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A symbol of the French breakfast, the croissant actually comes from Austria, probably originating in the 13th Century.
The main ingredient in this soft pastry is unsalted butter, which is spread on the dough before baking. This is what gives the croissant its flaky, buttery flavor.
The name “croissant” actually means “crescent” – the magical pastry that fluffs up while baking.
While croissant dough may look like puff pastry, they are actually two different worlds. Unlike puff pastry - which is made with flour, water, salt and butter - the special croissant dough requires the addition of sugar, milk, fresh yeast and eggs.
At the 1889 World’s Fair, the event for which the Tour Eiffel was built, croissants made their debut among other, more technical inventions.
The pride of French cuisine, together with the baguette, the croissant is also a daily habit for the nation. It’s been a French national product since 1920.
Less buttery, but just as flaky and in the same shape: the gipfeli is the Swiss version of the croissant, which is often served at lunchtime with savory fillings like ham and local cheese.
There are many explanations for the half-moon shape of the croissant. The most widespread is that the Viennese made the pastries in the same shape as the Islamic flag when under attack by the Turks.
Some Islamic fundamentalists have banned the croissant, because its shape is similar to their religious symbol.
In France, the croissant is often filled with jam and jelly at home. In some countries, like Italy, croissants are sold in bakeries already filled. In Germany, Nutella is the most popular filling.
The name of the world’s first croissant, in Austrian, is kipferl. It has been traced all the way back to 1200, in both simple versions as well as topped with almonds, hazelnuts or fruit.
The most famous tea house in Paris, on the rue Champs Elysées, is most famous for its macarons, but it also serves exceptional croissants.
On the feast day of San Martino, on November 11th – a national holiday in Poland – glazed croissants topped with sugar sprinkles and hazelnuts are a traditional treat.
One of the most famous alternatives to the French croissant is the Neopolitan brioche. It’s less buttery, but puffier. In Southern Italy it’s also called a cornetto, as it recalls the shape of a horn, a popular good-luck charm.
A recent scandal: industrially produced croissants are overtaking those made by Parisian bakers. The press is calling the trend “croissant outsourcing”.
Pain au chocolat
In France, the croissant competes for first place in the breakfast ranking with its rectangular, chocolate-filled version, the pain au chocolat.
Queen Maire Antoinette
The Queen of the French Revolution is famously attributed for the phrase, “Let them eat cake”. But what she really said, when told that the population was in revolt because they had no bread, was, “Let them eat croissant”.
The best croissant in Paris can be found at Pierre Hermè, on Rue Bonaparte – on the left bank of the Seine. Salted – Eaten with savory filings, the croissant is a popular substitute for bread when making lunchtime sandwiches.
A cross between a croissant and a doughnut? The cronut is a recent culinary trend in the U.S., and has already been trademarked.
Like when making most sweets, croissants should always be made with unbleached flour, which gives the pastry its creamy color.
Small, artisinal pastry shops in France are called “Viennoiserie” and they specialize in pain au chocolat, brioche and traditional Austrian sweets that have become a symbol of French cuisine.
In the recent hit by Kanye West, “I am God”, he rallies against the long cooking time needed to make a croissant. French boulangers responded by listing the recipe and cooking time needed for making the perfect croissant.
Thanks to the influence of his wife, Marie Antoinette, the reign of Louis XVI – the last decades of the 18th Century – is famous for having brought many of France’s best delicacies to the kingdom – including the croissant.
“Yakitate!!” means, “freshly baked” in Japanese. And one of Japan’s most popular Manga characters has to bake a croissant with 324 layers of dough.
In 1839, a retired Austrian officer named Auguste Zang opened what is considered the first viennoiserie in Paris, making kipfel, among other sweets. The pastry was only called “croissant” after 1850.