Croissants are a delicious and iconic French pastry that has become popular worldwide. Their flaky, crescent-shaped goodness leaves many craving for more. Here are 12 interesting facts about croissants that will delight croissant lovers.
A croissant is a buttery, flaky viennoiserie pastry named for its distinctive crescent shape. Croissants are made by layering yeast-leavened dough with butter, then repeatedly folding and rolling the dough to create thin layers. This process is called laminating and results in the signature flaky texture of croissants.
Once largely unknown outside of Austria and France, the croissant has become an internationally beloved food item over the past century. Read on to uncover some fascinating facts about the origins, history, and popularity of the croissant.
1. Croissants originated in Austria, not France
Contrary to popular belief, croissants did not originate in France. The earliest known version of the croissant can be traced back to Austria in the 13th century. Called “kipferl” or “kipfel”, these crescent-shaped baked goods were made from bread dough rather than the laminated yeast dough used for modern croissants. Some historians believe kipferl was created in celebration of the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, bearing the shape of the crescent on the Turkish flag.
The kipferl later inspired French bakers, who developed the technique of laminating dough with butter to create viennoiserie pastries. However, it was not until the 1900s that croissants as we know them came about.
2. The invention of croissants is shrouded in legends
While the true origins of the croissant are uncertain, there are a few popular legends surrounding how the pastry came to France.
One story claims that Marie Antoinette introduced croissants to France after missing the Austrian kipferl from her childhood. Another legend attributes the croissant’s invention to a French baker who shaped it after the Ottoman Empire’s crescent flag, to celebrate a victory over the Turks.
The most well-known tale credits its creation to a Viennese baker who alerted Austrian troops to a tunnel being dug by Ottoman invaders, resulting in victory over the Turks in 1683. To commemorate this, the baker supposedly created the crescent-shaped pastry.
3. Croissants were once an upper-class delicacy
In the 19th century, croissants were initially only accessible to the upper classes in France. This was because the main ingredients, butter, and eggs, were very expensive at the time. The average French person would have considered croissants a luxury good.
It was only by the end of the 19th century, with the advent of industrialization making ingredients more affordable, that croissants became available to the middle class.
4. Straight versus crescent – shape indicates ingredients
In France, the shape of a croissant reveals the type of fat used to make it. By tradition, straight croissants (croissants aux amandes) are made with butter, while curved croissants (croissants ordinaires) are made with cheaper margarine or vegetable oils.
This practice allows consumers to easily identify which croissants are the higher quality, all-butter version. However, not all French bakeries follow this standard today.
5. France consumes millions of croissants daily
The croissant has become an integral part of French cuisine and culture. About 12 million croissants are consumed in France every day.
Even McDonald’s failed in its attempt to introduce the French public to American-style breakfast muffins, proving that the croissant remains the breakfast pastry of choice for the French.
6. Croissant dough is different from puff pastry
While croissants and puff pastries are both made by layering dough with butter, the doughs are different. Croissant dough contains yeast, milk, sugar, salt, and eggs in addition to flour, butter, and water. Puff pastry dough only has flour, butter, water, and salt.
This difference in ingredients gives croissants a distinct flavor and texture from puff pastries. Croissants are lighter and flakier, while puff pastries are crisper and more crumbly.
7. High-quality croissants have over a hundred layers
Expert croissant bakers can create up to a hundred layers or more in a single croissant by folding the dough over itself repeatedly. More layers mean greater height, flakiness, and crispness.
The highest quality croissants undergo a three-stage process: folding the dough, rolling it out, and then shaping it into crescents. This process multiplies the number of layers significantly.
8. There are many different types of filled croissants
In addition to the plain, traditional French croissant, there are many popular filled croissant varieties found around the world. Some examples include:
- Pain au chocolat – croissant with chocolate inside
- Almond croissant – croissant with almond filling
- Cheese croissant – croissant with cheese filling
- Fruit croissants – with apple, apricot, or other fruit fillings
- Savory croissants – with ham, spinach, pizza fillings etc.
9. Croissant hybrids like the cronut have gone viral
The cronut, a croissant doughnut hybrid invented by French chef Dominique Ansel in 2013, sparked a global craze for croissant hybrid pastries. Bakeries all over started experimenting with their croissant mashups, like the coffee (croissant + waffle), the cookie (croissant + cookie), and many more.
This trend gave the classic croissant renewed popularity and inspired creative variations using croissant dough.
10. Frozen, pre-made dough has made croissants ubiquitous
The availability of ready-to-bake frozen croissant dough has allowed croissants to be offered freshly baked on demand all over the world. Even fast food chains like Burger King and Dunkin Donuts sell hot croissant breakfast sandwiches made from pre-made frozen dough.
About 30-40% of croissants sold in French bakeries today are said to be made from frozen dough. However, traditional bakers insist that frozen dough makes inferior quality croissants compared to those made entirely from scratch.
11. January 30th is National Croissant Day
Croissant lovers now have a day dedicated to celebrating their favorite pastry. National Croissant Day falls on January 30th every year in the United States 1. No one knows exactly how or when the holiday originated, but it’s become an annual excuse to enjoy buttery, flaky croissants.
12. Croissants inspire art, music, books and more
Such is the global adoration for the croissant that it has inspired numerous cultural tributes. The croissant has been the subject of artworks, novels, songs, TV shows, and even a Japanese manga comic series titled Yakitate!! Japan, is about a boy striving to create the perfect croissant.
The iconic pastry continues to be a muse for creators across cultural mediums.
With its fluffy, multilayered texture and subtly sweet flavor, the croissant has become one of the world’s favorite pastries. Despite its presumed French origins, the croissant has Austrian roots. Over the centuries, it evolved from a plain yeast roll to the butter-layered viennoiserie we know and love today. The croissant’s popularity has spread across continents while spurring many creative variations. For pastry fans, these buttery crescents are the perfect combination of flaky and delicious.