For once I felt I couldn’t let this day go unremarked. Think France, think croissants. The two are inextricably entwined, aren’t they? The flaky, buttery delicious crescent-shaped pastry called a croissant is a French icon and yet……. it isn’t truly French.
History has it that croissants originated in Austria. There are several stories, none of which can be fully substantiated. Allegedly, while Austria was at war with Turkey in the late 1600s, a baker working late at night heard the Turkish soldiers tunnelling under the walls of the city of Vienna and alerted the Austrian guard. They collapsed the tunnel which saved the city and the baker in a moment of genius created a pastry from bread dough in the shape of a crescent moon, the emblem of the Turkish empire. It is said that he intended that when his customers bit into the pastry, they would be symbolically devouring their enemies. He called his creation a kipfel, the German word for croissant. However, historians say that there is written evidence that the kipfel was being made as far back as 13th century……..
A later story is that Marie-Antoinette bought the kipfel to France from her Austrian homeland. Feeling homesick, she commanded the royal bakers to make the pastry for her. Unlike the bread dough that the Austrian version was made by layering the dough with butter, then rolled and folded several times in succession, before being rolled into a thin sheet. A technique called laminating. The process results in a layered, flaky texture, similar to a puff pastry. An unlikely story but, a legend was born…………
Yet another tale, and far more likely, claims that an Austrian artillery officer named August Zang founded the “Boulangerie Viennoise” at 92, rue de Richelieu in Paris in the 1830s. He brought the recipe for kipfels with him and it became popular with his customers. By 1872 Charles Dickens, who had travelled across France, mentioned the croissant as a French breakfast staple. Paris.
In the early twentieth century, French bakers improved on the recipe by making it from even more layers of deliciously buttered puff pastry. The croissant we all know and love was born. When you’re in France, look for the fait maison sign which indicates breads and pastries are handmade on site. There are even annual contests to find the regional baker making the best croissants.
These are my favourites from one of our many local bakeries.
Wherever you are, just ask the locals for their tips on where to buy your croissant – they’ll always have an opinion!