My night owl tendencies have been clearly documented on the blog, and waking up early is not something I look forward to. But I can tell you that it's significantly easier to get out of bed in the morning knowing I'll soon be enjoying a chocolate croissant that's hot, buttery, and fresh out of the oven.
Motivating myself to wake up wasn't the impetus for my pain au chocolat taste test—it was actually a happy accident. I had no idea that selecting the checkout line that ran through the frozen aisle in Whole Foods would wind up leading me to the most fun I've had in quarantine. While perusing the glass-top display freezers, I discovered a four-pack of croissants and, intrigued, threw them in my cart. After they exceeded all my expectations (and I posted about it on Instagram stories), a few people who follow me mentioned that Trader Joe's and Williams Sonoma's versions would likely rival the one I'd recommended, and thus began my pastry adventure.
In the past two months, I've consumed roughly 30 pain au chocolat, an accomplishment that has brought me an immense amount of joy (and satiation), especially considering it's one of my favorite foods in the world. I've been documenting the process on social, but figured it may be helpful to have all the information, with more detail, laid out below. I have five major considerations I took into account while judging the croissants: flake factor, lamination (the number of distinguishable layers), chocolate-to-pastry ratio, intensity of the butter flavor, and price (and hopefully it will direct you to the option that most aligns with your preferences!). Here are my thoughts on the four frozen pain au chocolat, and the one I believe reigns supreme:
Price per pain au chocolat (before shipping): $2.67
Time to thaw: 9 hours
I had very high hopes for this box of buttery goodness. Two Williams Sonoma employees DM'd me to say that this was, far and away, the best croissant you could make in your kitchen, due to the quality of both the butter and the chocolate.
Unfortunately, for me, it didn't live up to the hype. After taking it out of the oven and setting it on the counter to cool, the butter oozed from the croissant and some of the chocolate had melted (and even slightly burned – though five minutes later, the pastry had soaked the butter back up like a sponge). The crumb (everything inside the crust) was decent, but not as open and airy as I'd hoped, which left it feeling denser than the others. The pastry dough itself was my least favorite of the bunch. I wound up feeling like the recipe called for more butter to make up for a slightly disappointing and unsatisfactory pastry. And while I followed the directions exactly as they were written, each time I made them, they came out slightly darker than I'd hoped.
There were some qualities I really appreciated, like excellent chocolate-to-pastry ratio, because the Galaxy pastry was the smallest in overall size while the chocolate sticks remained consistent across all four of the croissants. I was also impressed with the flake on this pain au chocolat, and I experienced a gratifying crackle with each bite. And the Williams Sonoma employees weren't totally wrong, since I believe that the chocolate in these is far and away the best quality.
Flake factor: 9/10
Chocolate-to-pastry ratio: 9/10
Intensity of the butter flavor: 5/10 (because it was too much – you can see it oozing out from the croissant)
Price per pain au chocolat (before shipping): $3.75
Time to thaw: 30 minutes
These have disappeared from my freezer, as I inhaled all 12 within a matter of weeks. Based on the photos alone, I was looking forward to trying them. They look like the more traditional French pain au chocolat you might eat in Paris, and you only need to leave them out for 30 minutes before baking (score!).
I looked at this pillowy, glistening bundle of butter and flour like it was my first born child. And it tasted as fantastic as it looked; it was rich, yet still delicate, and the most perfect golden brown. I was tearing off individual thin layers from within the pastry, while simultaneously enjoying the flaky exterior, and was pleased with the pastry-to-chocolate ratio. The flavor and quality of the butter came through but wasn't overpowering, and I swear that I could polish one of these off in three-to-four bites.
I was enamored – until I did the math and discovered that I had paid $3.75 per croissant...before the shipping cost. At that price, I might as well drive across LA to Konbi and pick up my favorite pastry in the city, and save the excess packaging. So while this is one of the strongest of the bunch in terms of taste, I'm not sure it's justified with the cost.
And another note: The frozen pastries wound up sticking together, and I had to rip them apart, sometimes taking chunks of one with me as I pulled another off of it.
Flake factor: 8/10
Chocolate-to-pastry ratio: 8/10
Intensity of the butter flavor: 10/10
Price per pain au chocolat: $1.37
Time to thaw: 30 minutes
You know it's good when my immediate reaction to my first Whole Foods' croissant I tried was "holy shit" (and the second, a day later, when I enjoyed the next one, was "...damn").
While I thought I might have over-proofed this pain au chocolat by leaving the frozen pastry out a bit longer than the minimum suggested on the instructions (three hours versus 30 minutes), it only improved the final outcome. The crumb was evenly airy from end to end, with a ton of distinguishable layers, and the surface was wonderfully flaky and fragile to the touch. During my research, I discovered a term used to describe other delicious treats – toothsome – and it now feels like the only appropriate label for the WF chocolate croissant.
I was pleasantly surprised that the chocolate tasted bittersweet, which balanced out the richness of the pastry dough, though I didn't find this one to be overwhelmingly buttery. Instead, it has what I can only describe as a distinct "croissant" flavor that I savored with every single bite.
It was the one that started it all, and when I weighed the quality and the price, my official favorite of the four.
Flake factor: 9/10
Chocolate-to-pastry ratio: 7/10
Intensity of the butter flavor: 9/10
Price per pain au chocolat: $1.20
Time to thaw: 9 hours
Trader Joe's never fails me, and it certainly didn't here. In response to my original Whole Foods stories, I received roughly 20 DMs encouraging me to pick up a box of TJ's frozen take, and I'm so grateful for each and every one of them.
After thawing for nine hours, these nearly tripled in size, so my expectations were high. They came out of the oven a deep golden brown color without the excess, bubbling butter I saw on the Galaxy. I loved that it had a crisp exterior, almost like a shell, that crunched as I sliced a knife through it. The flake was ideal (I gave it a 10/10!), though I found myself wishing there was more chocolate as I made my way through it.
Though it's my second favorite of the bunch, the crumb wasn't as impressive as the others, and the croissant had a "breadiness" to it that the previous three lacked. While I prefer to only have to remember to take them out of the freezer 30 minutes before baking, at just over a dollar per pastry, I'll set the alarm to remember to proof them the night before enjoying them.
Flake factor: 10/10
Chocolate-to-pastry ratio: 6/10
Intensity of the butter flavor: 7/10
Did I miss any of your favorites?! If so, share them below!