BY ZUBIN D’SOUZA
There is absolutely no coffee shop in the world that does not stock one of the most easily recognisable pastries in the world – the croissant. There are variations of the original version, businesses that revolve around a croissant as a central theme and an entire nation that has citizens who would be in for a rude shock if one day they simply ceased to exist.
Who would have thought that such a weird shaped food would be so much in demand? Why weird shape? Well, in my opinion, it is rather difficult to manoeuvre crescent shaped bread into a coffee or tea cup.
The croissant is a star in its own right and although it may have inspired spinoffs, saved lives and endured centuries of over exposure, there is no bakery or coffee shop in the world that would do without this delectable flaky bread.
Well, the croissant originated from Vienna in Austria, which pretty much is a certainty and history corroborates this version. In France and most other European nations, it was very usually referred to as Viennese bread. The only part under dispute is the origin of the characteristic crescent shape.
The pastry itself uses a technique called lamination which is the folding of the dough several times and placing butter in each layer so that when the finished product rolls out of the oven, it carries with itself that beautiful aroma, the layered texture and the melt in your mouth feel. One night, during the siege of Vienna which was taking place somewhere in the 18th Century, there were some Viennese bakers toiling away in front of their wood fired ovens when they heard potential Ottoman invaders trying to scale over the fort walls. They raised an alarm immediately and the invaders were repelled and the siege lifted. The next day the bakers shaped their traditional bread called kipferl into the present day crescent shape to mimic the crescent moon on the banner of the Ottomans. There is another story that predates this one by about eight hundred years or so that sees the bakers celebrating a win over the Persians but by most other accounts, the technique of laminating dough had not arisen as yet. The croissant got its name from the French word for crescent.
Amongst the spinoffs, the most famous is probably the Danish pastry and the story that accompanies it. Apparently, the king of Denmark, on one of his visits to the Royal French court was totally taken up by the croissant and being so passionate, he sent his chief baker over to learn the techniques of creating this light, wondrous bread. When the baker came over, he was more interested in the charming French ladies at the court and spent most of his time being initiated in a different form of French passion. When he returned home, the king was eager to sample what his baker had learnt. Now the baker, before being whisked away into a series of arduous pursuits, learnt how to make the basic dough but he forgot the exact way and shape it was to be rolled out in. To save himself from being flogged and then held in a dungeon at his majesty’s pleasure, the quick thinking baker then formed a series of differently shaped breads, topped them with a series of fresh fruits, fruit purees and several innovative forms of sugar and presented them to the king. Needless to say the king loved them. Although he was a bit suspicious that he could not find his familiar crescent shape amongst the throng placed before him, his suspicions were set aside when the baker told him that these pastries were specially created in honor of the king and for the Danish people. The name stuck, the world got to sample the wonderful creations and café owners the world over thanked these nameless bakers.
Now every time you try to wrestle a curved croissant in a straight coffee cup, remember not to complain and moan about the shape. It celebrates the night when lives were saved and the overthrow of a city averted.