Flaky, buttery, delicious,… political?

The interesting history behind our beloved pastries

There is a variety of attributes that we like to look for in our morning pastries. Is it good with coffee? Or perhaps with a cup of tea? Can I put some jam on it and call it breakfast? But it’s unlikely that any pastry is given much thought beyond its characteristic flavors and visual appeal. And perhaps the most iconic of our favorite carbs is a Croissant, the modern recipe of which we owe to the French. But just like many things that we sometimes take for granted, this pastry has an interesting past that reveals an attribute way beyond its flavor. Or rather a few.

These pastries first appeared long ago in Austria, in the 13th century. Around that time they were called kipferl. They were a crescent-shaped, plain, and sweet pastry without its characteristic flaky texture that is so loved today. Their popularity was rather low at the time, but in the first half of the 17th century, they became the center of an interesting story.

There is a legend saying that bakers helped the Austrians to thwart the plans of the enemy. In 1683 Ottoman soldiers laid siege to Vienna in an attempt to conquer the city. At night, when a Viennese baker was lighting his ovens to prepare the morning bread, he heard the sound of shovels and picks and realized that the Ottoman soldiers were digging a tunnel under the city’s wall. Without delay, he told the Austrian commanders about this, and they managed to prevent the siege.

To commemorate the victory, the city officials have allowed the baker to exclusively bake crescent-shaped pastries for all the townspeople to celebrate. The crescent shape of the pastry meant to mimic the crescent on the Turkish flag, thus everyone in town enjoyed “eating the enemy”.

Later on, in the early 19th century, August Zang has popularized his recipe for Viennese crescent pastries in France, in his esteemed Boulangerie Viennoise, where they got coined croissants among the French.

So there it is. The next time we eat croissants, we might think of their flavor, texture, condiments to accompany them with, and maybe that one baker who saved Vienna, one night, long ago. Bon Appetit!