This Formula 1 Aerodynamicist Turned Baker Is Creating The World’s Best Croissants
How Australian baker Kate Reid figured out how to make a croissant that's got a crisp, outer shell an an inside that's airy, not dense.
What makes a perfect croissant? "A crisp, outer shell that feels hard in your hand and that makes a crunch," explains Kate Reid of Melbourne's cult bakery, Lune Croissanterie. "And big, crispy, elegant flakes. I hate it when you bite into a croissant and you get a shower of tiny powdery crumbs on your lap. She believes it should be airy, not dense. "Our croissants weigh between 65 and 70 grams versus the average croissants, which weigh around 120 grams. We can achieve the same volume, but with more air inside." I think this means I can eat twice as many.
The former Formula 1 aerodynamicist has become one of Australia's most skilled bakers, and risen to notoriety very quickly. Critics like Oliver Strand of the New York Times have described her croissants as the "Holy balance of butter heft and feathery flake may be the finest you will find anywhere in the world." The Noma crew pops in for pastries when they're in town. Nigella Laweson praised the croissants on a recent trip to Australia, remarking to The Australian that "The skill that goes into these is immense."
I first met Reid on a plane bound for Europe from Melbourne in 2013. Over several mini bottles of red and foil-wrapped meals together, I quickly learned that the petite girl with infectious enthusiasm sitting next to me was the owner and sole employee of a Melbourne-based wholesale croissant business who clocked an average of 90 hours over a seven-day work week. She was on her way to Paris to visit Du Pain et des Idees, the renowned French patisserie where she had done her apprenticeship.
Fast forward to three years later, and I'm at the Lune storefront to catch up with Reid and her brother Cam, who now runs the bakery with her. The "croissant lab" opened in October 2015 and turns out around 7,000 croissants every week.
It's Wednesday (baking starts on Tuesdays before Lune opens to the public Thursday—Monday). Reid comes to greet me at the door, hobbling across the polished concrete floor of the expansive brick warehouse on her moon boot, or "Lune boot" as she calls it, an injury sustained (sober, she insists) watching the Grand Prix a couple of months earlier. Although it involved being taken away in a stretcher, "I was looked after by the same doctor as Fernando Alonso," the Spanish Formula One driver whose car had run off the track during the event.
As we chat, six staff members—the maximum capacity for optimum workflow—are busy toiling away at the center counter, a climate-controlled glass box known as "The Cube." Shining above them is a UFO-like Star Wars-inspired arrangement of LED lights. "Isn't it awesome? It feels like it reflects into infinity," Reid enthuses. "It does feel like you're in a space station when you work in the cube!"
This galactic theme holds strong throughout Lune. The name, although as well as being a nod to the lunar shape of a croissant, was originally inspired by the "Objectif Lune" (Destination Moon) issue of TinTin. The cover design of features a rocket taking off, which appeals to Kate's aerospace engineer sentiment.
After graduating from aeronautical engineering at Melbourne's RMIT, Reid worked at English F1 race car powerhouse, Williams, optimizing downforce/drag ratios "to keep the cars sucked to the track." Days would involve working out formulas on a computer, testing things in the wind tunnel, refining, and repeating. The hours were long, and Reid would often go for days "without seeing the sun." She looks around the croissant lab and laughs. "Yeah, so I guess not much has changed!" she smiles. When she started to gain interest in the racing industry in the 90s, race car innovations trickled down into the commercial car industry to help improve safety measures, but as the race cars moved towards greener innovations, they were being funded by the oil and gas industries. "It got to the point where I couldn't see what good I was bringing to the world," she explains.
"I also felt a real detachment between what I was doing and the end result," she continues. "Here we can see the end product of what we're creating. We get to see people visibly enjoying themselves. And people get to see the work that's involved," Reid adds.
Anyone who's ever attempted to make a croissant, or "zont," as they're endearingly referred to by the Lune team, knows what hard work is involved. A butter sheet is wrapped in dough, followed by several rounds of lamination: rolling out and folding the dough to create alternating butter and dough sheets to give the puff pastry its distinguishing layers. It's given downtime for resting in between in the refrigerator. The pastry is then cut and rolled, left to proof, and finally baked. At Lune, this process takes three days.
And while zonts are laborious to create, they're also technical to make well. At any of the stages, details like the protein content of the flour, water content in the butter, malleabilityof butter layers, elasticity of dough, uniformity in folding, atmospheric temperature and humidity levels and length of fermentation all impact the final result. It's these variables that self-confessed control freak Reid refines and regulates in her quest to produce "the most consistently delicious croissant." I look around to see staff wielding rulers. There's no less than 20 timers in the room. In Formula One aerodynamics, there are ultra-precise robots that take measurements to ensure car tolerances are correct and everything is aligned accurately. At Lune, there's Kate's fembot meticulousness and absolute attention to detail at every step.
"Have you seen Oceans 11?" Reid asks. "You know how they get that warehouse on the wharf to put the vault on so they can practice perfecting a bank heist? That was an inspiration for this space. We have one product, and we've got to do it as well as we possibly can."
As we continue our walk around the gleaming croissant lab, I meet Yuri 1, Yuri 2, and Yuri 3, named after Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut in space. These are the proofer boxes where the croissants are left to ferment before getting baked. "When we moved in here we had to get a bigger proofer. We were talking about what to name it, and Cam said we should call it Yuri, because we were heading into uncharted territory. We could predict how things would turn out but weren't exactly sure. "The name just kind of stuck for the other two!"
We walk over to the finishing room, which is hidden behind the black-mirrored "infinity" wall. It's in here that fillings and finesses are prepared for the twice-baked croissants and cruffins (croissant pastry that's baked in a muffin tin and filled with items such as negroni curd, matcha brulee, pandan ganache, goats curd mousse, basil sugar, pistachio, and rosewater frangipane. The line to get into Lune Croissanterie is usually an hour long, when the air is thick with the sweet scent of butter, yeast, and anticipation. I order a croissant after walking around this space and take a bite into the light, flakey product.
If it were a car, it would corner like she's on rails.