A first-rate croissant isn't easy to find, and while we can almost take it for granted in Houston, it wasn't always so. La Madeleine has good ones, and the French-speaking pastry chef at Auchan Hypermarket made amazing ones, until Auchan left the city in 2003.
The croissants at Central Market were forgettable until the chain staged their Passport France promotion a few years back. When CM puts on international events, they call in experts from the highlighted nation to train their employees. The result is that their croissants are now buttery, flaky and consistently good. They're a benchmark for supermarket croissants. The almond croissants are also delicious -- a pastry that's not too sweet to enjoy with a morning cup of coffee.
Nonetheless, an acquaintance, Charles, was raving about the almond croissant at Belden's Supermarket in Meyerland. I've been in the store many times, but I'd never noticed the bakery in the corner, so I went to check out the croissant. I was not alone, however, because I first stopped by Central Market and picked up a benchmark almond croissant for comparison, then brought both of them home.
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Inside their plastic shell containers, the two croissants were somewhat similar, except in shape. The Central Market croissant was more triangular-shaped, whereas the Belden's croissant formed more of a circle. Both croissants were identically browned, with a similar amount of sliced almonds and powdered sugar on top. The biggest difference was that the Belden's croissant had a small amount of yellow almond paste oozing into the center of the circle.
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The Central Market almond croissant is, as with their plain ones, very flaky and light. The taste of almond is subtle and not very sweet. The croissant is dry, but in a good way, just the sort of pastry you'll find in a French or Asian bakery.
The Belden's croissant was moist and more dense, because it has more almond paste than its competitor. The paste made it slightly sweeter, but not excessively sweet. The Belden's almond croissant is more similar to an American pastry such as coffee cake. When Charles was going on about the Belden's almond croissant, he was correct -- it's delicious and worth a trip to their bakery.
As far as a winner, it's a photo finish, and I'll give the nod to the Central Market croissant only because it's slightly less sweet. Practically speaking, though, I'll be going to whichever store is closest when I get a craving.