What the French Know About Breakfast Pastries That Americans Don't
I am not anti-croissant. I like them plain, chocolate, filled with almond paste or ham and cheese with equal fervor. However, there is a misconception among many Americans that the croissant is somehow the major national breakfast pastry of France, and I am here to disabuse you of this image with the most delicious news.
While croissants are absolutely a common sight in France, and are without a doubt the best ones you will ever taste, the French have a much broader view of their breakfast pastry basket, and some of the typical offerings might just make you a convert.
Again, I cannot stress enough that I mean you will love these in addition to your beloved flaky crescents.
The first is the chausson au pommes, literally translated as an apple slipper. It is very typical and something you can find in pretty much any shop; it is probably tied with the croissant as the most consumed breakfast treat. It is essentially an apple turnover, only instead of the pie-style pastry crust you might expect, it is made with puff pastry for a light buttery exterior. They are often sprinkled with sugar or glazed on the outside, and the apple filling is light and not very sweet at all. It's a perfect morning serving of fruit.
Next there is the l’anglaise au abricot, essentially a French long john. A long rectangular tranche of puff pastry gets topped with a thin coating of pastry cream and halved fresh apricots before baking. Once done, it is glazed with apricot jam. The apricots are tart and the pastry cream provides a hit of vanilla and they are really amazing with a cup of tea.
Apres that is the pain au raisins, or escargot de raisins. This snail-like pastry is essentially croissant dough that has had a layer of raisins dotted generously over it before getting rolled up and sliced into spirals before baking. A really simple breakfast, but shockingly delicious and worth seeking out. If you like raisin bread, this will rock your morning.
Those of you who are fans of The Great British Baking Show might be familiar with the kouign amann (pronounced kween ah-mon), but if you have never seen one of these oddly-named pastries in the wild, I suggest some immediate Googling to find them. It's a laminated dough, much like croissant dough, but with one layer of sugar added in the final turning and rolling process. Squares of this dough are folded around themselves in delicious origami, sometimes with a chunk of apple or a sugar cube in the middle, before being baked in ring molds, where the butter and sugar make a crackly caramel crust on the bottom. They're extra flaky and crunchy and will drop shards of sugary pastry all over your shirt, but you won’t care.
Brioche is also very common at breakfast. You can get it plain, dotted with large crystals of sugar, or if you are very lucky, encrusted with crushed pink praline. The enriched buttery roll is stretchy from the addition of eggs, and doesn’t need any extra schmearing. It is particularly good with coffee.
And finally, chouquettes, wherein light little balls of choux dough—the same dough you use for eclairs and cream puffs—are rolled in chunky sugar crystals before baking. These are a great on-the-go option, since they tend to be sold by the sackful for one-bite munching.
The next time you hit the bakery to peruse the pastries, keep an eye out for any of these French breakfast treats. I promise, the croissants will still be there the next time you go.