French Flavours: C is for Croissant

Herry Wibisono (herryway), CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The croissant is an indispensable part of any French breakfast or pause café on a sunny café terrace. As quintessentially French as garlic and Gauloises. Except that it isn’t. It actually originated in Austria. More of that below. Yesterday was National Croissant Day, but that isn’t French, either. It’s an American festival. As far as I can tell, there is no equivalent in France, which may be a little surprising, given French people’s fondness for celebrating their products and dishes.

This flaky, buttery pastry in a crescent shape is similar to puff pastry. Do you like croissants? I’ll let you into a secret. I’m not that keen on them. I prefer pains au chocolat (or chocolatines, as they’re called down here), which are made from the same dough but in a rectangular shape. But then anything with chocolate in it floats my boat.

Origins

All sorts of legends are associated with the croissant’s origins, although none of them has been substantiated. The most commonly proposed is that they were invented to commemorate various victories over the Ottomans (the raising of the siege of Vienna in 1683 or the siege of Buda in 1686), whose crescent symbol adorned their flags.

The croissant’s roots can, however, be traced with reasonable certainty to its predecessor, the kipferl, in 13th-century Austria. This was a pastry made in various different shapes, sometimes plain, sometimes with a filling.

In the 1830s, a former Austrian army officer opened a Viennese bakery in Paris and imported the kipferl, which quickly became popular in its crescent shape and was re-baptised the croissant. References to it start to appear in the mid-late 19th century.

An elaborate process

Making croissants is an elaborate process. One pâtissier reckons there are 50 different aspects to master in order to make an authentic one. Since they are time-consuming, labour-intensive and not particularly profitable, it’s estimated that 80% of croissants made in France today are baked from industrially manufactured frozen dough, although this figure has not been substantiated.  

I’ve been unable to find a figure for the number of croissants produced. However, in 2017, there were around 35,000 boulangeries in France, so you can guess that it’s a lot.  

What should you eat with croissants? More butter (gilding the lily, perhaps)? Jam? Or should they be eaten au naturel, without embellishment? I think it’s a matter of personal taste. If I do eat one, I normally add jam. How do you prefer them?

I think croissants also lend themselves well to savoury treatment. I like to slice one almost through lengthways, fill it with ham and grated cheese, wrap it in foil, and bake it in the oven for 15 minutes or so until the cheese has melted. This is no doubt sacrilege, but how else does culinary innovation occur?!

Light at the end of the tunnel?

In other news, we were expecting to go back into lockdown at the end of last week. However, the government seems desperate to avoid that, and has instead ordered the closing of shopping malls of more than 20,000 m2 and the closure of borders with non-EU states.

Selfishly, we are relieved not to have to complete an authorisation form every time we leave the premises. But it remains to be seen whether the new measures have any effect on the numbers of cases. Unfortunately, my money is on being back in lockdown in the next few weeks.

Taken on a sunny day in a previous year

In the meantime, the weather is rotten, but at least it’s warmer than during the early part of the month. The signs of change are now perceptible: the evenings are drawing out; the catkins on our hazel tree have suddenly sprouted and turned yellowy-green; and I’ve heard a woodpecker’s laughing jackass call and a blackbird’s territorial song in the past couple of days.     

Tuesday is La Chandeleur (Candlemas), adapted from a former pagan celebration of the returning sun. To bring you a bit of sunshine in these dark days, here’s a picture of a Corsican sunset that I took on Cap Corse during our last visit nearly six years ago.

Take care.

You might also like:

La Chandeleur: Candles, Customs and Crêpes

Épiphanie: the Day of the Three Kings

Pastis: A Quercy Speciality

Copyright © 2021 Life on La Lune. All rights reserved

19 comments

  1. Don’t the signs if spring give a feeling of hope? Lots of catkins and daffodils here are managing to defy the miserable wet greyness…on the subject of croissants, like you, I am more of a fan of petit pains au chocolat … and couques suisses as they are known here (escargots in Switzerland!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • They do indeed. We had a cold start to the year here, but this week it has been much milder, although very wet on Monday. Some places in the area had flooding, which is miserable for those whose houses were flooded. We are on high ground so are fortunate to be unaffected. But there’s a lot of bird activity already, and the daffodils are almost out.

