By John Lichfield in Paris
Published: 30 November 2006
Pierre Hermé, the so-called "Picasso of patisserie", won a prize yesterday for his "shouting croissants". M. Hermé, 45, one of the most celebrated of French pastry cooks, won the annual award by the newspaper Le Figaro for the best croissant in Paris.
He said the test of a perfect croissant should be more than how it tasted, looked or smelt. "The noise of the croissant is also very important," he said. "I can almost hear them shout when people tear them apart."
Six judges appointed by Le Figaro performed a blind tasting of croissants from 64 of the best bakers or patisseries in the French capital. The croissants were judged on their taste, appearance and "nez", or smell, but not their powers of conversation. M. Hermé, former pastry chef for the Parisian luxury food store, Fauchon, scored 14.5 points out of 20. He scored four out five points for both smell and taste. No other croissant-maker scored more than 3.5 for either. His former employer, Fauchon, in the Place de la Madeleine, came a disappointing 17th.
The most famous bakery in Paris, the Poilâne shop in the sixth arrondissement, which is celebrated worldwide for its bread, came joint eighth with seven other shops.
M. Hermé , who has two pastry shops on the Left Bank of Paris, in the Rue Bonaparte and Rue Vaugirard, has been called the "Picasso of patisserie" and "the "Dior of desserts".
He says that a good croissant should be a perfect blend of "salt and sugar". The secret, he says, is the quality of the ingredients and the length of time that the pastry is left en repos, or at rest, before being placed in the oven. Croissants must contain water, salt, yeast, sugar and butter. Otherwise, the details of recipes vary from baker to baker and are jealously guarded.
By general consent of French culinary historians, the croissant is not originally French but Austrian. It is said to have been invented to celebrate the lifting of the siege of Vienna by the crescent, or croissant-wearing Turks in 1683.