Croissant Savant

Raspberry Macaron

If you’re a true food-lover with a serious sweet tooth, you’ve probably already tried Essence Bakery Café’s elegant Parisian sandwich cookies called macarons (one “o” and NOT a coconut-y American macaroon). Right? Tell me you have.

As you can see here, they look a bit like cute little hamburgers, only in this case, the dome-like “buns” are made with almonds, egg whites and powdered sugar, and the “meat” in the middle is usually a thick, rich schmear of buttercream, jam or ganache.

Oh my, they’re exquisite. One bite and you’ll know that Eugenia Theodosopoulos, the École Lenôtre-trained chef who creates them, is a perfectionist . . . which leads me to the croissants she’s recently started making. Another yummy, yummy example of the care she takes in everything she does.

Here, they are: butter croissants, raisin croissants, pan au chocolat (chocolate-filled croissants) and croissants aux amandes (almond croissants).

Before she was ready to roll them out, so to speak, she invited Jean Louis Clement to visit Arizona and offer her his best advice — once he’d analyzed the flour, water, butter, Arizona climate, her oven and kitchen temperature, you name it. Eugenia met him when she was a student and a French-English translator at Lenôtre (Clement was one of her instructors there), and he soon became her mentor and friend.

This talented but humble guy consults for people like Joel Robuchon and Alain Ducasse, charging them thousands of bucks for his genius. For Eugenia, the advice was free. She and her husband Gilles took him to the Grand Canyon. And get this: he canceled his visit to the king of Morocco to come help her. Now, that’s a friend — or a guy who really, really wants to see the Grand Canyon.

Clement has a title — Meilleur Ouvrier de France — that roughly translates as “one of the best craftsmen of France.” The French hold a competition every three years for craftsmen competing in various fields, everything from chocolate making and patisserie to window making and cabinetry. Some years, as many as 150 people enter the competition and NO ONE wins the title. Clement is one of 32 living people who have it.

Anyway, he spent a week with Eugenia, who said the man “oozes passion” and has a gift for teaching. Eugenia translated everything he said to her staff (some of whom are Hispanic, so there’s a double language barrier) but sometimes, Clement would simply grab their hands and have them feel the laminated dough as he explained what they needed to understand about the arduous process of making it.

For the croissants, Eugenia imports a special butter from Normandy, which contains 84% fat (most premium butters we see top out at 82%). But of course, these are just statistics. You’ll want to taste the croissants for yourself. They’re amazingly buttery and super-flakey, just little layers of butter and crunch and air. The powdered sugar-sprinkled almond croissant is my favorite, a textural wonder that’s nutty but not too sweet.

Most of the time, Eugenia’s gorgeous pastries, cakes and cookies sell out by the end of the day. This week will be more crazy than usual, so get in there early for something as adorable as these mini-gift boxes.

Essence Bakery Café
825 W. University Drive, Tempe, 480-966-2745
http://www.essencebakery.com