The Surprisingly Complex History of the Crescent

The Surprisingly Complex History of the Crescent

There is perhaps nothing as quintessentially Parisian as a croissant, with its crisp golden exterior and tender layers of buttery bliss inside. But take a look at any bakery, from New York to Melbourne, these days, and you’ll find that the croissant has been transformed into a host of portmanteau pastries, from the cruffin to the Cronut. Recently, Paris even has its own breakfast: a mixture of croissant and 100% American chocolate chip cookie called “crookie”.

Such creations may seem irreverent, especially given French gastronomy’s reverence for tradition. But given the complicated history of the country’s most iconic pastry, these outspoken pastries aren’t as blasphemous as you might think.

The international origins of the croissant hide in plain sight in any classic bakery (bakery). Neither pain (bread) neither pastry shop (Pastry shop), the crescent is technically a pastries, a category of breakfast buns that also houses chocolate-filled buns Chocolate bread Or Apple turnover, a “slipper” of puff pastry filled with applesauce. The name of the category testifies to its origins, not in Paris, but rather in Vienna.

Armchair historians paint a nice picture of the birth of the crescent during the Ottoman siege of the Austrian capital in 1683, and some even go so far as to credit Marie Antoinette for bringing it to Paris. In reality, it is to August Zang, originally from Vienna, that we owe the arrival in the 1830s of the proto-croissant, which he presented to Parisians in his bakery on rue de Richelieu, the Boulangerie Viennoise . His Viennese fantasy pains – literally “fancy breads” – then stood out from the Parisian offering thanks to a new leavening technology based on fast-acting brewer’s yeast rather than sourdough and frequent enrichment with butter, eggs, sugar or milk.

The Parisians have gone gaga over the results and have no shortage of imitators, particularly kipferl, a leavened pastry croissant enriched with butter. But while this Viennese specialty may have resembled a croissant in shape, its texture was far from the characteristic flakiness that sees most croissant eaters’ chic scarves dotted with traces of their breakfast.

A croissant is made using a technique called lamination, which involves “flipping” or folding yeast dough three times around sheets of butter, creating 27 layers of butter enclosed within 28 layers of dough. And rolling the croissant, according to Jim Chevallier, author of August Zang and the French Croissant, was a French idea, albeit by way of the Arab world, where rolling had already been used since the 13th century.

According to Patrick Rambourg, culinary historian and author of History of gastronomic Paris: From the Middle Ages to the present day (History of gastronomic Paris: From the Middle Ages to the present day), it was not until the end of the 19th century that the word croissant would be consistently used to describe leavened dough rolled onto a marble slab and folded into a croissant – the French word for croissant.

The croissant is therefore relatively new in the French culinary landscape – and it is far from being sacrosanct. Its most proven variation is perhaps the viennoiserie from the north of France nicknamed a pain au chocolat and which southerners call a chocolatine: The dough wrapped around two bars of dark chocolate to form a soft rectangle cannot rightly be called a “chocolate croissant”.



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