Who would have thought that? The croissant, the staple of French breakfasts, comes from Vienna, Austria. Let’s talk about the European journey of a now global culinary specialty. And, by the way, thank the Turks too !
What is the origin of the croissant?
When you think of the tradition of French pastry, you immediately think of croissant and pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant).
Resisting the delicious aroma that spreads through the French streets outside each bakery is a daunting task for foodies, but this French breakfast, as we know it today, has not always existed.
Indeed, did you know that the croissant was not really French originally?
In reality, you have to head to Vienna to retrace the history of the croissant and many viennoiseries. The croissant would have originated in Austria at least as early as the 13th century.
Indeed, the existence of kipferl, ancestor of the croissant, was attested in Austria in the 13th century, even in Hungary and Italy, but we do not really know the recipe (savory or sweet) nor do we know the consistency of the dough (flaky or not).
These pastries could also have origins in the Middle East and in the kitchens of Topkapı Palace, a palace in Istanbul, Turkey, the official residence of the Ottoman Sultan.
History, or perhaps legend, has it that the croissant was created to celebrate a cunning and heroic feat, that happened in Vienna of 1683. The city was besieged by the Turks, when the Austrian capital vigorously resisted, barricaded inside the walls. The capital of the Holy Roman Empire found itself in great difficulty one night.
In order to strike Vienna and break down the walls, the Ottomans acted at night, thus digging tunnels with shovels and pickaxes in order to enter the city by surprise. The only men still awake at this late hour of the night were the bakers. They were alerted by the sound of the excavations and alerted the Austrian army. They thus saved their city.
As the Turks were defeated, it was time to celebrate. What better way to remember this victory than to invent a crescent-shaped dessert, symbol of the Turkish Empire?
That same night, the fleeing Turks left large stocks of coffee. The coffee beans burned in the fires, diffusing the typical aroma of coffee in the countryside, a new fragrance for Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, a Polish officer of Hungarian origin, who had an innovative idea that night: open a coffee shop.
Indeed, at the time, in Vienna, there was still no coffee shop, but thanks to the Turks, Kulczycki opened the first café giving birth to what in the 19th century became a true Viennese and European tradition, and where, probably, even the very first croissants were served.
Croissant in France
But then what does this have to do with France and especially Paris, the city that traditionally offers the best croissants?
What is the origin of the croissant in France?
The first appearance of the croissant in France also has fairly mysterious origins.
Here are the two most popular versions:
The first version attributes the merit of the introduction of the croissant to France to the Austrian officer August Zang, founder of the Boulangerie Viennoise de Paris, at 92 rue de Richelieu, around 1839, and whose specialty was precisely kipferl with all the Austrian pastries. Its typical half-moon shape quickly changed its name to what we now know as croissants.
The second version, certainly more fascinating, seems to come from the marriage between Marie Antoinette of Austria and Louis XVI.
It is said that Queen Marie Antoinette was so attached to her kipferl for breakfast that when she left for Versailles, she had to bring it with her, but also increased the amount of butter.
The dessert was so popular with pastry chefs of the time that it was immediately adopted and made into a croissant.
Variants of croissant in the world
In different countries of the world, the croissant is present with many variations. Here are a few examples, to name a few:
- In Spain, it is usually served topped with sugar glaze and stuffed with almond paste.
- In Poland, croissants are prepared sprinkled with poppy seeds and especially for the Saint Martin holiday.
- In the United States, they are very common in their savory version, stuffed with ham and cheese or spinach and cheese.
- In Argentina, they are very fatty. When eaten as a sweet snack, they are glazed in butter. When savory, they are glazed with lard.
- In Germany, they are often stuffed with almond paste (marzipan) or chocolate spread.
- In Italy, they are called croissants and can be plain or stuffed with jam, cream or chocolate. There are also whole wheat flour croissants in Italy, usually topped with flax and sesame seeds and stuffed with honey. They are also eaten as a sandwich, cut in half and filled with salad leaves, tomatoes, mozzarella, and ham.
Puff pastry and dry butter
The croissant dough is a type of puff pastry called leavened puff pastry or PLF (in French). It is leavened because yeast is added and puff pastry because of the dry butter (beurre sec or beurre de tourage in French) in successive layers to form puff pastry, like the puff pastry used for millefeuille (Napoleon). It is therefore very important never to form a ball with the leavened puff pastry.
This dough is used to make many pastries.
Dry butter finds its use in quality pastry, for all viennoiseries and puff pastry.
Thanks to its excellent elasticity and thanks to its higher fat content (84% vs. 82% for standard butter), it guarantees greater softness and greater maneuverability.
It is a product with a low amount of water and a moisture content of 14% which makes it a “dry” butter.
Discover the recipe for this delicious butter croissant. But first, let’s thank these bakers who never sleep, and the Austrian and Turkish armies.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1¼ cup milk
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 14 tablespoons dry butter (divided)
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons milk
Two hours before the start of the preparation of the croissants, take 10 tablespoons (150g) of dry butter out of the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature for 10 minutes. Using a rolling pin, spread the butter to an 8-inch (20 cm) square.
- Refrigerate immediately again (the butter should be very cold).
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, sugar, yeast, milk, water, and 4 tablespoons (50g) melted dry butter.
- Knead at medium speed with the dough hook attachment, and knead for 15 minutes. The dough should come off the sides of the bowl.
Flour the work surface and rolling pin, then spread the dough into a rectangle of about 8 by 16 inches (20 cm x 40 cm).
- Place the rectangle of very cold butter in the middle of the rectangle of dough, then fold the two ends of dough over the butter so as to completely wrap it.
- With the fingertips, press on all the edges of the dough that surround the butter, so as to seal them well, and so that the butter does not escape during baking.
Spread the dough in one direction, to obtain a rectangle of about 8 by 24 inches (20 cm x 60 cm).
- Fold each end of dough in the middle, so that they meet and touch.
- Fold the dough in half, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Take the dough out of the refrigerator.
- Place it so that the fold is parallel to you and your work surface (so give it a quarter turn), and spread it out again into a rectangle of 8 by 24 inches.
- Fold it again in 4 (first the ends in the center, then fold the dough in 2).
- Wrap it again in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 30 minutes.
- Take the dough out of the refrigerator and spread it out in a large rectangle about ¼ inch thick.
- Cut it into 4 or 5 isosceles triangles.
Preheat the convection oven to 400°F / 200°C (or traditional to 425°F / 220°C).
- Take a triangle of dough and place the base of the triangle on your side and the tip outwards.
- Gently roll the dough from the base to the tip to obtain a croissant. Repeat the operation until the dough is used up.
- Place the croissants, well spaced, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Mix the egg yolk and the 2 tablespoons of milk and brush the croissants.
- Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the desired result.