29 Jan 2023
To most, croissants are as quintessentially French as the Eiffel Tower or the French national flag. But to delve into the history of this classic patisserie item is to follow a meandering myth-laden path of discovery that shows the croissants we love today are a relatively recent evolution of the recipe.
There are several stories that claim to explain the origins of how croissants came to be. Whilst experts have done their best to debunk most of these apochryphal tales, one thing that the historical evidence shows more definitively is that the story of the croissant begins in Austria, not in France.
It is widely understood that the croissant of today is a descendent of the ‘kipferl’ (or kipfel) - an Austrian, crescent-shaped pastry that resembles a thinner, denser croissant made with a generous amount of butter and often served topped with sugar and almonds.
The Austrian kipferl dates back as far as 1683
Though the croissant’s Austrian heritage is widely accepted, the story of the kipferl’s origin is also rife with myth. According to legend, the kipferl originated in the late 17th Century as a celebration of the Austrian victory over the Ottoman Empire at the siege of Vienna.
As the story goes, Viennese bakers (who would often work in cellars) were up early to start their day’s work and heard the Ottomans attempting to tunnel into the heavily walled city. The bakers sounded the alarm, and the Austrians were able to vanquish their would-be attackers.
To celebrate their heroism, the Viennese bakers created the kipferl with its curved shape made to resemble the crescent moon of the Ottoman flag.
This story, however, is widely disregarded, with experts claiming that the kipferl (or relatives of it) can be dated as far back as the 13th Century.
Regardless of the kipferl’s origin, how then did this Viennese delicacy become France’s most beloved patisserie item? As you may now have come to expect, there are a number of tall tales.
One legend attributes the kipferl’s introduction to Paris, having come from Austrian-born Marie Antoinette bringing the delicacy over when she married King Louis XVI in 1770. This is yet another myth!
The real birth of the croissant is more accurately attributed to August Zang, an Austrian entrepreneur who opened a Viennese-style boulangerie in Paris in 1838.
August Zag’s Boulangerie Viennoise at 92 Rue Richelieu, Paris
It was here, known locally as simply “Zang’s”, that Parisians first encountered what would become the croissant. Though Zang’s was only open for two years, his unique Vienneserie products and marketing acumen (using newspaper advertising and lavish window displays to entice customers) made his kipferl a sensation; so much so that by the time Zang’s closed in 1840, there were already a dozen imitators baking his beloved crescent-shaped delicacy.
It wasn’t long before these pastries were firmly cemented in Parisian culture, with the French word ‘croissant’ (meaning ‘crescent’) replacing the original Austrian name.
Undoubtedly, August Zang would never have predicted the global impact his Parisian-Viennese invention would have. Fast forward from 1838 to today, and the popularity of croissants worldwide is truly staggering.
A recent study valued the size of the global croissant market at 6663.1 million USD, with a projected growth expected to reach 8574.66 million USD by 2027¹.
Spanning over an 800-year period from 13th Century Austria through to global significance in the modern day, the story of the croissant is truly a remarkable one. Even more remarkably is that, though we’ve been enjoying these incredibly popular and palatable pastries for hundreds of years, there are still new and exciting takes on the recipe being created.
Hungry for croissant recipes?
Take a look at our blog article showcasing some of our favorite croissant recipes you can try this Croissant Day.