French history myth: Croissants are not French

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French history myth: Croissants are not French
Croissants displayed at a bakery in Paris. Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP

They don't appear on the flag, but the delicious buttery breakfast pastry is definitely an unofficial symbol of France - but is a croissant actually French?


Myth: The French invented the croissant, which by the 20th century had become a staple breakfast item in France and the quintessential symbol of Frenchness abroad.

In bad news for patriots, the distinctive crescent-shaped pastry is well documented to be originally an Austrian invention, known as the kipferl.

Kipferl appears in Austrian local records as early as the 13th century, while the first recorded mention of the curved pastry in Paris was in 1837.


This was at the bakery of Austrian migrants August Zang and Ernest Schwartzer, who opened their shop in Rue de Richelieu, Paris in 1837. They specialised in the pastries and cakes of their homeland and are generally agreed to be the ones who popularised the kipferl in France. 

Despite their shop only being open for a few years, they sparked a craze for Viennese pastries, particularly the curved pastry which became known as a croissant in the French - the word simply meaning crescent.

Croissant in French retains its original meaning as 'crescent' as in the Mouvement international de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge (International movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent).

The Austrian roots of the pastry meanwhile are referenced in viennoiseries (Vienna-style pastries) which is the generic name for breakfast pastries including croissant, pain au chocolat/chocolatine and pain au raisin.

There's a popular myth that Austrian princess Marie-Antoinette brought the kipferl to France when she married Louis XVI, however it doesn't appear in any kind of written record until more than 40 years after her death - despite her activities, tastes and fashions being widely reported in the popular press of the day - so this is generally considered unlikely. 

By the late 19th/early 20th century the pastry had undergone a major transformation in France, as bakers began to use flaky pastry to make it, rather than the original which was more like a sweet bread, similar to brioche.

So while France didn't invent the croissant, we can perhaps say that it perfected it, since the rich, flaky, buttery pastry is one of the defining aspects of the croissant, and surely explains its huge global popularity.

Now if only we could figure out a way of eating them without getting crumbs everywhere.

This article is part of our August series on popular myths and misconceptions about French history.


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