Crescent Mooning

A local artisan bakery reinvents the croissant

Turtle Bread Company
3421 W. 44th St., Minneapolis
612.924.6013
1 Financial Plaza, Minneapolis
612.455.2552

The early bird gets the worm--but the second mouse gets the cheese. If you increase your rate of failure, you increase your rate of success--yet the perfect is the enemy of the good. Live every day as if it were your last--but in that case, will you ever get any laundry done?

As an American, I am on a perpetual quest for self-improvement, and consequently I have thought many, many, many things. About Turtle Bread's croissants. And perhaps only once have those thoughts been: Is that drool on my chin, or am I just happy to see you?

Butter fingers: Solveig Tofte is the head baker behind Turtle's uncommonly good croissants
Fred Petters
Butter fingers: Solveig Tofte is the head baker behind Turtle's uncommonly good croissants

I don't know. I think a lot about the Turtle Bread croissants. I think about how they have gotten better and better for the four years or so that I've been tracking them. How about a year ago they reached a sort of apex of heavenliness that has left me pretty well convinced that these are the best croissants not just in town, but quite likely in the country and, as far as I could tell the last time I was in Paris, in France, too. And then I think: Well, there it goes, I've slipped my last gear. It's highly unlikely that the best croissants on earth are on a sidestreet in Linden Hills. So then I do a quick Internet search and try to find out where they put food writers who have slipped into the blessed insularity of the criminally insane. And then when I see how much a bed-and-breakfast in Stillwater costs these days, I stop pursuing those thoughts.

And yet, they return. Because, no kidding, there are some mornings when I think the Turtle Bread croissants hold all the secrets to the universe. The plain croissant, it takes my breath away. The outside is the most darling reddish brown, like a sparrow seen through rose-colored glasses, and once you tear it open, the heart is all golden and glowing. Little holes and pockets speckle the interior, and if you look at it long enough (and I have), you start to see the whorl of how it was rolled together, microscopically thin layers of pastry, curled up like any of nature's most perfect mysteries, a fingerprint, a whirlpool. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but it loves a subtle spiral. Me too! Bite into one and the crust is concentrated and crisp, a bit of salt and rich toast. It reminds me of how the best wine comes from grapes grown in torturous conditions, because a lack of moisture focuses the flavor so finely. Contrast it with the biscuity, tender, bready interior, which is light with moisture and fresh with the ingredients that are more gently cooked, as they were shielded from the heat by that crust. Focused from the heat outside, or made more dilute and effervescent by the moisture within--this is one of those concepts of food that seems so intuitive and easily thought-of once you unpack it but remains entirely hidden till you take time to examine it. Examine those other clues of golden color and many tiny air pockets, and they reveal much as well.

Why the gorgeous gold color? Because the Turtle bakers use beautiful, sunshiny artisanal cultured butter from the Vermont Butter & Cheese Company. What's that? Aside from $5.99 a pound retail, cultured butter means that some little microbial doohickies were added in and let roam, doohickies akin to the doodads that make yogurt or cheese. This makes for a more complex, evocative butter with a whole bouquet of subtle and fleeting flavors--but it's not yogurty; it's still sweet butter. It's specially imported for Turtle from local gourmet provisioner Great Ciao! and is also on sale in Turtle's dairy case. I tried it against normal butter--it's much heavier and more complex in the mouth, sort of like the difference between fantastic coffee and good coffee. If you want to try it in your own baking this holiday season, get ready for fun and games: It's got about 86 percent butterfat (most conventional butter has between 68 and 72 percent)--which means you'll have to reduce the volume of butter you use, possibly adjust temperatures and other moisture content, and, oh, all sorts of food-math things.

So that's the why of the golden color--but why the little holes? For their dough, the Turtle folks use what bakers call a "poolish," which is a way of pre-fermenting a portion of the batter. It's pretty technical stuff, but imagine a halfway point between the way sourdough is made and the way a standard yeast bread is, including a lengthy rising time, and you'll get the idea. Does anyone else do this these days? No. Why? Because it requires so very much time when the dough isn't making anybody any money; it's just sitting around, taking up bakers' time and bakers' space while it rises and sits and does its thing. And if time is money, you can't use a poolish followed by a long rising time, and if money is money you can't use artisanal butter--it costs two to three times what standard butter does.

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