Today is Croissant Day 2021, a day on which we celebrate the iconic French pastry but what if we were to tell you that history of the croissant suggests that it may not be French at all!? In this article, we dive into the history and the facts and myths about the croissant.
- Austrian origins
The origin of the croissant can actually be traced back to 13th century Austria, where it was called the kipferl, the German word for crescent.
- A Viennese bakery in Paris
However it was an Austrian artillery officer August Zang who founded a Viennese bakery at 92, rue du richelieu in Paris. It served Viennese specialties including kipferl and the Vienna loaf. This bakery inspired imitators and the French version of the kipferl was named after the shape given to it: a crescent – the French word being croissant.
Croissants are part of the category of pastries that the French call Viennoiseries, a nod to their origins in Vienna.
- It may have Austrian origins but the French made it their own
Jim Chevallier, an independent scholar and author of the book “August Zang and the French Croissant: How Viennoiserie Came to France” says that while the croissant may have had Austrian origins, the French made it their own:
“The croissant began as the Austrian kipferl but became French the moment people began to make it with puffed pastry, which is a French innovation.”
“It has fully taken root in its adopted land.”
If you were to order a kipferl in Austria today, you will most likely be given a cookie rather than a pastry, with the only resemblance to the croissant being its crescent shape.
- Marie Antoinette did not popularise the croissant
Legend credits the French queen Marie Antoinette—homesick for a taste of her native Vienna—with introducing the kipferl, and thus the croissant, to France. But Jim Chevallier mentioned above sees no evidence to support this notion.
- A relatively recent recipe
A croissant recipe showing the use of yeasted puff pastry dough instead of brioche that was used previously first appeared in 1905 in the book Colombie’s “NOUVELLE ENCYCLOPEDIE CULINAIRE. Cuisine et Pâtisserie Bourgeoises conserves de ménage.”
- A breakfast staple
The croissant was already a breakfast staple by the late 1860s and Charles Dickens referred to the “dainty croissant on the boudoir table” in All the Year Round in 1872.
- Why some croissants are curved and others are straight
Croissants that are straight are those made with butter (croissants au beurre) and the curved ones are made with margarine (croissants ordinaires).
Those crispy, airy, crunchy layers we associate with the croissant are thanks to a process called lamination. What is it? The dough is folded several times with alternating layers of fat – butter or margarine, before then being rolled and cut into triangles.
This is how bakers create hundreds of paper-thin layers of buttery dough. The baking process then causes the butter or margarine to evaporate and the individual layers to puff up.
What did you learn about croissants from this article? I hope you’re enjoying a croissant for Croissant Day 2021.