History of the Croissant
Everyone is familiar with the croissant as a staple of French cuisine. The word croissant brings to mind a flaky, buttery pastry often served with coffee, or perhaps filled with cheeses or meats in its savory incarnation.
However, the history of the croissant is a much disputed mystery. Scholars offer several different versions of how the croissant came into existence.
The earliest story dates to 1683, during the Ottoman Turks siege of Vienna. Legend has it that a baker working late at night heard the Turks tunneling under the walls of the city and alerted the military.
The military collapsed the tunnel in on the Turks and eliminated the threat, saving the city. The baker baked a crescent shaped pastry in the shape of the Turkís Islamic emblem, the crescent moon, so that when his fellow Austrians bit into the croissant, they would be symbolically devouring the Turks.
This exact same legend is told years later, but instead of being set in Vienna, it is set in Budapest, Hungary. All the details are the same except for the nationality of the baker and his city.
Another legend tells that Marie Antoinette popularized the croissant in France by requesting the royal bakers replicate her favorite treat from her homeland, Austria.
King Louis the XVI of France had brought her to France as a young princess at age 15 and she must have been missing a pastry called the "kipfel", an Austrian staple. The legend goes that the royal bakers copied the croissant from her description of the kipfel, and the new pastry was so popular in France that it became a French culinary institution.
The last and most likely true story concerns an Austrian artillery officer who opened up a bakery in France and popularized many Austrian foods, including the kripfel. This story takes place about fifty years later than the Marie Antoinette legend, so it would seem that if anything, Austrian kipfel pastry was being brought to France and refurbished as the croissant by the early 1800ís.
If you are interested in further reading about the history of the croissant,The Food Timeline has a good summary and a recipe from the mid-19th century for almond croissants.
OChef has a great croissant recipe if you would like to try your hand at baking croissants at home.
The Hungarian Girl blog has a more detailed telling of the legends summarized here.