Make a study of French croissants, and you’ll find there’s tremendous variation among the flaky pastries. Some are fat and bready, others small and crumbly; still others are stuffed with all manner of ingredients, including fruit preserves, ham and cheese, or almond paste. Almost all make delicious treats, but which approach represents the quintessential croissant? • Claudine Pépin, celebrity instructor at Food University, daughter of legendary French chef Jacques Pépin, and former Denver resident, says the perfect croissant is all about butter—lots of it spread between layer after thin layer of pastry dough that’s folded and refolded countless times. When done right, she says, croissants should shatter when you bite into them (providing evidence of all those buttered layers), and the interior should remain moist and tender. And filling? Forget it. Purists don’t want anything interfering with the buttery richness. • Armed with this insight, we sought out the city’s best French bakeries and uncovered six spots for seriously good croissants.

  • Trompeau Bakery
    In this tiny bakery near the University of Denver, pastry chef Pascal Trompeau, a native of Limoges, France, bakes up Denver’s best croissants. His croissants don’t just shatter; they practically explode on first bite. Even better: Hidden inside that crispy exterior is a soft interior that you can playfully pull apart layer by layer. Nab a warm one by arriving early—but expect to wait in line. Plus: Try an apricot-custard oronais, a flaky-crust treat stuffed with plump, sticky apricots layered on top of sweet custard. 1729 E. Evans Ave., 303-777-7222
  • Daniel’s of Paris
    Don’t let its strip mall location at East Iliff and South Peoria deter you: Daniel’s is putting out a serious lineup of pastries, cakes, tarts, and croissants. The shiny, large, and oily-in-the-right-way croissants are perfect for those who want to lick the richness from their fingertips. Plus: Be sure to grab one of the bakery’s tarte aux pommes, a rectangular tart lined with a layer of pastry cream and thinly sliced apples. It’s likely to be the best dessert you’ve consumed all year. 12253 E. Iliff Ave., Suite C, 303-751-6084,
  • Pierre Michel—Organic French Bakery Café
    French transplants Eric and Isabelle arrived in Highlands Ranch from France in 2008 and immediately put their 15 years of baking experience to work. Their croissants are filling, salad plate–size marvels. While the pastry is breadier and less flaky than others in town, the perfect-for-splitting size and slightly sweet texture make up for it. Plus: It’s worth arranging a second visit to try either the croque monsieur—the quintessential crispy ham and Swiss sandwich served on toasted brioche—or the fruity, dark-berry tart. 3624 E. Highlands Ranch Parkway, #205, Highlands Ranch, 303-471-4828,
  • La Baguette de Normandy
    Twenty-five years of baking in Normandy, France, means that pastry chef Michael Dupont knows a thing or two about croissants. And you can taste that expertise at La Baguette de Normandy, his Parker bakery. Located just off East Lincoln Avenue, Dupont’s shop produces sweet cream butter croissants with the crispy, crunchy exterior all croissants aspire to. Bite into one and watch as flakes of golden crust tumble to the tabletop. Plus: While purists might object, his pain au chocolate is also worth the indulgence. 16524 Keystone Blvd., Parker, 303-805-9130,
  • Les Delices de Paris
    In their small shop just off Leetsdale Drive, French-born Gerard and Christelle Donat create gorgeous, perfectly symmetrical half-moon croissants with neat ridges that announce the many layers inside. Slightly sweet with a pleasant chewiness, Les Delices de Paris’ offerings unwind in long, lighthearted sheets. Plus: Don’t leave without picking up a delicate pear tartlet—it’s the perfect meal-ender. 600 S. Holly St., Suite 101, 303-320-7596,
  • Katherine’s French Bakery and Cafe
    This small European cafe on South University Boulevard is a good place to fortify—or reward—yourself for a day at Cherry Creek Shopping Center. The croissants are fat and flaky with a soft, pillowy interior. Plus: Pair your croissant with a slice of savory quiche, a two-inch-high wedge of eggy goodness with strips of spinach, hints of feta, and a thin-layered crust. 728 S. University Blvd., 303-282-5888,