Last Updated on February 21, 2021 by Pamela
Finding the best croissants in Québec is a worthy quest. One I wholeheartedly embrace. The perfect croissant is buttery and flakey and airy and the epitome of breakfast sophistication.
A food obsession that can, at times, border on the ridiculous.
Can one die from eating too many croissants? Will your arteries slowly close until your blood is down to a trickle and send you into cardiac arrest? Heart attacks are awful (my dad had a major one when I was 12 years old, it was a scary time, and thankfully he survived), but, at the same time, a part of me romanticizes that death by croissant-fueled debauchery would be a fine way to go.
I mean, how could one not love croissants?
A Brief History…
Inspired by kipfel, a crescent-shaped baked treat made with plenty of butter or lard in Austria, the arrival of croissants in France is somewhat obscure. Some say they were introduced by Marie-Antoinette, who missed baked goods from her homeland, Austria. Others say they were first introduced almost a century before that.
Honestly, we will likely never know who the first person was to bring the croissant to France.
References to croissants, however, begin to appear in France in the 19th-century when they found their way into fancy Viennese bakeries in Paris. The first of these being a bakery located at 92, rue Richelieu (in the 2nd Arrondissement), owned by Austrian, August Zang, in 1838.
Zang created mouth-watering window displays, and placed ads in Paris newspapers, and it didn’t take long for his bakery to become a go-to spot for Viennese breads and baked goods. His steam baking (steam was injected into the oven as his breads cooked) gave his creations a flakier and thinner crust, and moist insides. It was revolutionary and helped transform French baking.
Of course, as with most food crazes, imitators began popping up throughout Paris. Zang, after only a few years, sold his bakery and returned to Austria where he founded a newspaper, and according to some sources, tried to hide the fact that he was a baker. Meanwhile, in Paris, the croissant was slowly making its way into French culture.
The fact that Zang wanted to hide his baker days is hilariously stupid. Not at all surprising.
By the 1870s, the croissant was a breakfast queen (yes, in French croissant is masculine, but seriously, it should be feminine). Even Charles Dickens loved them.
A hundred or so years later, croissants were commercialized and simplified by companies like Sara Lee who mass-produced croissant dough and sold frozen croissants that could bake at home. Croissants became the vehicles for sandwiches, breakfast and otherwise. Pillsbury sold them in tubes. They’re on drive-thru menus at McDonald’s, Burger King, Tim Hortons, and more.
While I can be a snob and roll my eyes at the trope of Americanized foods, the reality is that it’s how I became aware of the existence of croissants.
My obsession, however, began in Paris.
French Croissants = Love
I have been to Paris a handful of times, always staying in the same area of Montmartre, in the 18th Arrondissement. Every morning I would go on a short walk to the boulangerie at 48, rue Caulaincourt. Now known as Boulangerie Boris Lumé, the boulangerie is historical monument built in the 1900s, its Belle Époque façade reads “Boulangerie Pâtisserie du Moulin de la Galette” in golden script.
The boulangerie is stunning, with its chandeliers, ornate ceiling, display cases of delicate French pastries, and baskets of freshly baked goods.
I still remember my first croissant from that boulangerie. The flakey crust and the light buttery inside. The way my mouth swooned over its layered richness, savouring every last morsel.
This wasn’t a commercially made croissant with its kind-of crunchy exterior and often dry bread-like interior. This croissant was made with the best of ingredients: fine flour, sugar and salt, lots of cold butter, and fresh milk. The dough was rolled and shaped and baked with tenderness, thought, and, well, love.
To put it simply, French croissants are love.
Searching for the Best Croissants in Québec
As with Paris, I can remember the first delicious croissant I enjoyed in Québec City. It was at Paillard on rue, Saint-Jean in Old Québec. I was in the city for 3 days, it was 2013, and my first time in Québec City. The croissant was flakey and buttery and divine.
When I moved to the city a few months later (yes, I fell in love, hard), I lived around the corner and visited Paillard often. Usually just after they opened at 7 am when everything was fresh, and there were not very many people inside.
