Throughout its long history, the buttery croissant has represented France’s best known “viennoiserie.” Its yeasty dough is layered, rolled and folded many times before acquiring its trademark crescent shape.
The croissant’s origin has been fiercely debated over the years by culinary experts, with some saying that the renowned bread first came into being around the time the Franks beat back Muslim invaders at Tours in 732. Since then, it has traveled far beyond the borders of Europe, and local variants of croissant (with chocolate, almond, ham or cheese fillings) have become common in the U.S. and in Morocco.
While the date of its arrival in the Middle East remains open to question, it is likely that Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egypt expedition provided the croissant with its first foothold in the region.
Nevertheless, tracking down the perfect croissant in Cairo — more than 200 years after Napoleon — proved much more difficult than expected. While Cairo has countless bakeries from which to purchase croissants, few of them are up to genuine French standards — be it in terms of taste, fluffiness or general appearance.
Croissants from Fino Bakery, for example, with their convincing crescent-shapes, fail to create a revolution of the palate.
“It doesn’t taste very fresh,” complained one taster. “But it also has a pleasant sugar-honey twist that is quite nice.” While another taster enjoyed its “fullness,” the Fino croissant unfortunately remains as far from the real “viennoiserie” as Cairo is from Paris.
The next croissant came directly from the ovens of the Marriott bakery.
“This is much closer to the original, with a more airy consistency and less sugar,” said one satisfied taster. Nevertheless, the Marriott’s croissants are still far from perfect, as the dough lacks the heavy presence of butter and only the bread’s upper crust actually tastes good.
Luxury chocolate shop Fauchon also offers a variety of freshly-baked croissants, including plain and almond covered. Just one look at the wonderful glazed crust and honey-brown color — along with the sophisticated pink packaging — gives the croissant-lover a rush of hope.
Tasting results, however, were mixed, with some highly satisfied and others unable to hide their disappointment.
“It’s delightfully fluffy,” said one. “The crust is yummy and feels good in my belly.” Others, however, opined that, even though the Fauchon pastry is better looking with a much flakier crust, it nevertheless “tastes more like cake than croissant.”
The last croissant to be tested, baked by Monginis in Zamalek, looked — at first glance, anyway — too fat to be good. Yet despite this first impression, it proved to be the most satisfying.
“The dough is soft and airy, while the presence of butter is undeniable,” tasters agreed unanimously. What’s more, prices range from between only LE2 and LE7 for a single “half-moon” croissant, making Monginis the least expensive option of all
Zamalek: 12 Hassan Sabry St. (Tel. 2735-8067; 2735-7744)
Maadi: Road 213 (corner 231) Digla (Tel. 2521-0646; 2521-0679)
The Bakery, Marriott Hotels
Zamalek Hotel Marriott, 16 Saray El Gezirah St. (Tel. 2728-3000)
Sonesta Hotel, 4 El Tayaran St., Nasr City (Tel. 262-8111)
Zamalek branch 4 D El Jezerah, Opp. El Jezerah Club (Tel. 735-0636)
3 Taha Hussein St., Zamalek, on the corner of Ismail Mohammed St. (Tel. 2735-9203; 2578-8887)