(NEWS10) — Today January 30 is recognized as National Croissant Day!
The tasty, flaky, buttery treat can be considered culturally iconic when it comes to breakfast foods. Although, how many people know the history of this delectable treat?
According to Smithsonian Magazine, the French apparently viewed the croissant as a foreign novelty as recently as the 19th century only sold in special Viennese bakeries in the more expensive parts of Paris.
Just how the flaky treat came to become a Parisian icon remains a mystery shrouded in layers of legend.
Experts say the croissant was inspired by the Austrian kipfel, a crescent-shaped baked good that included lots of butter or lard and sometimes sugar and almonds.
Although experts agree on this origin of the croissant, Jim Chevallier, an independent scholar and author of a book on croissant history does not believe the croissant’s Austrian ancestry contributes to its French fame.
“The croissant began as the Austrian kipfel but became French the moment people began to make it with puffed pastry, which is a French innovation,” says Chevallier. “It has fully taken root in its adopted land.”
Apparently, if you try to order a kipfel in Austria or Germany today, all you will get is a crescent- shaped cookie.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, legend credits the French queen Marie Antoinette as being homesick for her native Vienna, craving the traditional food, and thus introduced the kipfel, eventually known as the croissant, to France. However, Chevallier does not see any substantial evidence in this.
“I find this surprising,” he says, “since she received as much attention in her time as the Kardashians and Taylor Swift do today.” No references to the croissant appeared in France before approximately 1850. The historical evidence pointed instead to an Austrian entrepreneur named August Zang, who opened the first Viennese bakery in Paris in 1838, located at 92 Rue Richelieu on the Right Bank. Zang’s knack for marketing through newspaper advertising and elaborate window displays had Parisians flocking to his establishment to sample his Vienna bread, kaiser rolls, and kipfel. His patented steam oven used moist hay to give the pastries a lustrous sheen, notes Chevallier.
According to 19th-century French journalist Hervé de Kerohant, several Viennese bread makers were popping up around Paris employing one-hundred workers. By 1840 the famed pastry was a hit.
After several years the new food had become a staple in French morning cuisine. Smithsonian Magazine says that famed writer Charles Dickens praised “the dainty croissant on the boudoir table” in comparison to other types of English bread or other breakfast foods.
Today the famed food has taken a much different form from the original hand made treats as manufacturing and fast-food have become so apart of modern life. In a 1984 New York Times article, the headline read, “The Americanization of the croissant” thus marking a new era in food production.
Several variations of the croissant now exist such as the “Cronut” a doughnut made with croissant dough, or pretzels and bagels made with the same dough.
“A derivative may be good, but it is not a croissant,” insists the Parisian master baker Éric Kayser, whose book The Larousse Book of Bread: Recipes to Make at Home was just published by Phaidon. “A croissant is a traditional product that has been sought after and consistently popular over the years because of its specific taste and texture. The croissant will continue to remain a best seller.”
In the U.S., 2014 winner of the “best butter croissant”award from the Professional Chamber of Boulangers-Patissiers, Michael Lyczak who makes all of his croissants by hand, explained the secret to a great croissant.
“The secret of an excellent croissant,” says the 51-year-old, “is the quality of the ingredients: sugar, salt, flour, milk, eggs, and of course, butter.” For this last, he swears by a variety from the southwestern region of Poitou-Charentes, carefully washing it in spring water before folding it by hand into the pastry dough. He uses high-protein flour and pure, fresh milk, which, he adds, “must be cold.”
After flattening and folding the dough, he cuts it into triangles by hand, then refrigerates it for 12 hours to ferment. “If you don’t do that,” he explains, “you won’t get the layers and just end up with bread.”
When it comes to this flaky, airy, buttery pastry, Lyczak said on the notion of daily bread, “A little croissant every day won’t do you any harm.”