Giant croissants prove that even Paris has succumbed to the TikTokification of food

Supersize my croissant? Plus-size pastries are all the rage (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Supersize my croissant? Plus-size pastries are all the rage (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Paris has always had a certain… reputation. Particularly when it comes to food. Projecting a mildly disdainful air of “I think we know best”, waiters are as poised and terrifying when assessing your ordering choices as Anna Wintour casting a withering eye over a hastily thrown together outfit. We’ve all heard stories of that friend of a friend who dared to ask for their steak well done with a side of ketchup; in one such anecdote shared with me, the tourist in question was simply told “no” and brought the “correct” iteration of the dish instead.

How, then, has the City of Light fallen prey to the latest TikTok food fad? Was all that gourmet discernment merely bluster and bravado?

I am speaking, of course, of the oversized croissant. If you’re on certain social media platforms, this giant variant of the world’s favourite continental breakfast item seems all but inescapable. Acclaimed French pastry chef Philippe Conticini kicked off the craze last year when he launched them in his Paris bakery, showing a knack for predicting exactly the kind of shallow gimmick that people lap up when their priority is “making content” rather than “eating something delicious”.

The 1kg, pimp-my-pastry version of the French staple – known as the croissant XXL – proved so popular that a whole legion of chefs followed in Conticini’s gargantuan footsteps: Christophe Michalak developed “le big pain aux raisins”, weighing in at 350g; Yannick Delpech has “la chocolatine XXL” at his Toulouse bakery; and Parisian department store Galeries Lafayette has started selling the 320g “big pain au chocolat”. Conticini’s original is such a hit that he’s even flogging them on this side of the Channel at his London store.

It isn’t just pâtisserie that’s getting the XXL treatment, either. Earlier this year, travel TikToker Baochi shared a video in which she spent the entire day eating larger-than-life food in Paris. She started off with – mais, bien sûr – a big croissant, this one a pistachio variation courtesy of Chez Meunier. She followed it up with a bowl of massive noodles – a fact she demonstrates by displaying a fat, seemingly never-ending one dangling unappetisingly from the end of her fork – and finished the day with a colossal filled baguette “half the size of [her] body”.

Baochi is, at least, fairly honest about the lacklustre experience of shovelling down food made on a needlessly mammoth scale. The noodles are so big they are “hard to eat”; the sandwich was “a bit dry”. And, in all cases, the portion size was simply “way too big to finish” – she manages to eat the equivalent of a regular croissant or baguette, before being defeated, forced to save the rest as leftovers.

The featured dishes are also far more expensive than buying the normal-sized alternative, with the croissant priced at just under €20 (£17). Perhaps this is now considered “good value” next to Conticini’s monster, which retails at €32. But compare it to the fact that a regular breakfast pastry will set you back around €1.50 – and will, by all accounts, likely taste considerably better – and I struggle to understand the appeal of going supersize. After all, a normal croissant from pretty much any French boulangerie is already one of the tastiest treats in existence. That rich, buttery taste; that soft, flaky texture. Why blow it up to swap perfection for an unholy mess in which the quantity has often increased in direct proportion to the quality being diminished?

Cupcakes were one of the first foodstuffs to get the Insta treatment (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Cupcakes were one of the first foodstuffs to get the Insta treatment (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

I can’t help but feel a wave of despair at the whole thing. For if Paris, unofficial capital of dining snobbery, isn’t immune to the curse of the viral culinary trend, there seems little hope for the rest of the world.

“Oversized” is just the tip of the iceberg – one sub-genre within the overall TikTokification of food that has seen style over substance become the order of the day. Colour is a key trend – popping as it will on that oh-so-crucial Instagram post – with cupcakes, brunch plates and salad bowls all getting the rainbow treatment to attract the smartphone generation. New inventions have been created specifically for the Insta-effect – from pastel-toned “mermaid toast” to charcoal ice cream – while objectively gross-tasting items have had a much-needed popularity boost based purely on optics. (No one can convince me that they truly enjoy a matcha latte – but please, go ahead and pretend to enjoy drinking your cup of lawn.)

Mermaid toast, anyone? (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Mermaid toast, anyone? (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Then there’s the trend of excess: hot chocolate where the cup itself is slathered in the stuff; dessert-topped milkshakes where the sauce dribbles down the side of the glass; bubble waffle cones pouring forth with fillings; burgers, tall beyond all sense, dripping with sauce and cheese so that they’re impossible to eat without getting covered in crap.

If Paris, unofficial capital of dining snobbery, isn’t immune to the curse of the viral culinary trend, there seems little hope for the rest of the world

For someone for whom food is one of life’s greatest pleasures – a source of simple, uncomplicated joy – it seems like a descent into madness. All of the above is designed to look good in a photo or video – not to be easy or enjoyable to eat. All of the above is designed to be consumed via social media – not to be consumed by a real-life human. I know they say we “eat with our eyes”, but surely there’s a limit?

I’m not the only one who thinks so: a number of French traditionalists have had their feathers ruffled by the latest craze. “Some of the new generation of pastry chefs and bakers come up with creations with the foremost obsession being the impact of novelty of social media,” Christophe Felder, a pastry chef from Alsace, opined in newspaper Le Figaro. “It’s now become a diktat that you have to create an event for Instagram or TikTok,” said the Conticini chain’s own marketing director. “Alas, that often takes precedence over taste.”

I might have no truck with it, but it looks like the TikTokification of food is here to stay. In the meantime, I suspect France’s savvy pastry chefs are laughing all the way to la banque.