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Croissants: Hours to make, a lifetime to master

A Paris croissant addict learns the secrets of baking the buttery, crusty treats.

Croissants emerge from the oven flaky, golden and buttery at Paris bakery Aux Peches Normands. (Ben Barnier/GlobalPost)

PARIS, France — It’s 8 a.m. and six guys in white aprons swarm around the oven, like stock traders at the opening bell. They have been up for hours, and while the small radio is blasting popular French tunes, they carry burning trays of golden croissants, beat eggs and arrange strawberries on a tart. Welcome to the basement kitchen of Aux Peches Normands, an award-winning Paris bakery.

It’s become fashionable for young urbanites to spend an evening with a chef to learn how to make a fancy dinner. L’Atelier des Chefs, for instance, located in a bourgeois Paris neighborhood, for about $55 a pop teaches students how to cook dinner "like grandma" in just 60 minutes. L’Atelier des Chefs, self-proclaimed "most hyped cooking in town," even has its own iPhone app.

And it’s not just happening in Paris: London has its Gordon Ramsay master class ($330 for two hours). New York has the Miette Culinary Studio in Greenwich Village.

So when I set out to find a Croissant Master Class in Paris, I thought it would be a piece a cake — but it was far from it.

As it turns out there aren’t classes open to the public. And unfortunately, you can't make croissants just by looking up a recipe on the web: The croissant dough is a delicate combination of flour and butter and its preparation is probably one of Paris’ best kept secrets.

In the absence of actual classes, I set out to find a baker willing to teach me.

Aux Peches Normands is probably one of my favorite bakeries. The place is pretty, but not pretentious.

Located right next to Republique, the big square where the biggest strikes and demonstrations take place, it’s a bakery for the neighborhood's urban “bobos,” or bourgeois-bohemians, and working-class residents.

To me, the croissants at Aux Peches Normands are just perfect, precisely because of their imperfections. Unlike the croissants sold in supermarkets, none of the traditional bakery’s croissants look the same.

Some are rounder, others more flat. Some are brown, others more golden. The way to spot a top-notch croissant is to press it gently and hear how it crisps. That’s the trick baker Christophe David taught me. He has been making croissants at Aux Peches Gourmands for 12 years, so he is definitely an expert.

Since baking croissants is such a difficult craft, finding someone to teach you is no small matter. So after buying my croissants at the same place for months, I was lucky to come across the chef.