Yesterday Don Day had a croissant for lunch. Then he had another croissant. And another croissant. And one more croissant. Then two more croissants. And still another croissant. And one final croissant.
Don Day had a little justification. My friend Rich and I had walked to eight different bakeries yesterday morning so I’d preburned (it should be a word) at least half of those calories. And how else could we determine where to buy the very best croissant in San Miguel de Allende.
Don Day’s love affair with croissants precedes any love affair with women. It goes back to the time he was about ten and we had our first refrigerator. From inside the freezer section my mother brought out a tube and, with a thwack on the arborite counter and a quick twist of her wrists, launched my love of a classic pastry. I wanted to poke Mr. Pop ‘n’ Fresh’s belly every day of my life.
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air.
The first time Don Day saw Paris, Don Day stayed at the Hotel California. From his tiny balcony, he awoke each morning to an aroma that made him realize that his affair with Pillsbury crescent rolls was little more than a roll in the hay. The deep and lasting romance was really just beginning.
The birth of the French croissant began not far from there when an Austrian artillery officer, August Zang, founded a Viennese bakery, Boulangerie Viennoise, at 92, rue de Richelieu. He named it, of course, for its crescent shape.
I don’t know how many croissants Don Day has eaten since then. I know when he’s in Toronto he still gets chided by Don Day’s Wife for his inability to walk past Petite Thuet without picking up at least one.
When Don Day first started to spend his winters in San Miguel de Allende, he realized he was living in a desert in more ways than one. But around the time Don Day arrived, so did El Maple bakery and so did, what Don Day believes, was the first available croissant in the town.
El Maple was one of those eight bakeries that we stopped at when we made our rounds yesterday. It was actually the second stop, after Mega and before La Mesa Grande, Mivida, La Buena Vida, Petit Four, La Colmena and Cumpanio.
We asked Don Day’s Wife and Rich’s wife Lorain to help us (OK, they begged us to let them help) rate the croissants and Don Day set it up so that the tastings would be blind, we wouldn’t know where each croissant came from. We’d score each sample on a one to ten basis. And we’d have butter, blackcurrant jam and a slab of cheddar join us on the journey.
Because Don Day loves Hitchcock, because he loves whodunnits, he will now take you through the eight contestants, from last to first (and no skipping to the end).
In last place was La Colmena, on Relox, better known as The Blue Door Bakery (though Don Day always thinks it should be called The Blue Doors Bakery because there are two of them). Despite being around since 1901, La Colmena has, unfortunately, not learned to make a great croissant. As Don Day looks at the four judges comments, he’s almost embarrassed to share them (and Don Day doesn’t embarrass easily). The judges found it too sweet, too much like a brioche, too heavy. Richard’s comment was “would make a nice doorstop”. The only positive that could be said about La Colmena‘s croissant was the price. At 5 pesos each, they’re half the price of the next least expensive. Don Day did not need a calculator to add the marks; La Colmena scored only 5 out of 40.
Croissants have obviously improved a lot in this town. For San Miguel’s original and therefore once best croissant, the one from El Maple on Salida a Celaya, was in second last place. Judges found it too eggy, too dry, not at all flaky. “It’s more like a sandwich roll” said Lorain. El Maple‘s croissants, which are another reasonably priced entry at 10 pesos each, scored a 10 out of 40.
The sixth place finisher was a big surprise to Don Day. It came from the bakery that came number one when we did our best baguette competition. Judges found it “too bready” and “way too heavy”. “It’s like a brick” said Richard. The croissant ranked sixth was from La Mesa Grande on Zacateros. At 15 pesos, it was the most expensive of all which sure wasn’t justified with its score of 14 out of 40.
In fifth place was another surprise. Paco Cardenas is considered by some to be the best patissier in San Miguel and Don Day has often enjoyed his sweet confections. The judges found his croissants, from Petit Four on Mesones, to be doughy, dry and chewy and not at all buttery. Petit Four’s croissants are also much smaller, barely half the size of some of the others, so at 13 pesos each can be considered quite expensive. They scored a 17 out of 40.
In fourth place was the croissant from San Miguel supermercado Mega which wasn’t a real surprise. Don Day has already been quite happy with the supermarket’s pain au chocolat. The only real negative was that it was a little doughy and “could’ve spent a little more time in the oven”. Mega‘s croissants are a reasonable 9.7 pesos each and scored a 21 out of 40.
The bronze medal winner, the croissant in third place, and the first one that the judges had very positive remarks about, came from La Buena Vida on Hernandez Macias. Judges found it a little heavy and chewy but still a great taste. “I’d definitely eat it again”, said Lorain, “but I wouldn’t be dying for the next bite.” The La Buena Vida croissant is priced at 12 pesos. It received 25 points out of 40.
The second place finisher had “that light airy consistency you always hope for” according to Don Day’s Wife. It was considered “flaky” on the outside and “fluffy” on the inside. It came from the Italian/Mexican restaurant on Hernandez Macias that deserves to be recognized much more for its baking skills. The croissant from Mivida, which is priced at 13 pesos, scored an impressive 27 out of 40.
And the winner? Let’s just say it wasn’t even a horse race. One San Miguel croissant was a runaway, the Secretariat of pastries, leaving all the others in its wake. The accolades on the comment section of the score sheets go on and on. “I love this flavor”, “the perfect consistency”, “so flaky, so buttery”, “I just want more and more”. It was really no contest. Most of Rich’s family live in France and he was comparing it to the ones from the boulangerie just down the street from his sister in Montfort. “The finest I’ve ever eaten”, said Rich. The croissant from Cumpanio was in first place on every one’s score sheet and dominated the others with a score of 39 out of 40. The price of 14 pesos is an outright steal for something that tastes this amazing.
I remembered when we were on that 10K hike yesterday morning. Don Day was afraid it would be a wasted walk, that all of the croissants would be almost all the same. I was afraid that everyone would be giving every croissant a seven out of ten. I thought I might have wasted 20 bucks. How wrong I was.
I was also amazed at how all the judges agreed on the merits (or demerits) of all the croissants. I couldn’t remember when Don Day’s Wife had agreed with Don Day so often in one day. The score of 14 did not come from one high and three low scores; it came from 4+4+3+3. The score of 25 came from 7+6+6+6. Cumpanio‘s top score obviously came from 10+10+10+9. Don Day has staged a lot of these best of events but never has he had so many people agree so heartily about the winners and the losers.
Don Day wishes he was in Paris (often). There he’d like to repeat the croissant challenge. With Cumpanio against seven of France’s best patisseries. I think I’d put all of my Euros on Secretariat again.
Cumpanio is located at Correo 29, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.