Since the middle of the 20th century, the croissant has been one of the most emblematic elements of French breakfasts. However few may know that this national symbol has a foreign origin.
The ancestor of the croissant, the Kipferl, can be traced back to the 13th century in Eastern Europe. As early as the year 1000 in Austria, it was baked in convents around Easter celebrations, and some sources mention it as early as the 5th century, but in a religious context. In 1549, the Queen of France had 40 of these baked, allegedly to commemorate the alliance between Francis I and Soleiman the Magnificent of Turkey.
One theory holds that Marie Antoinette was the one to make this delicacy popular in France, around 1770. The queen being of Austrian origin, and coming from Vienna, the croissant and all of its kin were then called “Viennoiseries”, and they are still called that today in France.
Its shape reminds us of the Ottoman moon crescent symbol, and is related to the victory of the Viennese against the Ottomans in the 17th century. That also evokes the origin of the term “Viennoiseries” to designate these kinds of baked sweets. There are a few related stories: one of them holds that during the siege of Vienna by the Turks in 1683, the Ottoman army tried to dig a tunnel at night, hoping to surprise attack the city by morning. However, the bakers of Vienna, who woke up very early during the night to bake their wares, provided the decisive alarm to the city’s army and prevented disaster. To commemorate the victory, the bakers were given the right to shape the form of this pastry to remind us of the Ottoman moon crescent symbol. A similar story exists for the siege of Budapest in 1689.
The term Croissant appears in France for the first time in 1869 in the Pierre Larousse dictionary, defined as a little piece of bread having the shape of a crescent, made with prime quality flower and water mixed with beaten eggs. It is generally agreed that the unique trait of the French croissant, among many variables, is its use of puff (layer) pastry dough as opposed to brioche, or flake pastry dough.