East Bay Bite of the Week: Fournée's Ham and Egg Croissant
How Fournée keeps plodding along as quietly as it does, I don't know. The bakery, helmed by Frank Sally -- a former instructor at the San Francisco Baking Institute with a sparkling pedigree -- harbors a crop of the most spectacular laminated pastries I've ever known. The bakery sits on the skirts of Berkeley's towering, regal Claremont Hotel, in a tiny humble spot on Domingo Avenue. It's got a warm and worn-in feel, shelves of classic breads and rows of flaking pastries, and an elusive charm that keeps me pushing my crappy bike uphill on even the rainy mornings.
Molly Gore Fournée's Ham and Egg Croissant is a thing to behold.
Frank Sally has clocked time at Campton Place and Meadowood, eventually giving up what proved to be a challenging commute away from his family in the Dimond District. He always wanted his own spot, but it never seemed in the cards. That is, until the day the owner of a bakery he'd been eying called to announce he was leaving. Sally jumped on the lease, and found himself petitioning permits from the city with chicken scratch drawings of a kitchen. It didn't go over well, but he learned the ropes of opening a business, and now Fournée is a kind of secret pilgrimage for bakers, pastry fiends, and anyone looking for the best, flaky crust in the bay.
It's hard to say what makes Sally's pastries so intoxicatingly good. When I ask him, he laughs and gives a baffled shrug. It boils down to this: classic techniques and good ingredients. The bakery exclusively uses European butter, a few extra fat percentage points that can go miles between the layers of croissant dough. The rest? A deft hand and lots of care. While the selection is highly classic -- baguettes and rye breads and scones and cakes -- there is one particularly inventive gem that should have you flocking over the bridge. The kind of gem that makes you want to fast for days and then reward yourself with it so you know what real, unfettered joy feels like.
Officially, it's called the Ham and Egg Croissant. In the kitchen, it has a thousand other names. On one hand, it's a simple invention (by one of Sally's former students on staff, Lucia Plumb-Reyes) -- egg cracked into a nest of ham, wrapped up in croissant dough. Done right, it could be called a "cwuffin," a croissant masquerading as a muffin, and a name that never made it out of the kitchen. Other baker slang includes the "croaker," wherein a too-large-egg leaks over the edges, or the "cannibal," when the egg is too small and the top of the pastry caves and swallows its own insides. You might be apt, at this point, to compare it to the Rebel Within. As you should, the idea is similar, but the guts are so very, very different.
The textures of Fournée's masterwork marry in a magical way. The egg, specked with chopped chives and brushed with olive oil, turns up savory, silky, softening the crisped edges of Niman ham sheaths wrapped around it. Nestled in that doughy crater, it feels quite simple. Then your teeth hit the croissant jacket's formidable edge, break into an impossibly soft and sweet interior, and then you realize: there is nothing simple about it. For your very own Proustian moment, wear a scarf with lots of folds to catch the crumbs. You'll thank yourself for the rediscovery later.
The bakery is rolling out pies for Thanksgiving too, including roasted heirloom pumpkin pie, apple pie, apple quince. Get your orders in early.
Visit Fournée at 2912 Domingo Ave, Berkeley. (510) 549-9434.