If you've never tried making croissants at home, maybe you should, just once. The operation of making laminated dough (dough and butter layered, rolled out and layered some more, and some more) is at once both very simple and maddeningly complex, like building a tiny house, or a few dozen of them, the components of which can melt when you touch them. Such a morning in the kitchen might be fun, and it might give you a greater appreciation for the pastry chefs and bakers who make these excellent pastries, of which there are, thankfully, not a few in this town.
A consideration of the beautiful mechanics and geology of laminated dough is also helpful in this Era of the Cronut, since once you think about the basics, you might question the wisdom of throwing all that into a deep-fryer. For purists, a perfectly-made croissant is an utterly classic pastry that needs nothing but a demitasse of espresso to accompany it. A bit of Valhrona or some almond paste, sure. But please God, keep it away from the medieval vats of oil. Turn the page for 10 of the best.
10. Sweet Butter Kitchen:
On weekend mornings, you'll find Leslie Danelian's Sherman Oaks bakery and cafe by the crowds milling between the chairs and tables set up along the Ventura Blvd. sidewalks and in the converted outdoor patio between the shop's cozy marketplace (chocolates, cookbooks, olives) and the kitchen. It's in that kitchen that the bakers make the many baked goods and pastries, including the stellar croissants, flaky and intensely buttery, with the kind of happy layering that makes them a joy to dismantle. Order a coffee and get in line. 13824 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; 818-788-2832.
9. Milo & Olive:
Since Zoe Nathan centralized her baking operation at Milo & Olive, the pizzeria-restaurant-bakery-epicenter a few miles away from Huckleberry, Rustic Canyon and Sweet Rose, the other of the restaurants she owns and operates with her husband Josh Loeb, it's not so much that the pastries and baked goods are better — they get better? — but that you know where to park your car. Nathan has a way with dough, be it bread dough or laminated dough, and her croissants are glorious examples of the genre, either plain, ham-and-cheese or Valrhona. Maybe get the Valhrona. 2723 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-453-6776.
The Brentwood Country Mart has long been perhaps Brentwood's best oasis, particularly in the morning, when you can wander through Jeff Cerciello's exceedingly pretty market-bakery-restaurant, order a fantastic pastry and a coffee, and maybe wait for Tom Hanks to show up for the same. With or without famous people, FarmShop is a destination spot for breakfast, not least for their outstanding croissants, bowls of them, crisp and golden and trailing crumbs as soon as you break into them. 225 26th St., Brentwood; 310-566-2400.
When owner Barbara Monderine opened her bakery in 2009, she inherited a French-made Pavailler deck oven from the previous owners, but most everything else that makes her Atwater Village shop a magnet for locals she and her fellow bakers make themselves — particularly the outstanding bread and pastries. The amount of plugra butter that gets used just for the croissants is staggering. Moderine says that she has one full-time baker just for laminated dough production — and a pastry student whose sole job is to roll out butter blocks. Well, it's worth it. The croissants are glorious, flaky and rich, with the requisite golden carapace — the crumbs of which will probably end up in your cup of coffee. 3119 Los Feliz Blvd., Atwater Village; 323-662-8600.
6. Short Cake:
Pastry chef Hourie Sahakian goes through a lot of butter at the bakery she helms in the Original Farmers Market (started by the late Amy Pressman, with much input by Nancy Silverton). As in, 20-lb. blocks of Strauss butter, much of which goes into the fantastic croissants Sahakian bakes for the tiny shop. The plain iterations are pretty great, but so are the variations on the theme of laminated dough: bacon and cheddar croissants, manchego and piquillo pepper and smoked paprika croissants, and the nicely hedonistic twice-baked hazelnut and twice-baked almond croissants. All are taken a little further in the oven than many bakers do these days, intensifying the flavors through the happy alchemy of caramelization. 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles; 323-761-7976.
5. Bottega Louie:
Vaulted ceilings. Ghosts of Brooks Brothers gentlemen (the beautiful, cavernous space once housed the retailer). Rows of macarons like a giant pastel abacus. And although you can choose from myriad exquisitely-built tarts and tiny layered cakes, sometimes you just want a simple croissant, set on a plain white plate, with an espresso and a small glass of water. Ta-da. The many pastries are baked in Bottega Louie's closed-to-the-public bakery, off-site but not by much, and are delivered in waves throughout the morning. Get there when they open at 6:30 on weekdays and you can sometimes have the place to yourself. A newspaper. That single perfect croissant. Downtown waking up around you. 700 S. Grand Ave., Downtown; 213-802-1470.
4. Bread Lounge:
There are myriad reasons to find — and commit to permanent memory — Ran Zimon's downtown bakery, a sparse vertical space next to the 7th St. bridge and folded into the Sante Fe loft complex adjacent, more or less, to Bestia. Zimon's breads are some of the very best in town, and his pastries, particularly the glorious croissants, are nearly perfect examples of the genre. You can find both scattered happily throughout town, like trails of extant breadcrumbs, the breads at Church & State and the croissants in the glass case at G&B Coffee at Grand Central, among others. Zimon, who baked for Suzanne Goin's restaurants before opening his own shop last year, bakes croissants with just the right balance of tenderness and crunch. 700 S. Santa Fe Ave., Downtown; 213-327-0782.
When Frederic and Laila Laski, the French husband-and-wife team behind Chaumont, opened their charming French bakery and patisserie in February, fellow Frenchman Ludo Lefebvre immediately tweeted that their croissants were the best he'd had in his 16 years in this town. Ludo may be biased or he may not be, but the man knows his pastries. Chaumont's croissants, which come in both plain and chocolate, are exquisite odes to French butter — a lot of French butter. 143 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; 310-550-5510.
2. Maison Giraud:
Both the plain croissant and the pain au chocolat that pastry chef Noubar Yessayan bakes daily at Alain Giraud's lovely French restaurant have long attained near legendary status in this town, dating back to when they were all (the chefs, the pastries) at Anisette, the much-missed brasserie in Santa Monica. Yessayan is still baking tray after tray of the glorious pastries, any one of which is well worth the drive out to the Palisades. Crisp and bronzed on the outside, utterly tender and butter-fraught on the inside, these are masterworks, with or without chocolate. 1032 Swarthmore Ave., Pacific Palisades; 310-459-7562.
1. Proof Bakery:
Since its opening in a tiny space on Atwater Village's main drag in late 2010, Proof has been a magnet for lovers of pastry. Magnet being maybe a more operative word than you might realize, given the enormous ancient Dalton oven that owner and baker Na Young Ma inherited with the space, and that takes up most of the central back room. But what Ma coaxes out of that behemoth is extraordinary: exquisite tiny tarts, brioche, glorious cookies — and the croissants, which are, we think, the best in town. They come in many iterations: almond, chocolate, ham and cheese, special flavors during the holidays, and the lovely plain butter croissant. Built with unsalted European-style butter and a mix of organic high-gluten and malted bread flours and using a 3-day process, these are crazy flaky pastries, with layers that you could study like geology, assuming you could wait that long before eating them. 3156 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village; 323-664-8633.