FOOD HISTORY: Croissant
One would think that the history of the croissant would be an eminently
exhaustible subject. But after posting the following to the list:
An authority on French breads repeats what I've heard elsewhere, that Marie-Antoinette brought the croissant to France. He also references a tale found in the Larousse Gastronomique about Austrian bakers inventing the croissant.
I should say right off I believe both are wrong.
However, this is the kind of thing that lives or dies on very little evidence. In this case, one would think that, given the slavish imitation of everything the court did, if the queen had introduced a new, finer form of bread, there would at least have been a brief 'mode' of such foodstuffs. Otherwise, at least someone would have mentioned it either at Versailles or in higher
rungs of society.
No such reference have I found and in fact there's some evidence that the croissant isn't even mentioned until mid to late 19th century. The Oxford Companion to Food places it there or later, though doesn't provide any more evidence than those it contradicts. The Magasin Pittoresque DOES note the nice smells of freshly baked croissants in 1899, so there's at least that. A book on trades though from 1878 lists brioches, chaussons aux pommes and other breads generally associated with the croissant these days, but not the beast itself.
the discoveries continue. 1868 still seems to be the earliest mention (in a dictionary) of the croissant in France. As a private correspondant pointed out, that means the word probably came into popular use in the 50's.
The first French reference to croissant 'in the wild' - that is, outside a dictionary - I've found was in the Magasin Pittoresque in 1899. But looking to the American press - Harper's Bazaar, to be precise ("In a Little French Cuisine") - I find a lament in 1893 that Americans didn't have 'French boulangeries, with... "petit pains" and "croissants"". Even earlier - 1875 -, a
journalist for Littel's Living Age, traveling in Prussia, lists pastries in a bakeshop, some with German names, but among them 'croissants', in French. At the least, this shows Americans had known it as a French specialty for a while. But it also raises the nagging question: was the word the journalist's or the local people's? If the latter, if the croissant was indeed originally Viennese,
why wouldn't they use a German word?
On another track, it turns out that the French Notes and Queries -
L'Intermédiaire des chercheurs et curieux - from 1933 (about the time of the Larousse
Gastronomique's edition claiming it was invented in 1668 by bakers who'd helped defeat the Turks tale) had a query on this very subject:Croissant (boulangerie), 295, 514, 611, 854, 886 - http://visualiseur.bnf.fr/Visualiseur?Destination=Gallica&O=NUMM-73453.
[NOTE: The even pages can only be found in Gallica by subtracting 1 to get
the next odd number down]
The answers again repeat the tale of bakers saving Vienna from the Turks, and even the idea that Marie-Antoinette brought the croissant to France. But this time a later respondant actually gives sources - even if those are probably themselves now hard to find (and may not give any more concrete proof.): Felix Dubois - Histoire de la Boulangerie, and then a bunch of names, if anyone wants to try and find the books: Ammann, Baratte, Barth, Bouquin, Fouassier, Fritsch, Grospierre, Leblanc.
The only name I could find on Gallica was Leblanc. No croissant tales, but some of our amateur cooks might want this one anyway: Leblanc (pâtissier)- Nouveau manuel complet du patissier ou Traité complet et simplifié de la patisserie.
But better yet, one reply dates the croissant to WAY before Vienna - back to the Greeks, who supposedly had a pastry in the shape of a whole bull: "The Pythagoreans constructed cakes in a bovine shape, which were made with flour and honey." Supposedly such cakes were used to replace bloody sacrifices of the real thing. The item (a long one) traces various incarnations of the idea
which ended up reduced to a pair of horns (still in Greece, if you're following me here). "The Parisian Croissants are a survival of the Greek cakes..." The item ends with this bit of philosophy: "Our croissants, first sacred cake, are now only bourgeois bread, after the religious use, use period, then banal vulgarity, this is the constant rule in matters of human invention." (Marcel Baudoin)
By the way, Leblanc's work on pastry-making (from 1929 and part of the Encyclopedia Roret) doesn't mention croissants at all, though it has brioche and even (!) absinthe souffle. I'm also tickled to note it was published in Abbeville by the Paillard house - which currently occupies the
former convent that once hosted the young Chevalier de La Barre.
UPDATE (4/09, 5/09): An answer at last!
Having forged on since uncovering the above (and now somewhat superseded, if not exactly outdated) information, I have discovered just WHO brought the croissant to Paris (August Zang), and when (1839, though some say 1838). It's quite a story, and quickly outgrew the Web page I'd planned for it - hence this new work, available HERE and also for the Kindle:
Otherwise, for more about the croissant, the kipfel and the book, visit the page for the book.