I've had a hankering, of late, for a good almond croissant. As a type 1 diabetic, I’m not much of a pastry person these days, but this particular pastry sticks with me. I’ll do the occasional morning glory muffin or coffee shop chocolate chip cookie for purposes of pure sustenance, resigning myself to the insulin price for the sake of how goddamn convenient All City Coffee is to the freeway onramp, but the only pastry that really qualifies as an experience for me is the almond croissant.
I can trace this affinity back to my days as a teenaged Bauhaus rat, sipping free drip (Thanks, Zach!), bumming cigarettes, and splitting pastries with my best friend Peter. He always possessed taste beyond his years, and had an appreciation of pastry that was uncannily urbane for a 17-year-old. The image of him sipping a double short Americano; nibbling on one of Bauhaus’ big, fluffy almond croissants; and smoking a fancy, British cigarette—he’d defend his peculiar habit of smoking while he ate pastries to the last—is forever ingrained in my mind. Peter is long since deceased, thanks to a motorcycle-related tumble off the edge of the I-80 interchange in San Francisco, as is the coffee shop that was so formative in our youth, so this is now one of my most cherished memories. My love for almond croissants—along with such culinary treasures as Seattle Deli’s pork banh mi, Cedars of Lebanon’s fabulous falafel, and Thai Tom’s entire menu—I owe to him.
Recently, I found myself struck with pretty miserable mid-commute hypoglycemia—33mg/dl, if that means anything to you—and sprung for All City’s stock almond croissant, spurred by my memories of those simpler times with Peter. Unlike their absolutely divine (and extremely messy) everything croissant, which is stuffed with cream cheese and covered in all manner of wonderful seeds and seasonings, their almond croissant is not my favorite. The almond cream is a bit chewy for my taste, as is the entire affair. I am willing to admit that hypoglycemic delirium could have skewed my taste, as your main focus at that level of blood glucose concentration is stuffing sugar in your face fast enough not to die, but it still sat wrong with me somehow. Left wanting for a better almond croissant, I recently accepted a recommendation of Amandine Bakeshop’s version.
Holy shit. It is amazing. It is the apex of almond croissants.
That said, it is also not at all like other almond croissants. For starters, it has no powdered sugar topping. I realize that many people do not consider an almond croissant to be an almond croissant without the powdered sugar, but I found myself really enjoying its absence. Having facial hair might have something to do with it, but whatever.
It is also slathered in orange blossom syrup, a departure from convention that gives it an insanely pungent, musky tinge. Something like a really good, smoky rye old-fashioned with Regan’s orange bitters. This is greatly aided by the perfectly toasted almonds on top. The crust also offers a similar smolder, being as perfectly dark and crisp as the dough it encases is featherlight and flaky.
However, the real star of any almond croissant is what that dough holds, that all-important pocket of almond cream. This almond cream is the real fuckin’ deal. It has a pleasantly golden hue, and an ever-so-slightly granular texture that is satisfying in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. Bafflingly, it is also somehow the smoothest filling I have ever encountered in any almond croissant.
A source close to the croissant (but very averse to publicity) said that it consists of the following ingredients: “House made almond meal. House made marzipan. Organic butter and sugar and eggs. No bullshit.” Given that almost all the tangible ingredients listed there are present in almost all almond cream that goes into almond croissants, I think its safe to say that the lack of bullshit is the X factor here. If only all preparers of all fancy foodstuffs would dispense with it.
Anyway, Amandine’s almond croissant is not at all the same as the one at Bauhaus was, and the modern Capitol Hill coffee shop experience is just as dissimilar. Amandine is in Chophouse Row, a fancy, brand-spanking-new building named for the ramshackle band practice space it replaced, which was a building I remember being vaguely scared of in high school. Bauhaus has long since been replaced by an upscale shop selling prefabricated bikes with pastel paint jobs and way froofier coffee. However, I can say with certainty that Peter would have rated Amandine’s croissant highly, had there not been such high winds on I-80 that one fateful night in San Francisco, and so I find it to be every bit as nostalgic as I’d hoped it to be. Eating it, I could almost see him sitting across from me, wearing that self-satisfied, sugar-dusted grin I miss so much. Good food, as I’ve said before, transports you, and this was no exception.
While most of you readers might not experience Amandine’s lovely almond croissant as quite the trip down memory lane that I do, I’d be willing to bet that almost all of you will experience it as an absolutely magnificent pastry. When it comes down to it, no matter how long you’ve lived in this city or what memories you have or haven’t yet made in it, if you cannot enjoy the blissfuly contemplative interlude afforded by a perfectly composed pastry and a cup of good, strong coffee, you might not have a pulse.