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In France, some say a gastronomic icon is under threat: the croissant. The problem, reports NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, is a pastry imposter that's a hit with many French bakeries: the cheaper-to-buy, easier-to-bake frozen croissant.

ESMERALDA CAUVET: (Foreign language spoken)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: There's always a line at the Boulangerie Cauvet on the corner of rue Saint Charles in Paris' 15th arrondissement. In their family owned business, Esmeralda Cauvet and her husband, Cyril, sell around 800 croissants and 3,500 long loaves of bread or baguettes daily.

CAUVET: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Madame Cauvet leaves her place behind the cash register to lead me downstairs into the bakery's kitchen and oven rooms where I meet head pastry maker Pierre, who is rolling croissants from triangular strips of dough.

PIERRE CROUZET: (Through translator) The key to a good croissant is good ingredients and a high quality dough. You have to knead it, let it rise and roll it a second time in butter. That's what gives a croissant its flaky quality.

BEARDSLEY: But many bakeries are choosing to outsource this time-consuming and laborious first step, instead, buying ready-made frozen dough that they simply bake on site. These are known as industrial croissants. But Cauvet, who employs two pastry chefs on top of her three bread makers, says she wouldn't dream of selling industrial croissants to cut costs.

CAUVET: (Through translator) No. I prefer to hire pastry makers. It's our vocation. We have to remain artisan bakers. If not, what's the point of doing this job at all?

(Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: It's a hub of activity down here. Cauvet introduces me to another bread maker and leads me past a giant kneading machine and a cold room where baguettes are rising on racks. She explains the steps to making good bread. We do everything from A to Z, she says. We don't even own a freezer. The French take their pain seriously. Seventy-five percent of people still buy fresh bread daily from one of the country's 34,000 boulangeries. To be called a boulangerie, or bakery, the entire bread-making process, from flour to loaf, must be carried out on site. But there is no such stipulation for pastries. Jean-Pierre Crouzet is head of the French National Boulangerie and Patisserie Confederation. He says his organization is looking to come up with a way to designate home-made pastries, but it's more difficult because ingredients like cream or fruit come from the outside.

CROUZET: (Through translator) So, we must find an equilibrium, a way to inform the consumer without penalizing the baker.

BEARDSLEY: Though considered quintessentially French, croissants were first made in the 16th century by the bakers of Vienna to celebrate a victory against the Turkish armies that had been besieging the city. Croissants are said to have been brought to France by Marie-Antoinette as a 14-year-old bride hankering for comfort food from her native Austria. Hence the term Viennoiserie for pastry.

CAUVET: (Foreign language spoken)

PAUL TALARD: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: One of Cauvet's customers, 70-year-old Paul Talard, says his father and grandfather were bakers. His grandfather supplied the French army during World War I. Talard says finding a good croissant is getting tougher.

TALARD: (Through translator) Industrial croissants are oily, from oil and they're bad for you. A real croissant is pure butter. It's flaky and moist with that little crispy crescent point.

BEARDSLEY: Talard says dipping a croissant into morning coffee is a ritual that hasn't changed since his grandfather's day. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.


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