Das perfekte Croissant (engl. Originalversion der Kolumne in der htr vom 01.05.2014)
Yet as I watch Nicolas darting around behind my chair – snipping and clipping, springing around on his Gucci-slippered feet, coaxing my hair into feathery perfection – it’s not hard to imagine him creating equally feather-light creations in a hot, highly competitive environment. ‘My specialities were croissants and éclairs,’ he grins. ‘The French cliché, non?!’
In a strong Gallic accent, with plenty of Gallic shrugging, he tells me how he was invited to Berlin to work in a top hotel. There he encountered a German pâtissier who became Nico’s arch-rival. ‘But zee ‘otel tasters found hees croissants as ‘eevy as lead,’ nods Nico. ‘So they fired ‘eem.’ With slight pity in his voice, he adds that Berliners are not usually very good at pastry.
He has a point. In all my fourteen years in Berlin, I’ve never come across a really fabulous croissant. One of those golden creations that are simultaneously springy and flaky, that leave a gloss on your lips and a butter-kiss on your breath, that are wholly satisfying yet as light as air.
To be sure, Berlin bakeries are good at Sustenance with a capital S. If you want to run a marathon or work for ten hours straight, breakfast from a Berlin bakery is perfect. Rye bread so dark and heavy that if you drop it you could break your foot. A Rosinenschnecke with such thick glaze you need a chainsaw to cut it. Or a huge Puddingbrezel that could feed a family of six.
When spring comes, however, you don’t want stodge and starch, nor do you want a thick china mug of Milchkaffee. When the sun is shining and the blossom drifting, you just want to sit at a pavement table and pretend you’re in Paris. And for this you need a perfect café au lait and a real French-tasting, French-textured croissant.
Having recently moved to a new neighbourhood, I’m almost hopeful. Two blocks from my house is a famous bakery where everything, even the pastry, is baked on the premises – a rare thing in a city where ‘Back-Factories’ are popping up on every corner, selling mass-produced pre-formed frozen dough that’s baked by unskilled labour.
On the first sunny weekend of spring, I wander along to the famous bakery – and it’s a pleasant surprise. Their croissants are the best I’ve had in fourteen years. Gorgeously crescent-shaped, seductively flaky, melt-in-the-mouth delicious. I buy an extra one to take to Nico and ask the girl behind the counter how long they’ve been open. ‘Fourteen years,’ she says sadly. ‘And this is our last week.’
‘You’re closing?’ My heart, puffed up by pastry, sinks like dough in a cold draught.
‘We’ve been bought out…’ She pauses. ‘By a hair salon.’
But of course! After the perfect croissant, perfect irony. I bid her au revoir and resign myself to a sensible, roughage-filled, rye-based summer.