In time, I learned that I could enjoy their croissants at La Maison Smith, a café in Place-Royale (there are now several in the city), and that became my go-to spot for croissant indulgence.
Everywhere I go, I try the croissants. Most are good, and some “claim” they are fresh, but I can tell when I’ve been given heated up day-old croissant.
I sound snobbish, I know. I’m okay with that.
Four years ago, however, I stumbled upon Praline et Chocolat at Marché du Vieux-Port on a bright summer morning. I was feeling peckish and bought a croissant, then sat at a picnic table behind the marché to watch the birds flying around in the marina and slowly eat.
I was ass-over-tea kettle from the first bite. I kid you not.
The outer crust was crunchy and flakey, while the inside was soft with buttery layers that melted in my mouth.
I swear, I moaned with each bite, and I wasn’t quiet about it. Every bite transported me back to the boulangerie on rue Caulaincourt in Paris.
Praline et Chocolat
Ludovic Vault, the pastry chef and owner of Praline et Chocolat, hails from La Roche in the Poitou-Charentes region in Northeastern France. Arriving in Québec in 2003, Vault along with his wife, Mélanie Dion, renovated their garage in Château Richer in 2005, turning it into a pâtisserie shop where they would bake their creations and sell at Marché de Vieux-Port.
Where I would come to appreciate their talent and hours of dedication to all things delicious and decadent. The croissants were popular. If you didn’t show up before 11am, you were out of luck. When I had my 10-year-old niece, along with the 12-year-old daughters of a couple of friends exploring Québec with me in 2017, I brought them to the marché for a croissant breakfast. They swooned too.
Sadly, in 2018 Marché du Vieux-Port closed its doors, and while several of the vendors opened up at the new Le Grand Marché de Québec, Praline et Chocolat did not.
I was crushed.
Until I took a lazy drive along Avenue Royale and spotted Praline et Chocolat’s tiny pâtisserie in Château Richer.
Instead of moving to Le Grand Marché in 2018, Vault decided to renovate his tiny pâtisserie shop, adding sales counters filled with sweet and savoury delights. While there is a sign at the curb, it is easy to miss the pâtisserie and keep driving – I have done this way too many times.
On summer mornings, the two parking spots in the font are usually full, with cars parked on the side of the narrow road, hazard lights flashing. A sign that goodness could be found inside. A treat that I wholeheartedly indulge in whenever I would rent a car and drive out to Charlevoix (it is on the way).
My love and adoration for Praline et Chocolat, however, has become an obsession during the COVID-19 pandemic. A part of my life from the before times (pre-COVID) that I truly love. Where I once stopped by if I was in the neighbourood, I now purposely drive to Château Richer every time I rent a car, even if I am just doing errands in the city.
Yes, I drive 25 kms, one way, for croissants. Hell, I even rent a car with the purpose of going to Praline et Chocolat and then try to come up with other things to do to justify the expense in my brain.
Now when I show up, always in a different car, like a criminal, I buy 6 croissants. Yes, six. Yes, I live alone. Yes, I eat all of them!
I eat the first one in the driveway as I am baking out. I’m not even joking. I eat the next one about 3 minutes later and nearly orgasm myself into a car accident. I eat the other four throughout the day (sometimes I have one left for the next morning when the bag is all greasy, and it is still good).
I buy other things as well. Tarts, or chocolates. The baguettes are fabulous, and the quiche is divine (I pretty much eat it whole with a fork. I’m English, and therefore, I am a heathen). He makes this chocolate and pear square croissant pastry thing, that I clearly forget the proper name of, which is rich and insanely yummy. I sometimes buy two of those as well.
As far as I am concerned, Praline et Chocolat has the best croissants in Québec. You should definitely try them.
NOTE: In 2015, Vault and his wife opened a crèmerie and pâtisserie in Saint-Émile, which is about a 20-minute drive from Old Québec City.