Are there any three words in the English language more appetising than “flaky, buttery pastry”? We don’t think so and neither does the rest of the world, which is why the croissant is one of the most sought-after pieces of French food.
Maybe you like yours with a little butter, or perhaps just straight up with your morning coffee. Or is the savoury croissant more your idea of a good culinary time, stuffed with deli meat, cheese and all other manner of melted goodness?
Whichever way you like them, croissants take pride of place alongside baguettes as iconic symbols of French culture and French food. A fresh croissant from a Parisian patisserie is something every Francophile needs to experience at least once in their life, although it’s often hard to stop at just one.
But have you ever stopped savouring one of these delicious pastry treats to wonder about the history of the croissant? When was it created and by whom? And how did it become so damn popular?
Unfortunately, tracing the origins of the croissant isn’t all that simple. There are a number of conflicting theories out there as to when this iconic French food was first developed, and most people are surprised to discover that the croissant actually has Austrian roots.
Perhaps the most common explanation places the croissant’s origins in Vienna. When Vienna was under siege by more than 100,000 Ottoman Turks in 1683, the siege dragged on for several months as the invaders tried to starve Vienna into submission. When this didn’t succeed, the Turks hatched a plan to tunnel under the city walls and launch a surprise attack.
Their plans were foiled, however, when Austrian bakers, working in the middle of the night, heard the sounds of tunnelling beneath their feet. They alerted the city’s defenders and were able to cave the tunnel in on the attacking Turks. It wasn’t long before Poland’s King John III arrived with an army to defeat the Turks, forcing them to retreat from the city walls.
As Vienna rejoiced, the bakers celebrated their own role in ending the siege by baking pastries in the shape of crescents they had seen depicted on their enemy’s battle standards. Known as the Kipfel, this new pastry gave the Viennese a chance to literally devour their enemy.
In another theory, it took a celebrity’s touch to bring the croissant into French consciousness. The most famous of all French queens, Marie Antoinette, was of course originally from Vienna, and introduced the popular pastry to the French court during the 18th century. The croissant was then adopted by Parisians and soon spread to the mouths and bellies of the rest of the population.
Another theory is that August Zang, a former Austrian artillery officer, was the man responsible for introducing the croissant to France. He set up a Viennese bakery in Paris around 1839, and his popular products soon inspired French bakers to create the croissant as we know it today.
Whatever the actual history of the croissant may be, we do know the reason why the croissant is so closely associated with France and not Austria. While the Austrians traditionally used a brioche dough, French bakers replaced this with a puff pastry around the end of the 19th century. The results were spectacularly delicious, and croissants quickly won the hearts (and stomachs) of the French people.
All this talk of croissants is probably enough to make you wish you had a Parisian bakery close by. Sadly, that’s a luxury not all of us have in Australia, so why not create this culinary treat at home and turn your own kitchen into a French patisserie? You’ll need to get your hands on the following ingredients for our croissant recipe:
- 500g French type 55 flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup water
- 2/3 cup milk
- 55g sugar
- 40g butter
- 1 tablespoon of instant yeast
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- For butter layer: 1 and ¼ cups of butter
- For egg wash: 1 egg
It’s not as easy as buying from your local bakery, but your taste buds will thank you for the effort.