Origins of ordinary things: Croissant

The croissant originated from Austria. Net photo.

As French as it may sound, the buttery, flaky croissant was inspired by the Austrian ‘kipfel’, a crescent-shaped baked good featuring a generous amount of butter or lard and sometimes sugar and almonds.

According to popular lore, the ‘kipfel’ originated in 1683 as a comestible celebration of Austrian victory over the Ottomans at the siege of Vienna. The story follows that a baker, up early to make bread, saved the city when he heard the Turks tunneling underneath the city and sounded an alarm. 

The kipfel’s curved shape, said to mimic the crescent moon of the Ottoman flag, then would seem to pay poetic tribute to the indomitable spirit of a city that resisted a powerful invading force. This is according to the Smithsonian Magazine.

According to Peacock Plume, the kipfel made its way to France in 1770 when Austrian-born Marie-Antoinette (below) was offered in marriage to the future Louis XVI. Marie-Antoinette felt homesick when she arrived in France and missed Austrian cuisine. The royal bakers decided to make kipfel in her honour, which they subsequently named “croissant”.

Within a few decades, the newcomer was firmly entrenched as a staple of French breakfast foods. On a visit to Paris in 1872–73, author, Charles Dickens, praised “the dainty croissant on the boudoir table” and bemoaned the comparatively “dismal monotony” of English bread and other breakfast foods.

A century later, the croissant took the fast-food industry by storm as manufacturers introduced pre-made frozen dough and takeaway “croissanteries” cropped up throughout France.

Slowly, the pastry became more famous and started to spread throughout France. In 1839, a half century after the French Revolution, an Austrian baker named August Zang was the first to open a Viennese bakery in Paris. Nearly two centuries later, the boulangerie is long closed and has become an insurance office. But its great success inspired many other French bakers to imitate the pastry.

Over the years, the croissant has evolved as bakers added more butter to their flaky masterpieces. Though the croissant is not originally a French pastry, it has been a staple in the French bakery since the 1920s when bakers perfected the shape and recipe of the croissants we savour every morning. It is not to be confused with the British croissant, which is straight. The French have remained faithful to the original Austrian crescent shape.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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