Crescent Mooning

A local artisan bakery reinvents the croissant

And if time is money and money is money, you definitely can never have an almond croissant: For these over-the-top works of passion, the Turtle bakers make a poolish, make the dough, roll it out with butter again and again to get the zillions of minuscule layers of dough and butter that make croissants great, let them rise, half-bake them, take them out, slice them in half, fill them with the most sweetly haunting combination of imported almond paste, real kirsch, and sliced toasted almonds, then put them back together, glaze them, cover them with more almonds, and bake again. Does this make them good? Oh, Lord: The thing is ringed by a crisp pool of what was a briefly molten sugar glaze. As the skin of a fried chicken is to the chicken, so is this crackling layer of stuff to the croissant. For a brief moment in its company I thought: Oh, yeah, I could be a vegetarian. The kirsch within it is like a spray of flowers arching from a vase--the lilt that makes an indelible impression. The filling is dewy and potent, the whole thing largely unbelievable. At $2.29, it slips the bonds of economics: Is it expensive for a breakfast treat? Cheap as an endless labor? Just right as art? I do not know.

I do know that it's in the same Turtle aisle as the chocolate croissant ($1.99), which has the nubs of thin bars of Belgian chocolate sticking out the side, like a tortoise's peeking face. Yes, rich, smooth, elegant Belgian chocolate, joining Vermont butter, a French poolish technique, and hours of handwork. Which, to me, brings up the question: Why is there a place in the world where time isn't money, and money isn't money, but time and money are the things you leverage to get greatness, to get pleasure, and to get the things that are the next step beyond money--or, rather, a good croissant?

Why? Because Harvey McLain has slipped the bonds of common sense and run off down one of those paths of uncommon thinking, uncommon vision, and uncommon values that make people like me want to follow people like him around and make page-a-day calendars out of what they say and what they think. "All we do here at Turtle Bread is free people and let them be great," says McLain. "If you just tell people you want them to be great, and you make the environment for them to be great, and you help them with the support they need to be great, they will find their greatness. Which is the most freeing concept there is." And so the head baker, Solveig Tofte, was encouraged to try making the croissants with French Plugra, with traditional butter, with whatever she saw that worked. Tofte, McLain, and the rest of the Turtle crew tried dozens of brands and types of chocolate before settling on the Belgian one they use now. They constantly retune, reformulate, and reimagine every aspect of the bakery. "We just try to ask ourselves all the time: How could this be better?" says McLain. "When people succeed, they blossom. You can see them become a bigger person. Their shoulders get thrown back. They feel braver for the next challenge. That's all we do here. And of course, in the food business, the rewards are fairly instantaneous. We get love letters now, because of some of our products."

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

Location Info

Map

Turtle Bread Company

3421 W. 44th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55410

Category: Restaurant > Bakery

Region: Edina

Love letters, of course, often go hand in hand with daffy ideas. Like the one tendered by one of Turtle's regular customers, who frequently stays at the royalty-friendly Paris hotel the Georges V and who thinks that the Turtle croissants are better than the $12 room-service ones on the other side of the Atlantic, and perhaps there's some way to get them over there? Or raise the prices here? Apparently, slipping a cog when getting to thinking about Turtle croissants is a popular local pastime.

The last morning I got to going off the deep end about the Turtle croissants, I was sitting in the bakery, drinking coffee, looking at the chains of straw baskets that dangle from the high ceiling like gigantic grape clusters, and eavesdropping. A mom at the next table was having coffee, too, and sharing a croissant with her towheaded toddler. He feasted happily on bits of croissant his mother pulled free for him, and the two discussed the grand tableau outside the glass on 44th Street: a doggie. A car. A baby. Another doggie. He kept showing his mother strips of his pastry, and she'd say "croissant," and by the end of a half-hour, he about had it. Croissant. And I thought: My God, this child. His baseline definition for croissant is this highest pinnacle of what a generation of us could produce. We had to go to the brink of industrial farming and industrial pastry and come back and reinvent the wheel, reinvent butter, reinvent bakeries and so much more, and now our pinnacle is his baseline. And I understood for the first time what my grandmother, who left school in the fourth grade to work in a shoe factory, must have felt looking in her grandkids rooms littered with shoes with heels that light up when you run. And I thought: These children gumming on Turtle croissants, they are going to go to, their pinnacles of achievement are going to be so unimaginably out there.

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