Dig into a flaky, buttery pastry — and don’t worry about making a mess.
As a food writer and seasoned home cook, I often ponder the human ingenuity — not to mention time-consuming labor — that has gone into some of my favorite culinary creations. The croissant, with its limited ingredients and dozens of flaky layers borne from meticulous technique, is one such pastry that I can’t consume without thinking about the history and bakers behind it.
Though today it certainly is considered French fare, historians agree that the croissant was inspired by the Austrian kipfel, a crescent-shaped pastry made with butter or lard and occasionally sugar and almonds. Inspired by Viennese bakeries in Paris, French people began making the moon-shaped treat with puffed pastry, the country’s own innovation, and by the mid-19th century, the croissant as we know it was a breakfast staple.
Today, throughout Reno-Tahoe, pastry chefs have dedicated themselves to mastering — and innovating — the buttery croissant, which with one bite can transport you to French boulangeries (and a time when travel wasn’t so uncertain).
For Nicholle Alumbaugh, chef-owner of Homage, a Reno restaurant and bakery, croissants carry significant memories — from the bakery in Santa Cruz where she grew up eating almond croissants (she now has its original recipe) to her travels around Paris in search of the best croissant (La Maison d’Isabelle in the Latin Quarter).
“The ideal traditional croissant is light in weight for its physical size, cooked to just past golden so it has a rich color and shine, and has a crispy outside and slightly chewy honeycomb texture inside,” Alumbaugh says. “It should be buttery with the slightest bit of both sweet and salty notes. If you don’t make a flaky mess all over, you’re not doing it right!”
Made with just a few ingredients, including flour, butter, yeast, water, salt, and sugar, a good croissant’s foundation is quality ingredients, especially a high-end butter with more than 83 percent butterfat, Alumbaugh says.
Tyler O’Laskey, who owns and operates Perenn Bakery in Midtown Reno with his wife, Aubrey, agrees. Using a milling company that works directly with wheat farmers and imported French butter made from pasture-raised cows, O’Laskey starts making his croissants by crafting a “poolish” or pre-ferment from flour and water and inoculating the dough with a small amount of yeast to ferment overnight. This will be mixed with more dough the next day and allowed to ferment again before the rigorous “laminating” process that creates the thin, stacked layers of butter and dough.
“We stretch out that fermentation for a super long time, which adds a lot of depth to the flavor of our croissants,” O’Laskey explains. “Then we’re laminating our dough sometimes down to just three millimeters thick, and we’re taking butter blocks and creating layers of dough and butter by a process of folds. We get up to 26 layers of butter in each croissant, and that is also what gives us that nice, honeycomb texture on the inside and a beautiful, layered croissant.”
“It really comes down to how you treat each of these ingredients individually and as a whole,” Alumbaugh adds, “how long you ferment your dough before adding your butter, what the temperature of your dough is when you add your butter, what the temperature of your butter is, how long you relax your dough between turns, how many turns you make, which style of turn you make, and, of course, patience (it’s a five-day process).”
Both Homage and Perenn offer classic croissants on their menus, but they also get creative with flavors. At Homage, you might find croissants stuffed with lemon meringue or chocolate raspberry and inspired by Cubano or Monte Cristo sandwiches. Perenn’s ever-changing lineup of croissants ranges from truffle cream and sticky toffee pudding to tomato-jam-pesto-mozzarella cream and white-Cheddar sausage.
Whether you’re a croissant purist or in search of a croissant cradling melted Gruyère and prosciutto, you’ll find no shortage of places across the region in which to enjoy freshly made croissants.
Claire McArthur felt it was only right to write this story while eating a croissant and allowing buttery flakes to cover her keyboard. It’s called research. Yell at her at Clairecudahy@gmail.com about all the spots she missed that offer croissants.
Homage Coffee | Kitchen | Bakery
519 Ralston St., Reno
775-323-8952 • Homagereno.com
20 St. Lawrence Ave., Reno
775-451-7722 • Perennbakery.com
Savor delicious croissants at several eateries around the Reno-Tahoe area:
This Austrian bakery, located in Reno, makes delicious flavored and plain croissants, which are a great vehicle for its much-loved chicken-salad sandwich with raspberries.
L.A. Bakery Café & Eatery
In Carson City, L.A. Bakery is churning out delicious baked goods, including a handful of croissants, whether you’re in the mood for a mini-chocolate or a hulking ham and Swiss.
Sugar Pine Bakery
Enjoy plain, chocolate, almond, or ham-and-cheese croissants freshly baked every day in the heart of South Lake Tahoe.
Tahoe House Bakery & Gourmet
In Tahoe City, swing by the cozy Tahoe House Bakery & Gourmet for a ham and Gruyère or Swiss chocolate croissant. Make sure to grab a crusty baguette to go to enjoy later!