The History Of The Croissant

Published on
12 August 2022
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

Few foods are as culturally iconic as the croissant. This satisfying and crunchy breakfast food is stereotypically French. But do you know that the history of the croissant suggests that it may not be French after all? Well, in this insightful guide, we’ll look at the history of this popular breakfast treat while uncovering where to find the best croissants in the world.

What is the history of the croissant?

What comes to your mind when you think about a fresh flaky croissant with its scattering crumbs and satisfying crunch? Well, if you’ve been to Paris, then you’ll probably conjure up the image of the French capital on a lazy morning drinking a steamy cup of coffee with a croissant! Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and enjoyable on all sides! The croissant is as connected to France as a baguette. But what’s the origin of this popular and beloved French pastry?

Most food historians trace the humble origins of the croissant to Austria, where a simple pastry was a staple food since at least the 13th century. Denser and sweeter than the modern croissant, it’s believed that this dough began to change in the 17th century and became known as kipferl (the German word for crescent). It would eventually morph into what is today known as the croissant.

Tracing the history of the croissant is full of twists and turns. With its roots in Austria, you’re probably wondering how it became a popular and beloved French pastry, so let’s continue!

Who made the first croissant?

The true version of who first made the croissant is disputed, with many variations in existence. But, let’s go with what is widely regarded as the true story of the famous and beloved French bread.

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This story dates back to the infamous Battle of Vienna in 1683. The city of Vienna was under siege. For two months, thousands of Ottoman Turk soldiers had surrounded Vienna. With defeat looming, supplies and morale were running low, and everybody in the city was weary, expecting to surrender to the invaders!

But unknown to the Viennese, help and the road to victory would come from a very unlikely source: a baker! Legend has it that a baker working late at night just outside the city overheard the Ottomans’ new plan to break through Vienna’s protective walls. He immediately alerted the authorities.

From this tipoff, Vienna’s military defeated the Ottomans in the tunnels, killing several of the Turk soldiers and winning the battle in the process! To commemorate this victory and the role that he had played in saving his beloved city, this baker created a very special pastry. 

The history of the croissant

He came up with the idea of creating a crescent moon-shaped pastry that symbolized the Ottoman’s Islamic emblem. The idea behind this shape was not just to remind the Austrians of their victory but meant to symbolically show that the Austrians had devoured the Ottomans. Named the kipferl, which is the Austrian German word for crescent, this pastry became so famous in Austria that everyone wanted to be associated with it.

Is the croissant really French?

To this point, it’s essential to note that the kipferl is the ancestor of the modern-day croissant. This means that the origin of the croissant isn’t French but Austria. But how did this famous pastry find its way into France, and how did it become so popular in its new home? Well, to perfectly understand this journey, it’s important to look at the role that Marie Antoinette played in bringing kipferl to France.

For those who do not know, Marie Antoinette became the Queen of France when her husband ascended the throne just before the French Revolution. She was born in Austria in 1755 at a time when kipferl was a famous breakfast pastry in Austria. 

Antoinette had been sent to France at the tender age of 14 to marry the future King of France, King Louis XVI. As would happen to kids her age, she became lonely and dearly missed her homeland. She also missed her favourite pastry, the kipferl, so asked court bakers to make her some.

Together with other pastries from her homeland, Antoinette introduced the kipferl in France. These pastries were collectively referred to as viennoiserie, in reference to her home city of Vienna. 

Moving from kipferl to croissant

By the 19th century, the kipferl was a popular pastry in France. This was long after Queen Antoinette had introduced this famous Austrian pastry to France. It was, however, a far cry from the flaky and crunchy pastry we know today! Although the Austrian version had the crescent shape of today’s croissant, it was made of heavy dough, making it more similar to brioche. 

In 1839, a former Austrian artillery officer named August Zang moved to France and opened a Viennese bakery in Paris called Boulangerie Viennoise. This bakery served Viennese specialities, including the kipferl. After a few years, it became so popular among the French that its name was translated to French to become, croissant, the French word for kipferl, or crescent.

By the end of the 19th century, French bakers had taken over the croissant, and the dough became lighter and more delicate, as it is today. The croissant would eventually become a vital pastry and symbol of French culture.

Crescent-shaped croissant vs straight croissant – what’s the difference?

Croissants had always been crescent-shaped, but there are also straight croissants. There is an important difference between the two shapes, especially if you’re travelling to France. The difference is that crescent-shaped croissants are made with margarine or a butter/margarine mix, while straight croissants must be all butter. The irony here is that traditional croissants should be crescent-shaped and all butter. Nonetheless, it’s easy to immediately taste the difference.

Again, the crescent-shaped croissant comes from the traditional French belief that a croissant should not be cut open and made into a sandwich. So if you have to follow this school of thought, then you’d go for a straight croissant, especially if you want to try a different or versatile version of the croissant. 

There are few foods that have their own day of celebration. The fact that there’s Croissant Day on January 30th is a testament enough that this light, fluffy, flaky, and undoubtedly delicious pastry is so popular. But what exactly makes the croissant one of the most famous pastries in the world? Let’s look at some characteristics that make croissants so popular.

Soft texture

A perfect croissant is characterised by its indulgent mouthfeel of butter and gold colour. It has to be very soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. When you bite the croissant, you should see a puffy pastry and scattering crumbs that offer a very satisfying crunch. Believe me, this is not an exaggeration but exactly how you should feel when eating a perfectly-made croissant.

Versatility

One of the main reasons why croissant is popular the world over is because of their versatility. You can either eat a croissant alone or stuff it with other accompaniments. I recommend that you try both versions but start with the croissant in its very traditional form before experimenting.

Some of the most savoury fillings include ham, cheese, bacon, raw ham, eggs, bechamel sauce, spinach, parmesan cheese, and many more. If you love sweet fillings, you can also try fillings such as caramel milk, jam, fruits, and chocolate. In essence, the croissant is so versatile that it can be used as sandwich bread.

It perfectly blends sweet and savoury

The main ingredients of the croissant are flour, eggs, sugar, butter, and salt. Needless to say, this is a high-calorie food but tastes like butter with a touch of sugar. In other words, the croissant brings to your table a perfect blend of sweet and savoury! Although it’s a popular pastry for breakfast, you can eat it at any time of the day.

Easy to eat

Another reason why the croissant is popular is that it’s light and pairs with drinks well, including tea, juice, or coffee. Its size also makes it easy to manipulate and digest. It’s also not sticky, so you can eat it with your hands.

Where can I find the best croissant in the world?

Although France is the traditional home of croissants, you do not have to go to France to enjoy perfectly-made croissants. This pastry is renowned all over the world and can be enjoyed almost anywhere. But where can you find the best croissants in the world? Well, let’s list these places.

  • Aux Pains de Papy – London, England
  • Du Pain et des Idees – Paris, France
  • Amandine Patisserie Cafe – Los Angeles, California
  • Dominique Ansel – New York, New York
  • Lune Croissanterie – Melbourne, Australia
  • Jason Bakery – Cape Town, South Africa
  • Hof Kelsten – Montreal, Canada
  • B. Patisserie – San Francisco, California

List courtesy of Petite Gourmets

Conclusion

To this end, there’s no doubt that the croissant is among the most celebrated pastry in the world. Its layers of flaxy textures, butter-coated dough, and lightness make it one of the most delicious and common breakfast items. This pastry has a rich history dating back centuries in Austria. Today, croissants are a symbol of the rich French cuisine and culture.

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