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Grim's Grub: The foreign origin of a national icon

This myth of a boomerang shaped pastry keeps coming back.

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com
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There is a popular story about Vienna.

While the rest of the city slept one night/early morning in 1683, the bakers were busy preparing their wares for the day. As most everyone else was sleeping, they found it suspicious when they started hearing noises they didn't recognize.

They alerted the city guards, who in turn were able to fend off an invasion of Turks who were tunneling into the city.

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Traditional Viennese sweet pastry rolls kifli or kipfel sprinkled with peanuts and icing sugar.
Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

To celebrate, the bakers made crescent shaped pastries. The pastries were crescent shaped like the symbol on the Turkish flag. The pastries were called kipfel, or kipferl (German for "crescent").

Some say they also invented cappuccino at the same time.

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It's an interesting, fun story, but unfortunately history tells it differently. Kipfel had existed for over 300 years before this supposed celebration.

Regardless of that fact, this pastry's collision with French culture created something far more familiar today.

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Making puff pastry. Bring dough to centre of butter to enclose it completely.
Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

In France 30 years prior, an important culinary staple was first put into print. It was the famous pate feuilletee, or puff pastry, which is still the cornerstone to French baking and pastries today.

It had existed prior to this year, but it was then that Francois Pierre de la Varenne first put France's pastry arts into print in his book "Le Patissier Francois." It would take a historical moment to bring these two baked goods together.

That moment was the 1770 marriage of the Austrian Princess Marie Antoinette and King Louis XIV. Their union brought viennoiserie pastries (pastries from Vienna or inspired by Vienna) to high society in France.

As it often does, Viennese foods eventually trickled down into the common shops and dining rooms.

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Zang's croissants were flakier than the brioche-like kipfel, but not how we know it today. At some point bakers in France combined Zang's recipe with puff pastry.
Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

As wealth in the 1800s grew in France, more people gained access to formerly elite ingredients like eggs, butter and sugar. This paved the way for innovation.

Journalist August Zang opened a pastry shop in Paris in the 1830s. Zang combined a sandwich bread with the popular kipfel shape to make the earliest version of the croissant, though it still wasn't the croissant we know and love today.

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Zang's croissants were flakier than the brioche-like kipfel, but not how we know it today. At some point bakers in France combined Zang's recipe with puff pastry.

The first written record of this combination was in Sylvain Claudius Goy's "La cuisine Anglo-Americaine" in 1915. (This recipe is included as a bonus for online readers because it's so long.) Authentic croissants made today are still a variation of Goy's.

Admittedly, the true origin of the croissant isn't quite so fun as the tall tale, but it still tells a story,

Modern Croissants

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

Measurements are from bakingamoment.com. The method is adapted from a traditional puff pastry.

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cup (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (do not microwave!)
  • 1 cup milk, approximately
  • 1 large egg beaten with a teaspoon of water

Whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add milk and stir together into a stiff dough. Wrap the dough and chill it for one hour.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out into a rectangle, about 1/3 of an inch thick or less. Transfer this to a pan for easy transport. Spread the softened butter over the top of the dough, then place this pan somewhere cold to harden the butter for about 15 minutes.

Once the butter is solid, take the dough back out. Fold the rectangle into thirds like a letter. Roll this out to another rectangle about 1/3 of an inch thick. Repeat the folding and rolling steps 2-4 more times.

Wrap the dough in plastic and chill it for 1 more hour, then divide it in half. Roll each half into a thickness about 1/8 inch thick in a rectangle about 10 inches by 22 inches long. Cut this into long, skinny triangles about 5 inches at the wide end.

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Traditional French croissants made from butter are left straight, called Coissants au Beurre. Those made with margarine are called Croissants Ordinaires and they are traditionally twisted into a half moon shape.

In the center of the wide end, place a 1/2 inch long slice, then roll the dough into a cylinder, starting at the wide end. Finish by tucking the point under the croissant, to keep it from unrolling. Allow to proof until doubled in size, approximately 1-2 hours.

Brush the tops with egg wash, then bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Kipfel

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Austrian pastry rolls kifli of kipfel sprinkled with nuts and icing sugar.
Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

Courtesy of memoriesandrecipes.com/recipe/2020/10/09/en-kiflice.html

  • 600 grams flour
  • 1 envelope yeast
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 beaten egg yolk
  • Caraway seeds

Mix the flour, yeast, oil and two eggs into a firm, uniform dough. Allow the dough to rise for one hour.

Knead the dough, adding more flour if the texture is excessively sticky. Divide it into 4 or more dough balls (more means smaller kipfel). Roll each dough ball into a circle, 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, then cut into pizza slice like pieces, about 2 inches at the wide end.

Take each "slice" and roll it from the wide end and place it onto a buttered or parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Once all kipfel are on the pan, brush with egg yolk and sprinkle with seeds. Allow to rise until doubled, then bake at 350 degrees for 10-20 minutes, checking whether a toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean at 10 minutes and every five minutes thereafter.

1915 Croissants

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

The earliest documented croissant recipe, by Sylvain Claudius Goy in the 1915 "La cuisine Anglo-Americaine"

  • 1 kilogram flour, for 32 croissants
  • 250 grams of butter
  • 15 grams of yeast
  • 15 grams of salt
  • About 5 deciliters of milk

Proof the yeast by combining the yeast, a quarter of the flour and enough of the milk to make a soft, but not sticky dough. Allow this to double in volume and then add the rest of the flour, salt, milk and half the butter to create a larger ball of dough. Allow it to rise until doubled again.
When doubled, flour a rolling surface and turn the dough onto it. Roll out the dough into a square and then spread the remainder of the butter over the center of the dough in the shape of a square turned 90 degrees from the dough. Fold the four corners of the dough into the center and roll out again. Repeat this twice. Allow to rest well.

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Roll the dough eight millimeters thick. Cut into small squares 4-5 centimeters across. Fold the corners of each over the center and mold into a ball. Allow to rest. Sprinkle heavily with flour and then roll out like small patties. Butter half of the surface, then roll from the non-buttered side. Shape into a crescent with the open corner upward.

Allow to double in size. Brush with egg yolks and bake approximately 20 minutes at 375 degrees or until cooked throughout and golden on the outside.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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