      I’ve never heard of couques suisses, so I must look them up.

      Nice to hear from you. Take care.

      Like

        • Ah. I wondered if it was those, since you mentioned escargots. In France, they’re called pains aux raisins, so a bit more prosaic than the Belgian and Swiss names! My husband likes those, while I go for the pains au chocolat (called chocolatines in the Southwest).

          Like

  2. Ces croissants on l’air delicieux. Je n’en mange pas souvent !!! Bon courage avec la pandemie. A Vancouver les nmagasins sont ouverts mais je ne vais qu’au supermarche une fois par semaine. Je marche a tous les jours et comme il y a des montagnes pas si loin de chez moi j’ai pu aller en raquettes vendredi. C’etait vraiment un bon changement de decor . Je pense que tu peux tout comprendre mon message …apres tout tu vis en France !!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oui, je comprends bien, merci. Tous les magasins sont ouverts, sauf les galeries marchandes d’une certaine superficie. Quand même, comme toi, je ne vais pas aux courses qu’une fois par semaine. Nous avons fait du ski à Lake Louise plusieurs fois. C’est vraiment magnifique, la montagne Canadienne. J’ai envie d’un changement de décor ! Bon courage à toi aussi.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Next Tuesday is also Groundhog Day, appropriate as, just like in the film, we seem to trapped in a never ending cycle of behaviour, with little end in sight. Never mind, now where are those croissants…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, when I did the research for the Chandeleur post I wrote a couple of years ago, I saw that Tues is Groundhog Day. As you say, we seem to be trapped in a spiral of repeated events. Bon courage.

      Like

      • Glug, glug… That’s not us disappearing under water, it’s the last of my wine going down.
        Three steps to the river are under water but there are still five to go. No worries…

        Liked by 1 person

        • Not the last bottle in the house, I hope. I suspect not. A big lake has appeared in the field below our house, but it’s a large area, so no chance of it reaching us. I hope the Bonnette stays at three steps.

          Like

    • WP has been doing some odd things today, for reasons I can’t fathom. Your earlier comment did come through, but published underneath someone else’s. I expect it’s a temporary glitch.

      Like

  4. That’s a nice one Vanessa. Thank you. Good fodder for our newsleter if that’s OK with you? Say NO if you’re not fully happy. You’ll be acknowledged as acknowledged source of course. Weather grim here as well – on and off wet but cold with it Warmwishes Norman

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Norman. WordPress did something odd with your comment, but I’ve edited it so I hope it shows up properly now. Yes, please use it if you wish. No doubt you’ll want to adapt it for your readers, but go ahead. Yes, it’s miserable here. This hasn’t been our wettest January, but it’s one of the grimmest. Not assisted, of course, by current events. Take care.

      Like

      • Hi Vanessa. Lots of things I never knew about croissants – fascinating and you learn something new everyday. Good tip on the savoury option, will try it. I agree with you on lockdown. I think our reprieve is temporary, but I really hope they don’t bring in that form again! Best wishes. MaryJane

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, try the savoury option. You could fill croissants with just about anything. This is France, so the form is inevitable if we go back into lockdown! Fingers crossed.

          Like

  5. Oh, spooky, Vanessa! I’m reading a book I found at secours populaire before Christmas entitled ‘1000 years of annoying the French’ by Stephen Clarke, always an irreverent writer. I had just read his musings on the baguette and the croissant after lunch and then this blog post pops up! I like my croissant buerre just as it is but my weakness is for pain au raisin, a Saturday treat from our weekend village baker. And like you, I’m glad not to be writing out attestations but think we’ll be locked down again sooner rather than later… February school holidays? Bon courage, stay safe….

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a coincidence! Great minds and all that. I keep meaning to read the Stephen Clarke book, so thanks for the reminder. My OH is the pain aux raisins fan; mine is the chocolatine. These are usually birthday or Christmas treats for us. Enough eating is being done during Covid!

      Yes, I fear Feb vacances scolaires will be crunch time. Bon courage à vous aussi.

      Like

Got a comment? I'd love to hear your views.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.