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Photo by Adam Ewing
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Photo by Sarah Walor
I left an old flame in NYC. Tucked in a tiny room off of the very large and ornate Balthazar in lower Manhattan and amid such delights as opera cake, cherry clafoutis, and delicate mousses, you will find him — a majestic specimen and the one to which all others are compared. With a deep brown exterior, he's like a crustacean, shattering upon that first glorious bite and unraveling into light and seemingly endless layers within. A high bar to set, but as I found out, RVA is no slouch in the croissant department.
French in the Financial District
La Parisienne lives up to its name. Available also in almond, apple and chocolate, their croissants (I'm a purist and tried plain butter) had a high unraveling factor. The interior was feathery and practically melted on the tongue. I was pleased to peer into the bag and find the telltale shards. 200 S. 10th St., 225-0225 or laparisiennebistro.com
Out of the Oven
Upon entering Ingrid's Bakery a magical thing happened. The croissants had just come out of the oven! What?! Let me tell you, you have not experienced decadence until a freshly baked, hot butter-drenched croissant is staring you in the face. Light in color and puffy with a nice chew, it would be perfect stuffed with ham and cheese for lunch. On a Friday, if you've been good. It was like a warm hug, with napkins required.
2118 W. Cary St., 359-9308 or ingridsbakery.com
Chocolate for Breakfast
Flour Garden Bakery's croissants are available at Lamplighter and Urban Farmhouse, but get to both places early, as they sell out. This petite, artfully constructed chocolate croissant had great flavor, with a flaky crust to keep me happy, and its shard factor was high. I have heard that miniature, butter versions are served at The Jefferson Hotel's Sunday brunch. Various locations, 261-5757, wholesaler
Fragrant and Filling
The enthusiastic gents behind the counter at D'Lish Bakery and Café encouraged me to select an almond croissant, heavy with frangipane and slicked with sliced, toasted almonds. By this point, I had abandoned biting and instead delightfully plucked each layer off until I reached the sweet and dense almond filling inside. It was a suitable reward for my efforts. 11844 Chester Village Drive, Chester, 717-2253 or dlishbakeryandcafe.com
Can Can's croissant is a studied and well-executed offering. I went with a classic butter. So tasty! It had the darkest exterior of any I tried, with ample, discernible layers and plenty of shards (which, yes, I greedily gathered from the bottom of the bag). It was the closest to my beloved. Among the customary selections (almond, chocolate, sugar) were a lemon mascarpone and an apricot-filled option with which I have a date in the near future. 3120 W. Cary St., 358-7274 or cancanbrasserie.com
The Perfect Cup of Coffee?
The perfect cup of coffee starts with a bright red cherry.
"It's the seed of a piece of fruit," Lamplighter roast master Jen Rawlings says. "The pit on the inside of the cherry is the coffee bean." These cherries grow at farms along the equator from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn.
Coffee farmers pick the cherries by hand at their peak ripeness. "These people pull it off trees, they sort through it by hand, they look at it with their eyes," Rawlings says. "It's a labor of love from the hands of people all over the country."
After the fruit is picked, the cherries are milled together until the fleshy pulp sloughs off. Sometimes, the cherries are put into tanks where the enzymes from the fruit ferment around the bean, giving it a fruity flavor.
After drying and hardening in the sun, the beans are packed into containers, shipped to ports and trucked to Lamplighter's lab in Richmond.
Rawlings micro-roasts every 10-pound bag of green coffee beans in Probat and Diedrich roasters. She samples the roasted, ground coffee, mixing a standard amount of coffee into a cup and then pouring water over it.
"You slurp it over your palate to coat the entirety of your mouth," Rawlings says. "Upfront, there is a sharp acidity, what people call the brightness of coffee. In the middle of the taste is the body, whether it's got a chocolaty, heavy note that fills up your whole mouth or whether it's really astringent. At the end is the aftertaste. We focus on what's lingering. Is it still sweet to the end, is it bitter or is it totally gone? A clean finish." —Anne Dreyfuss
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