Did you think croissants were French?
The warm, buttery, crumbly croissant - a joy of life, not just a joy of travelling through France!
For many this is the quintessential French pastry indulged by many for breakfast either on its own or with condiments, or as a snack while at a cafe or boulangerie. In fact, we reckon if you asked people to name a French food, croissant would either be top, or near it.
The warm, crumbly, buttery flavour fills us with joy. The flakey crumbs go everywhere making it (surely) one of the messiest things to pick up and eat - but it doesn't matter! This joyous breakfast food is the epitome of French foodie culture to the point everyone, unbeknown to them perhaps, defaults to the French pronunciation no matter where they are.
It's as iconic a food item as there is out there today.
It is the ultimate French fix...or is it?
In the 19th century the French viewed the croissant as a foreign delicacy that came from Vienna and was only sold in the pricey parts of the capital city. It's only fairly recently it has become an everyday food item that is readily available in all forms around the world.
How it even came to being in France in the first place is not entirely clear...
It is generally agreed that the croissant came from the Austrian kipfel - a crescent shaped baked pastry made out of butter, lard and sometimes sugar and almonds.
There are many stories to how the kipfel came about, but one of the most popular ones is based around the 1683 Siege of Vienna when the Ottomans were halted on their march to take over western Europe. The folklore goes that a baker, up early in Vienna to bake bread, heard the Ottomans tunnelling under the city and alerted the city who defended themselves. As a celebration, the kipfel was baked to mimic the shape of the crescent moon that adorned the Ottoman flags to pay poetic tribute to the indomitable spirit of the city that held off the advancing forces.
But the kipfel had existed before this siege with it even being mentioned in a poem in 1227 where it was given as a Christmas treat to Duke Leopold. Other moon shaped breads had existed centuries prior to this too.
It would be unfair - and wrong - to claim that croissant is merely a simple rip-off of a kipfel, or to claim the kipfel is the original croissant and is equal Austrian and French. What is undeniable is the kipfel is a massive inspiration to the French croissant.
The main adaptation that makes the croissant what it is and sets it apart from the kipfel is that the French began making it with puffed pastry - the Frenchiest innovation that gives the croissant that certain "je ne sais quoi"...
There is a theory that Marie Antoinette, who was homesick after marrying Louis XVI, introduced the kipfel and thus the croissant, to France - but there is no real way to prove this.
There was an Austrian entrepreneur called August Zang who opened a Viennese bakery on the Right Bank of Paris at 92 Rue Richelieu (that we have walked past on numerous occasions not knowing the history of the place!) He was great at marketing taking out numerous newspaper adverts and creating elaborate shop window displays in the same way that people flock to Selfridges or any big department store in cities around the world during Christmas to see their displays. He would show off his baked goods, including his version of the kipfel which utilised a steam oven using moist hay to give his pastries a luxurious and more-ish sheen.
The highest form of flattery is imitation and when Zang sold his bakery to move back to Austria (to create the country's first daily newspaper and make a fortune in banking and mining - he was quite busy), Parisians were quick to try to create their own bakeries based on his template. By 1840 there were a dozen "makers of Viennese bread, employing one hundred workers" according to 19th century French journalist Herve de Kerohant.
Just a few decades later this puffed pastry version of the kipfel was a staple of French breakfast food making Charles Dickens praise on a visit to Paris in 1872 "the dainty croissant on the boudoir table" noting their superiority to the baked breakfast goods on offer in England.
Are they French? Are the Austrian? Should Austrian's claim croissant heritage too? Well, why not sit back and think about it with a warm, crumbly, croissant...and just bless that they were invented at all!
So here's to August Zang, steam ovens and puffed pastry!
If an apple a day is good for your health, a croissant a day is good for your soul!