Is there anything more quintessentially French than a croissant? Well, yes, as it happens – because the origins of the croissant lie in Austria.
Some people imagine that the rise of the croissant is all thanks to the Austrian-born queen of France, Marie-Antoinette. They would be wrong, however. She lost her head long before the French lost their hearts to the humble pastry.
The croissant became in demand in France in the late 1830s – thanks to the popularity of Austrian bakeries in Paris. They sold viennoiseries, offering their customers kipfel alongside such delicacies as Kaiser rolls and Viennese bread.
Kipfel were crescent-shaped breads made with butter or lard, often sweetened with sugar or almonds. Laid out in stylish displays in bakeries in the capital’s most upmarket arrondissements, they became the pastry of choice.
In a bid to keep their share of the market, French bakers soon set about making their own version. Swapping the heavy dough for a lighter, flaky treat made using puff pastry, they changed the breakfast table forever.
“Swapping the heavy dough for a lighter, flaky treat using puff pastry, French bakers changed the breakfast table forever”
In doing so, they created a classic that has become almost an ambassador for France across the world. The mere smell of one can evoke shady pavement cafés on the Left Bank.
As I bit into a fresh croissant this morning from Real Pâtisserie, Brighton’s French bakery, I was grateful to those original Austrian bakers – and, more importantly, to their French imitators.