Croissants certainly seem like food fit for a king: transcendently downy and gilt, gorgeously layered, with pillowy centers redolent of butter.
a royal hierarchy of baked goods, the croissant would almost surely be king. If you hold one of the golden crescents just so, it’s not hard to imagine donning one, in a moment of levity, like a crown or tiara. And they certainly seem like food fit for a king: transcendently downy and gilt, gorgeously layered, with pillowy centers redolent of butter. When Kanye West, who apparently fancies himself a member of modern-day royalty, demanded, “I’m a god … Hurry up with my damn croissants!” the Association of French Bakers wrote, reminding him that “the croissant is dignified — not vulgar like a piece of toast … born of tender care and craftsmanship.”
Now, Santa Fe is hardly Paris, and the croissant and its Gallic cousins are not New Mexico’s strong suit — culinary-minded tourists don’t travel to the Land of Enchantment to have French pastry for breakfast. But sometimes a girl just wants to sip a café au lait and litter her lap with flaky pastry crumbs. A recent exploration revealed that Santa Fe offers a surprising array of spots that make that possible without having to leave town.
There are the usual suspects, of course. The French Pastry Shop at La Fonda stocks its case with the essentials: croissants, pains au chocolat, and palmiers, among others. Unglazed and oddly misshapen, the croissants seem carelessly homely — like the culinary equivalent of throwing on sweats and a baseball cap. But looks can be deceiving: They taste pleasantly saltysweet and have an impressive flakiness. Mine seemed heavy on the butter — not necessarily a detriment but for the oily mouthfeel.
At Chocolate Maven, a brightly lit glass-doored cabinet displays a stunning array of outsize pastries, from cinnamon twists, danishes, and apple-studded bear claws to croissants of the plain, chocolate, and savory variety. The subtly herby spinach-feta version stood out. Note, though, that most pastries here have been given an all-American “super-sizing”: many could — and probably should — be shared.
The same holds true at Whole Foods Market. The plump pastries in the clear display case are undoubtedly eye-catching, but my oversized croissant seemed to be a victim of industrial precision, prioritizing an arresting appearance without providing the flavor and glorious substance to back it up. The bear claw was delightfully sweet and stuffed with apples, but the pastry was disappointingly gummy and dense.
As you step in the door of Clafoutis, proprietress Anne-Laure Ligier or a member of her staff greets you with a lilting “Bonjour!” Pulling apart their practically perfect croissant reveals layers of butter-perfumed tissue, ideally sweet and flaky; and their pain au chocolat is classic, the dark chocolate offering an exciting counterpoint to the leafy layers of mild saltysweet dough.
The kitchen at the newly transplanted Chez Dré rolls out timeless treats each day. On one morning, the fruit danishes were a bit of a mess and overcooked in spots, but the bear claw was commendable. The croissant was exemplary, alluringly buttery and flaky, albeit a touch more elastic, and with a shimmering glaze.
The dainty bakery case at Chez Mamou, another venture channeling French charm, is festooned with enchanting jewel-like treats. Their pain au chocolat, dough overlapping in gorgeous parallel curves beneath its gossamer glaze, won praises for its judicious use of chocolate. While my still-waking palate craved more salt in the croissant, it was nonetheless ethereally light and tender.
Angel’s Bakery cranks out an impressive slew of treats, including empanadas and forearm-sized croissants of the sweet and savory persuasion. The plain version was unremarkable but for its generous dimension and slightly overtoasted flavor — it will appeal to those who enjoy croissants with crunchy knobs at the ends. But the ham, cheese, and chile is loaded with meat; and the sugar-dusted, syrup-drizzled chocolate seemed designed for dessert.
Biadora Bakery is the newcomer. The light industrial façade of the Second Street Studios belies a wonderland of an interior — particularly now, during the holiday season. The counter is bedecked with dazzling delicacies: dainty sweet and buttery croissants, mini palmiers and cinnamon buns, fruit danishes, pains au chocolat with crisp tops and fluffy centers cossetting bars of intense dark chocolate, and a variety of pastries with savory fillings. Around the corner, a lighted case displays a veritable rainbow of macarons.
The staff at Dulce moves hungry guests through the ordering process with industrious efficiency, but they clearly devote love and care to their baked goods. One of our favorites was a croissant filled with thinly sliced ham, nutty Swiss cheese, and green chile with a tingly heat. Their sizable plain croissant was perfectly pleasant, exceedingly flaky, and a touch saltier than sweet.
Like most everyone, when I’m in the mood to indulge in pastry, I have my go-tos (Café Fina is an oasis in the pastry desert of Eldorado, with respectable golden croissants and pains au chocolat available most mornings). But once you look around, you’ll find that much like a croissant, our city has surprising layers — a wide variety of delicious shapes, styles, and flavor combinations to explore — no airfare to Paris required.