After a four-year absence, the return of the Best Croissant Contest was eagerly awaited by many San Franciscans. For three weeks now, all 400 tickets have been sold out, and the waiting list has grown to more than 1,000! Organized by French Morning and L’apéro SF, the finale took place on Sunday, May 7, from 11:30am to 1:30pm, in one of the prestigious lounges of the Beacon Grand, a hotel just off Union Square.
By 11am, crowds were pouring into the hallway of the Beacon Grand. As you exit the elevator, the smell of croissants fills the air, and you can already hear hungry sighs of pleasure. With family and friends alike, foodies are eager to sample the pastries and cakes prepared by the eight 2023 finalists. Nominated by the readers of French Morning, the bakeries in the running this year were Fournée Bakery, Jane the Bakery, Le Marais Bakery, Thorough Bread and Pastry, The Midwife and the Baker, Maison Nico, One House Bakery, and Kahnfections. The entire Bay Area was represented, with five San Franciscan bakeries, one from Berkeley (Fournée), one from Benicia (One House Bakery), and one from Mountain View (The Midwife and the Baker).
Three prize categories
A few minutes before the doors open, each bakery checks the final details of its stand: a basket full of pastries is adjusted, slices of panettone are cut, the table is illuminated with a lamp in the shape of a crescent… and the contest begins. Some people rush straight to a particular bakery, others proceed methodically to try everything, so they can choose the winner of the contest with full knowledge of all the facts. This year, three categories of prizes will be awarded, the People’s Choice Award, the Grand Prize, and the prize for the Best Original Creation (excluding croissants).
Aldin Verkler and his partner Margaret Wilson agree on their favorite croissant: “The Midwife and the Baker! The pastries at Thorough Bread are also very good.” Amanda Collins, a member of an online group of kouign-amann aficionados, came with her daughter and sister. They sit in a room adjacent to the large lounge where the finalists are sitting, and compare notes. “I think I like the salty croissants better than the sweet ones, especially this delicious meat pie from One House Bakery,” says Amanda. “I like to be able to taste all the pastries,” says her daughter. Pierre-François Choquet, who was present at the contest in 2019, avoids the long lines and takes the opportunity to discover products from bakeries he didn’t know, like the rhubarb puff pastry from Fournée Bakery, or the pastries from Thorough Bread.
At the judges’ table, each croissant is observed, sniffed, and tasted, in order to carefully fill out the score sheet, according to criteria of flavor, structure, and aroma. Pierre Bee, co-organizer of the competition, has established a clear hierarchy: “Some croissants are rather rustic, others more urban, more modern. As a good Norman, the well-buttered croissants are of course my preference.” Adrienne Lin, author of the food blog Will Wander for Food, has already clearly identified her winner, while the other judges confirm their impressions with a second round of tasting. Robert Jörin, chef and instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, looks at not only the texture of the croissants, but also the condition of his table: “When tasting eight croissants, you should definitely have plenty of crumbs in front of you, which attests to the crispness of the pastries. I also pay attention how well cooked it is: the croissant must be thoroughly baked without becoming dry.” For their part, Sophia Hu, Thierry Clément, owner of L’Ardoise, and chef Jean-Marc Fullsack are still hesitating before finalizing their choice. As for the public, they are rushing to vote for their favorite croissant and award it the People’s Choice Award.
Le Marais Bakery and Maison Nico are crowned
The long-awaited moment of the award ceremony has arrived. The People’s Choice Award, awarded thanks to the votes of the public, and given by Pierre Bee, returns this year to Le Marais Bakery. Patrick Ascaso, its creator, does not hide his joy. “Being elected best croissant by the public is the most beautiful reward: we get up early every day for our customers, they are the ones who keep our bakeries alive. I would also like to salute all the other finalists present because they all show the same passion.” Le Marais’ head baker, Jérémy Mullet, attributes this victory to a simple and delicious recipe: “We use ingredients from France to make croissants that smell like butter, and which we don’t overbake to preserve their softness.”
The Grand Prize, awarded by the jury of professionals, is presented by Frédéric Jung, Consul General of France in San Francisco: “It is an honor to present this prize, which rewards the croissant, a true icon of French gastronomy. And the winner is… Maison Nico!” Alena Rozanski, pastry chef, and Andrea Delaroque, wife of Nicolas Delaroque, the creator of Maison Nico, don’t hide their surprise or their joy: “We are so proud of our croissants, and we are so happy to see that you share this feeling. Maison Nico was born out of the pandemic, we had to reinvent ourselves, and it’s only been six months since we started making croissants in earnest. What a recognition!” The Midwife and the Baker and Thorough Bread and Pastry took second and third place, respectively, with the award for Best Original Creation going to Fournée Bakery for their Rhubarb and Cream Cheese “Fruit Croissant.”