Food & Drinks

This Is LA’s Ultimate Chocolate Croissant

Haris Car’s quest to develop the ultimate chocolate croissant began a year ago. Previously, he focused on crafting bean-to-bar chocolates using ethically-sourced, single-origin cacao at his namesake cafe/manufactory in Pasadena. Since opening in 2021 on the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Catalina Avenue, the cafe has served croissants that were made by Joseph Abrakjian at nearby Seed Bakery using Car’s chocolate batons. Car hadn’t considered taking up viennoiserie — the technically difficult and notoriously finicky pursuit required to make butter-rich and flaky pastries like Danishes and kouign amann — but after a year of proofing and baking the pastries each morning, and picking Abrakjian’s brain along the way, he grew increasingly compelled by the idea.

“We went deep,” says Car. “I learned about flour, protein, gluten content in flour, hydration percentages for dough. What’s the best mixer? Is it the old hook or is it actually a spiral dough mixer? In my opinion, it’s the spiral so it’s constantly kneading.” Car’s self-proclaimed perfectionist streak led him down a 10-month-long rabbit hole of intense research and development in pursuit of the Platonic ideal of a croissant.

“I don’t like it when I bite into a chocolate croissant and eat the chocolate part and the rest is just dough,” says Haris Car of Car Artisan Chocolate.

Car’s background and personal ties with cacao farms, which stretch from La Colonia, Nicaragua, to Chiapas, Mexico, and Mbingu, Tanzania, made certain that the cacao beans used to make the chocolate inside each pain au chocolat came from origins where both farm workers and their beans were paid a premium above “fair trade.” While some of the better bakeries in town laminate their doughs from scratch and source more premium chocolate like Valrhona, no one else is applying the rigorous bean-to-bar ethos to croissant-making like Car is.

From flour to butter, and, of course, chocolate, Car considered, meticulously tested, and continuously refined every component of his operation. The result is Los Angeles’s ultimate chocolate croissant. Served warm to the touch, the pastry’s glossy exterior shatters at first bite, revealing a web of yeast-kissed layers and coating lips with buttery shards. A trio of strategically dispersed chocolate batons ensures every bite gets a rich hit of cacao in all its nutty, caramelized, and sometimes even fruity glory.

Eater LA sat down with the new baker to understand the crucial elements of pain au chocolat, the root of his dedication, and the overarching philosophy that keeps him going.

On the Platonic ideal

Haris Car: It’d be warm with a very thin, flaky shell. Ideally, it would have some chocolate in every bite and the chocolate would be kind of gooey. It being chewy is important — if you squeeze it, it kind of falls apart like soft bread but at the same time it has a solid shape. You want it to have that gluten structure. The exterior is this golden-brown color and then just a little bit of pale dough within the center. That’s my ideal chocolate croissant, and what I strive to make every time.

Haris Car at his cafe and manufactory in Pasadena.

Car’s quest to develop the ultimate chocolate croissant began a year ago.

On the dough

It’s a whole process of how you add things to the mixture, how long you knead it, how you know when it’s done, and making sure the dough doesn’t get too hot. We do what’s called a bulk fermentation, so after we make our dough, we cut [pieces of] the weight that we need, we shape it into balls, and then let that rest for (depending on the temperature) about an hour and it’ll double in size. That relaxation allows the dough to be more flexible, more versatile, and I think gives a better flavor.

On the flour

What’s the difference between all-purpose flour and bread flour? It’s working with different wheat grains and protein content. Protein content gets you that elasticity; it makes the croissant chewy so it gives you that texture that we love in croissants. We developed the recipe for our dough using a high-gluten, organic flour from Central Milling.

On the butter

We started experimenting with different kinds of butter: 83 percent from Wisconsin, Kerrygold, New Zealand butter, and then we settled on Normandy butter — Isigny Sainte-Mère. The quality flavor is what we are going for. It was a lot more expensive and required more prep work because the blocks come a little thicker and not every block is identical. I like things that aren’t perfectly identical. Whenever I go into bakeries and see croissants and they’re all identically beautiful, it just looks like a machine made it, even if it might taste great.

On the chocolate

“Ethical” is a term that’s thrown around a lot. But nonnegotiable is no use of child labor and the prices being paid to farmers in all cases, which means premiums well above fair trade. I wanted one chocolate that we constantly use, that we can make, that works perfectly, so that’s 50 percent dark Tanzania. We tempered it by hand and it tasted amazing in the croissant. It’s like the sweetest raspberry you’ve ever had, but our tempering machines, unfortunately, can’t temper that chocolate because it’s too thick. We can hand-temper but it’s not a good use of our time, so I have to figure out how to get this super-thick chocolate tempered in an efficient way.

At this moment, the one we use the most is the 60-percent dark milk Nicaragua. It’s nutty and creamy, tastes like hints of hazelnut, kind of like Nutella when it’s warm, when the chocolate melts. The Nicaraguan cacao beans have a higher fat content in them so that caramelly, nutty flavor is really what I’m going for. But any given day, the chocolate might be different.

On the perfect dough-to-chocolate ratio

It needs to have a lot of chocolate; I don’t like it when I bite into a chocolate croissant and eat the chocolate part and the rest is just dough. I was doing a lot of research on different shapes to see if I could do something with three chocolate batons. I saw somewhere on Instagram someone put batons on the edges and then rolled them in and I tried that and then I just stuck one in the center and I’m like, “Oh, there we go. We got it.” It looks cool; I was nervous about how it was gonna proof, but it came out really great. I was really happy.

On the final touch

We put a little salt in our egg wash. A little bit of salt just brings everything up a little bit.

On influences

My heritage is Bosnian; we were refugees in Germany when I was born. Something my dad taught me when I was very young, when we came to this country was, “Customer is king, always.” He always instilled in me the value of excellence, that you never want to cheat somebody, ever. Like even if you know they’ll like it, but you know it’s not your best foot forward, don’t put that out there.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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