June 15th, 2011 WW Culture Staff | Food Reviews & Stories
 

Butter Me Up

In search of Portland’s best croissant.

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Marrying two fine Portland traditions—gorging on fatty foods and obsessive artisanal baking—the croissant is a true test of any fancy local bakery’s bona fides. But with an obscene amount of butter cunningly hiding Mary Poppins-style in every pastry, and absolutely no redeeming nutritional value, any croissant containing up to half your daily allowance of calories had better be worth it.

WW’s intrepid team of tasters nobly sacrificed their arteries to find Portland croissants worth shaving a few hours off your life for. We were looking for a crisp, delicate, flaky crust; a light, airy center; and a rich, buttery flavor that made us moan like softcore porn stars.


TASTERS: Ruth Brown, Ashley Collman, Natasha Geiling, Casey Jarman, Aaron Mesh, Matt Singer, Ben Waterhouse. Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5.


Petit Provence

4834 SE Division St., 233-1121; 1824 NE Alberta St.v, 284-6564, provence-portland.com
Comments: “This is not good.” “It kind of tastes like a dinner roll.” “This is only barely better than the ones at Winco.” 

Score: 2


St. Honoré

2335 NW Thurman St., 445-4342, sainthonorebakery.com
Comments: “It doesn’t look like a lot of care was put into the presentation.” “I think this is a serviceable croissant. You wouldn’t complain about it.” “It has a chemical taste to it.”

Score: 2.5


Pearl Bakery

102 NW 9th Ave., 827-0910, pearlbakery.com
Comments: “Really chewy.” “It tastes like toast and butter. Very American. This croissant is goddamn patriotic!” “A little doughy.” “Too dense.”

Score: 2.5


Lovejoy Bakers

939 NW 10th Ave., 208-3113, lovejoybakers.com
Comments: “Really nice crust.” “Too confected.” “This is more like a pastry than a croissant.” “A little short on salt.” “If you wanted a croissant, I don’t think this would satisfy.” “If you wanted a Danish it might satisfy, though.”

Score: 3


Fleur de Lis

3930 NE Hancock St., 459-4887, fleurdelisbakery.com
Comments: “This is classic croissant flavor.” “It looks like a crab claw.” “The shape is a problem: The middle is way better.” “But the ends are problematic.”

Score: 3.5


St Jack

2039 SE Clinton St., 360-1281, stjackpdx.com
Comments: “They’ve got a lot of butter.” “Also very sweet.” “You can squish it and it retains its form; it’s like memory foam!” “Is this cultured butter?” “A little doughy, but I like the flavor a lot. I’m not crazy about the texture.”

Score: 3.5


Ken’s Artisan Bakery

338 NW 21st Ave., 248-2202, kensartisan.com
Comments: “Oooh, that’s flaky. Jesus!” “Really, really nice crunch.” “The texture is great.”

Score: 4


Nuvrei

404 NW 10th Ave., lower level, 546-8430, nuvrei.com
Comments: “Whoa, it melts in your mouth!” “It’s more like phyllo dough.” “It doesn’t have a chew to it, but it’s really tasty.” “I like how dark it is; the slightly charred flavor is really nice.”

Score: 4


Alder Pastry and Dessert

2448 E Burnside St., 548-0359, alderpastryanddessert.blogspot.com
Comments: “That’s some crazy flakes!” “This is really good.” “Goddamn!” “Mmmmmmm.”

Score: 4.5


Little T American Baker

2600 SE Division St., 238-3458, littletbaker.com
Comments: “It kind of tastes like BBQ!” “Nicely flaked, good layers.” “I’m just happy how much butter is in here.” “I’m sick of croissants now, and this still tastes really good.”

Score:  4.5


Biggest:
There were some whoppers, but Alder Pastry and Dessert’s really took the cake (so to speak).

Prettiest: Both Ken’s and Lovejoy’s were textbook croissants, with glistening brown crusts. But we gave the edge to Lovejoy for its perfectly layered folds and delicately fanned ends. There was, however, one strongly dissenting opinion in favor of Nuvrei’s elegant “crab pincer” design.

Homeliest: St. Honoré’s were a bit misshapen, without much puff, and weird little “tails” sticking out from the middle. 

Best overall: This was tough. Both Alder and Little T were outstanding. But we gave Little T’s croissant the edge for its wonderfully browned crust, distinctive flavor and more rational portion size. 


The Little Things 

Baking with the best at Little T.

OOH LA-LA: Little T’s croissants take three days to make. They’re worth it.
Credits: vivianjohnson.com

Little T American Baker glows in the light of the early morning. The decor is sparse: a few tables, a counter, everything in wood and brushed silver. Nothing weighs the space down, and even the delicate pastries and crusted breads seem to hang suspended in the square glass cases and windows.

The back of the shop, where the baking takes place, is a different story. A five-deck German bread oven gives off an unrelenting aura of heat. The bake staff, dressed in their uniform of navy Little T T-shirts and white aprons, works easily but methodically; no one stands around, and if you do, you’re going to get in the way. Among the workers, Tim Healea, Little T’s owner and head baker, blends in, giving direction when asked and signing off on finished (or unfinished) baked goods.

“No, those aren’t done,” he tells one of the bakers as they pull a sheet of Provençal-style doughnuts out of the oven. “They should be golden brown.” NPR hums in the background as the bakers work on, never ceasing. The mood is quiet, hot and assured: They’re busy making some of the best baked goods in Portland, and they know it.

It’s 6:15 am, and the staff at Little T has already been working for two hours. Freshness, Healea stresses, is key to the quality of their goods. The croissants, voted the best in the city by WW, are already in the oven en route to their 7 am appearance right as the store opens.

Healea points out the oven where the croissants are baking. Like all of Little T’s pastries, the croissants are baked on the top two decks of the bread oven, with a little bit of steam.

“A lot of places make their croissants in a convection oven,” Healea notes, “so this is one way we set ourselves apart.”

The bread oven heats the croissants from the bottom, so they can rise while maintaining a nice bottom crust.

“One key thing is the dough,” Healea explains. The fermentation process in croissant dough is crucial and time-intensive. “Just ’cause there’s a lot of butter doesn’t mean you can skimp on the dough.”

And it is a lot of butter.

“The amount of butter that we use is approximately one-third the weight of the dough, so if the dough is 3 kilos, we’re using a kilo of butter,” says Healea, his metric measurements betraying his background in European baking.

“The croissant is where bread and pastry intersect. You need the fermentation process of a bread maker with the attention to detail of a pastry maker,” Healea says, methodically cutting through the golden crust of one of the fresh-baked pastries to reveal its honeycombed, delicate interior. “Just paying attention to the little things, that makes a big difference.” NATASHA GEILING.

 
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