Tastiest Croissant in the Bay Area: The Secret's in the Butter
Market Hall Bakery knows its European-style high-fat butter
We follow Croissant Master Mark Chacón into the MH Bakery kitchen to learn the secrets to creating and selecting an exceptional croissant. Morning breakfast choices just got yummier!
Market Hall Bakery's NEW croissants, poised to explode into buttery flakes.
What makes an authentic croissant?
To begin with, it doesn't have to be from Paris.
Yes, the croissant originated in France , but these days some of the world's best croissants are being made stateside—and we are lucky to live in an area making some of the very finest. Still, the Market Hall Bakery team set out to make the best croissant in the Bay Area or Paris. So the better question might be: What makes the highest quality croissant?
1. It's made with high-fat butter.
This is partly about taste, but mostly about texture. A rich, buttery croissant can be made using standard butter, but a greater fat content makes the butter easier to manipulate and roll out evenly into thin sheets during lamination—baking parlance for the series of rolls and folds integrating butter and dough into hundreds to thousands of alternating layers.
2. It has clear, distinct layers.
The textural quality of a croissant is largely reliant on the process of lamination, and a great croissant will be turned at least three times, but no more. More than three turns and the dough, though rich with butter, will lack a clear distinction of layers. Fewer than three turns and the pastry will appear shrunken or dense with thick, tough layers. Three turns, and you'll get distinct layering inside and out, and great lift.
3. It's a dark golden brown.
A great croissant will typically be a crisp, deep golden color. The average American croissant—often mass-manufactured and packaged in such a way as to preserve it for days—is usually characterized by a pale blond hue and a flakeless, doughy texture. No thank you!
4. When you bite into it, there's a small mess of flake.
We know, high quality is not usually measured by disarray, but a great croissant should practically explode into crisp golden flakes and shower your clothing, car or subway seat, or keyboard (or—oh right—plate) with dozens of tiny, flaky, buttery bits. The gains outweigh this small loss—it's the sacrifice you make for that delicately crisp, toothsome and acoustically thrilling entry into the buttery interior.
5. The interior is tender, yeasty, buttery, and shows a "honeycomb effect".
If a portion of the dough's been pre-fermented (pre-risen), you'll be able to taste the difference in the heightened, nuanced flavor. Market Hall Bakery now pre-ferments a portion of its croissant dough before adding it to the mix, and allows the final dough to rise for twice as long as before—a technique that enhances taste as well as naturally prolonging freshness. If you slice the finished croissant in half with a knife, you should see a swirl of consistent patterning of air pockets, almost like bee honeycomb. This is the sign of mastery.
Market Hall Bakery's Croissant-making Dream Team, Saeid Babayhosseini and Mark Chacón.
The Croissant Master
Market Hall Bakery's Mark Chacón
The man behind our better-than-ever croissants—an alum of Tartine Bakery, B. Patisserie, Chez Panisse, and Daikoku Coyoacán in Mexico City, to name a few, and Lead Baking Instructor at The Bread Project in Berkeley—lets us in on his croissant secrets, the savant abilities of his right-hand-man Saeid Babayhosseini, and what kind of pastry he'd be.
How and why did you change Market Hall Bakery's croissant recipe?
I can honestly say that croissants are my favorite pastry and I have tasted thousands of croissants all over the world. I would visit Paris periodically when I lived in Lille, France, and of course, eat croissants. The Market Hall Bakery croissant was great, but we made it even better—with an exterior that practically explodes into crispy golden flakes, and gives way to a yeasty, buttery, tender interior. The biggest changes by far are in the texture.
You also tinkered with the ham & cheese croissant, now the Prosciutto & Gruyère Croissant.
In improving the ham & cheese croissant, we wanted to maintain a similar flavor profile: tangy, buttery dough, salty ham and voluptuous cheese—a timeless and winning combo! Working with a cured meat like prosciutto offers a similar but more refined flavor. Also, the combo of rich, creamy Gruyère on the inside and salty parmesan baked crisp on the outside adds complexity and a caramelized crunch, widely regarded as one of the best parts of this classic.
From what we've heard, it sounds like you and Saeid are the croissant-making Dream Team.
Saeid is my right hand man! I feel so lucky to have someone so talented, eager for knowledge, meticulous and physically capable behind the majority of the work done on the croissant station. After recently moving here from Iran with five of his family members, Saied enrolled himself and his family in baking training at The Bread Project. As the only English-speaking member of his family, he was tasked with learning for himself while simultaneously serving as translator for all five of his family members. Although dough lamination is typically an advanced skill set in any bakery and Saeid had no prior professional baking experience—he has a degree in Industrial Engineering—he is already working at a level on par with some of the best pastry chefs I have worked with.
If you were a pastry, which one would you be?
I would be a Pavlova.