Chez Alexsandra, Les Vans

While traveling in the Ardèche department of France, I had the chance to go to a morning market in a small town called Les Vans. There I went to a boulangerie that came highly recommended, and—according to the lady at the counter—won first place for croissants in the Ardèche a few years back. So of course I had to try them!

Chez Alexsandra is small, but they present a nice and clean interior. You can order your bread or viennoiseries ahead of time; for large orders it’s highly recommended to make sure bread is available.

The croissant baskets inside the store look pretty good!

The Croissant

This place sells two kinds of croissants: one made with margarine, and one made with butter. And I get it. A lot of people prefer the taste of butter, but margarine is cheaper and has its fans too. I could see people buying the non-butter ones for their own health reasons. I will review both.

The croissants in the store felt medium in size; their length was not very long but they had a substantial center bulge/peak that wasn’t too big. A pleasant size. They have a straight shape, though the tips are curved down and inward. The butter croissants are golden on the bottom, medium brown on top with the glazed areas being a slightly darker, rich brown, but the margarine croissants are darker in all areas except the layer seams. It’s possible the margarine variety was baked differently, but I can’t rule out the difference in materials.

Regardless of which of the two you would get, they look very good. There is a neatness to the shape, the layers show up very well in the layer seams, and the glaze adds that last loose splash of color.

Both types of croissant have a pleasantly crispy exterior that is tough enough to hold up to some pressure. It will give way, but it does spring back. The glaze doesn’t flake off much at first, but as you grab and press down on the croissant, the exterior will start breaking apart more and producing more flakes. Overall, I’d say the exterior flakes a medium amount thanks to the delightful crispiness.

Inside both kinds of croissants, you can see an airy cell structure. The air pockets are overall a little smaller than with other croissants, but there are occasionally a couple of bigger pockets, and this is still a normal look. The butter croissant’s air pockets seem to stretch in the direction of the rolling more, which makes me think that the butter is easier to get in layers without overmixing it with the flour. Also, while opening up the croissants, I tested their ability to be torn apart; I was able to take off the peak of the butter croissant fairly easy, so the layering worked better there.

I’ve left smell out until now because smell and taste are where the two types of croissant differ in subtle ways.

The butter croissants from this place smell… buttery. There is only a little smell of browning from the oven—buttery starchness dominates smell and taste, with a wonderful mixture of crispy exterior and soft/chewy interior, and a very slight interior smell of yeast. They’re really nice.

The margarine croissants smell different. I couldn’t tell what it was at first but the more I compared both types the more I realized that using the margarine lent the croissants a faint heated oil smell, like what happens if vegetable oil starts smoking in a pan. It’s very faint, but it’s not the best mental association. The inside of these croissants also smell a bit less rich and more sugary, a more towards the brioche part of the bread spectrum. There is also a more abrupt texture change from exterior to interior compared to the butter croissants. The tasting experience reflects these differences: it’s nearly identical, but there’s a more stark exterior/interior texture difference, and a hint of heated oil taste.

Let me first make this clear: both croissants are good. You want margarine? Get it. You want butter? That’s fine too. However, if you ask me which is my favorite, the butter croissants lead by a small margin. The extra 0.10€ feel worth it, and the high number of people in the store who also ordered the butter variety seems to agree with me!

Ratings & Numbers

Would buy again: 😀
Taste Quality: 🇫🇷
Price: Margarine 0.95€, butter 1.05€ (October 2021).

Other Goods

As a boulangerie, it has a complement of breads, viennoiseries, and patisseries. You can also find one or two local jams or spreads if you really want to pick them up there.

Links

Store’s website
Map link