As dawn breaks in Paris, doughy smells permeate the air, and locals line up at neighborhood boulangeries for freshly baked croissants to enjoy alongside their morning coffee–and as an afternoon goûter, or snack.
These yeast-leavened pastries from Vienna—known there as viennoiseries—reportedly arrived in France in the 18th century when Queen Marie Antoinette, originally from Austria, introduced them to the court. Initially a treat of the aristocracy, the flaky pastry spread to the masses when another Austrian, August Zang, began making them in his Right Bank boulangerie in 1839.
Today, croissants are about as Parisian as it gets. But they’re not all created equal.
The key to a good croissant is its many fine layers, created by repeated flattening and folding with butter. The result is a crisp, golden shell that protects a light, tender interior.
Here’s a list of the best places to bite into the golden classic in the City of Light:
In the trendy Canal St.-Martin quartier, locals cram inside tiny Du Pain et des Idées to scoop up Christophe Vasseur’s award winners, which develop deep flavor in a 24-hour rise before baking.
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For a twist on the classic, head to Pierre Hermé (voted best croissant in Paris by Le Figaro) for an Ispahan croissant filled with rose-flavored almond cream and topped with a rosewater glaze and crispy bits of raspberry from the Haut-Vivarais region.
Want to learn how to make them yourself? La Cuisine Paris offers weekly hands-on classes where, over the course of three hours, you’ll cover each painstaking step that goes into creating these crescent rolls of perfection.
This piece, written by Amy M. Thomas, appeared in the December 2013/January 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.