what it takes.  At the least, you’ll understand why I pay almost $4.50 for a single croissant from Galaxy/Williams-Sonoma.

Most of us wouldn’t make it past  the initial “pre-dough” step in the video, let alone the labor-intensive lamination (folding/flattening), forming, fermentation, baking, cooling, and storage.  We’re talking hours and hours in the kitchen here, and that’s assuming you have the right equipment.  No wonder we’d rather just whack a Pillsbury tube on the counter edge and produce “crescent rolls” hot out of the oven 9-11 minutes later. 

Still, I implore you to watch the cweh-saw video.  The star of the show is Frédéric from Boulangerie Roy Le Capitole, narrating the process in his beautiful native language.  This man could be saying … and then we drag the smelly garbage out to the back alley for the cats to dig through and I’d still be glued the sound of his words.  Or, listen to our lovely video host and her delightful French accent (with the occasional incorrect word sprinkled in).

Lamination = Layers

I was so mesmerized by the French voices I really don’t remember much about the croissant-making itself.  But it’s hard to forget the facts.  Making an authentic batch takes three days.  A croissant is 30% butter and can have as many as fifty layers.  French bakeries have “bread laws” to protect their artisan products.  Finally, you can “hear” the sound of an authentic croissant by pushing through the crispy crust to the softer layers inside.

To the matter of my Christmas… er, Easter croissants, I’m happy (and satisfied) to report they tasted just as good last week as their holly, jolly predecessors a while ago.  Apparently four months isn’t too long to wait for good croissants.  But three days is too long to make them from scratch so I’ll keep buying from con artists.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to Life In A Word.

24 thoughts on “Crescents and Con Artists”

  1. Now I’m hungry… loved the video.
    Turns out I pronounce the word with a slight ‘r’ sound for the ‘roi’ though to my ears the lady in the video seems to use a similar sound. Doesn’t matter though, because no matter how you say it, authentic Croissants are sure tasty! We visited friends in the Bordeaux area of France and they would serve fresh baked bread and croissants from the local bakery each morning.


    1. You’re right about that “r”, Margy. It’s not nearly as obvious as the ones we speak in English but it’s still there in the background. I just didn’t know how to describe its subtle pronunciation 🙂


  2. I’m laughing out loud about your observation: “We take a centuries-old, meticulously refined shoo-in for the Baked Goods Hall of Fame and reduce it to sticky, doughy, fast food; vacuum-packed into a can you open with a spoon.” Oh the truth will set you free! I’ve made croissants from scratch. It was a long time ago, but I thought I could learn to make them. Mine were thick instead of flaky, misshapen instead of curved, and pretty much a waste of time. I learned to respect the bakers who can make them.

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    1. I printed out a recipe for brioche once, which still sits untouched because its complexity scares the heck out of me (not unlike several piano pieces I will never master). Until I can make a loaf of brioche, I’m not going anywhere near homemade croissants.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Three things I know about croissants:
    1. I love them.
    2. I’ve tried and failed at making them.
    3. If it has chocolate, ie a chocolate croissant, I’ll buy one, but only if I’m buying a latte at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My family always has the pillsbury cinnamon rolls on holidays. My sisters made them from scratch this past Christmas, and they were good, but a lot of work. I was always afraid of the pop the tubes make when they finally open.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’re partial to the Pillsbury orange rolls; always kept them on hand for quick breakfasts when we raised our kids. My wife jumps at the tube “pop” as well (she makes me use the spoon instead), which is always good for a laugh.


  5. Oh Dave, I love croissants and the ones you whack on the counter are great. 🙂 Since I live alone, the smell of croissants would have me devouring way too many at one sitting. Many years ago, a franchise called “Jacques Patisserie” moved into the ground floor of the building where I worked. I always ate breakfast before I left for work, but one whiff as I got off the bus … I didn’t even enter the building before the tantalizing smell was wafting in the Downtown Business District and I’d have to stop. I soon put an end to that when my waistbands were getting too snug. They had plain croissants, but the spinach and cheese or ham and cheese were my favorites, even more so than the sweeter varieties.

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    1. As I told Andrew, I love the rectangle croissants with the almond paste filling. The chocolate-filled are more like a dessert. But neither one seems “authentic” because of what has been added. We shouldn’t even top a croissant with (more) butter. Reminds me of when I lived in Italy as a college student, and naively asked for butter with the bread. Our server looked at us with disdain, then brought a small dish of olive oil instead.

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      1. I’ve never tried the chocolate-filled croissants. My mother used to use almond paste and walnut paste in her keflis. That’s interesting about the bread in Italy. I can picture your server thinking “this foreigner will eat bread the way it is supposed to be eaten!”

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  6. Having eaten my share of croissants over the years, I’m well-acquainted with their exquisite flavor and texture. I did NOT know they take three days to make! Must say I never studied one that had been cut in half either. Those layers are a work of art! Thank you, Dave, for always choosing interesting subject matter, and then with your unique style, educating and delighting us! Favorite (half-)sentence: my crescent-shaped ears are open and listening. 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The croissant-making video had me admiring the patience of bakers. Their finished products are little works of art when you consider the care and attention required through the entire creative process. I will appreciate them even more from now on.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. That was interesting Dave…..and I don’t even really like croissants, or at least I don’t like the ones I have tried. I find them too bland. Maybe I need to buy a better brand? My mother has a soft Pillsbury Dough Boy toy in her kitchen which I went to throw out once when I was cleaning her kitchen and she rescued it! I didn’t know he had a family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you like butter, an authentic croissant straight out of the oven is irresistible. The pastry itself tastes like butter – no topping required. Heaven on earth!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. One thing keeps me from trying a genuine cwa-sah. I will probably fall in love with it and will never again be able to eat the ones from Pillsbury or Sam’s Club. But they sound positively lovely. Making them? Not even thinking about trying.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chances are, if you’ve found an authentic croissant you’ve also found a quaint cafe with a French feel and excellent coffee. All of which only adds to the pastry’s appeal.

      Liked by 1 person

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