It's relatively easy to find French bread and pastries in the U.S. Even the most average supermarkets have something resembling croissants or baguettes. What's difficult if not impossible is finding authentic French bread and pastries. It's a search that brings never-ending disappointment and frustration to those of us who want to eat a real tarte aux fraises without having to book a trans-Atlantic flight. Baguettes in the U.S. are generally too bready and soft; our pain au chocolat is dense rather than flaky. In these harsh conditions, the best you can do is search out those rare, priceless establishments that come close to the real thing.
When I'm on the lookout for a crispy baguette in Minnesota, Breadsmith, a semi-national chain that has a few locations in the Twin Cities, is generally a good bet. Their bread is baked in special ovens imported from Europe, made fresh every morning, and given a steam injection treatment that helps create the crispy crust so popular in France. Here in DC, look no further than Patisserie Poupon on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. Their croissants, pastries, quiches, and even coffee will transport you out of the U.S. capital and into its French counterpart.
As much as the lack of a decent croissant in the U.S. frustrates me, I sometimes wonder if maybe I don't really want to eat ultra authentic French pastries in my home country. After all, part of the fun of going to France is knowing there are countless traditional boulangeries with all the trimmings waiting for me when I arrive. Would sipping a rich, chocolat chaud while eating my flaky croissant aux amandes on a Parisian terrace be as enjoyable if I could do the exact same thing back home? Probably not, so maybe I should just be content to search out delicious, yet americanized, French treats.