The impact that Marie Antoinette had on France is astounding. And we can add one more, quite surprising, thing to the list: croissants.
While these delicious treats have become a daily staple and international symbol for France, croissants- and all of the wonderful viennoiseries we attribute to France- are, in fact, Austrian-inspired.
It is said that Marie Antoinette asked the royal bakers to make her favorite homeland treat, the kipfel, popularizing this sometimes crescent shaped baked good in France.
The kipfel (aka, the kifli, kiflice, kifle or kipferl,), is a cookie or bread roll . It was much denser than the delicate French croissants. Legends say the crescent shape comes from quite another event in history, the victory the Austrians had over the Ottomans at the siege of Vienna. Apparently a baker who was up in the wee hours of the night heard the Turks tunneling under the city and sounded the alarm. The crescent shape could be the horn used to alert the village or the moon on the Ottoman flag.
In 1839, about 50 or so years after Marie Antoinette’s royal request, an Austrian officer, August Zang, opened a Viennese bakery. Boulangerie Viennoise, became famous throughout Paris for its delicious treats (seeing the connection to viennoiserie, now!) and one of his specialties was- you guessed it, the kipfel. Zang’s kipfel were crescent shaped as well, hence the term “croissant” which means, “crescent” in French!
It is unclear whether Zang was the one to alter the recipe or if it was the French bakers who made the changes. But the French embraced this crescent shaped treat and, over time, the French influence and their love for puff pastry lead to a dough that was lighter and more delicate, and thus, the French croissant was born!