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August Zang
and the French Croissant

How Viennoiserie Came to France

 



Who invented the croissant?

Not - though numerous serious sources say otherwise - bakers during the siege of Vienna (or, more ludicrously, Budapest).


Who introduced the croissant to France?

Not, as is often said, Marie-Antoinette...


Who was August Zang?

Ah... That's a long story. Still, it's told briefly here, introducing Zang himself, his influence on French baking and his later career in the Viennese press.


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The birth of the croissant

In late 1839, the French writer Saint-Beuve wrote to a friend: “We are all to go eat some cake Tuesday at a very splendid and very delectable Viennese bakery.” This Viennese bakery - Boulangerie Viennoise - had been opened by an Austrian artillery officer, August Zang. Among other typical Austrian fare, Zang's bakers made kipfel, the crescent-shaped roll that had existed in Austria since at least the thirteenth century. Soon French "Viennese bakeries" opened, and made what the French called a "crescent", or croissant. But the bakery's influence went well beyond introducing this iconic pastry, and August Zang would go on to immense success, not in baking, but as a press magnate.





Some samples from the book

"Though many authors do not even bother to mention the distinction, older tales about the croissant in fact concern the kipfel. In such tellings, the kipfel is essentially treated as being a croissant under another name. This is not unlike discussing the mammoth and calling it an elephant. How many croissants, like the “pinnacle-cake” cited above, contain lard?

In fact lard is still used for some kipfel today. Kipfel also have long been made in a wide variety of ways, often being covered, for instance, in salt, anise seed, caraway, etc."

"Culinary history is full of colorful tales. Even prominent food historians are often happy to repeat some picturesque account of a food's origin without, it seems, doing the most fundamental research to verify it. The two stories examined here are not the only ones told regarding the French croissant, but they are by far the most widely repeated."

"At the mid-point of the nineteenth century, references to the croissant began to appear in France:

I have found nothing [in London] comparable to our first quality of split white breads, to our so-called coffee rolls, to our fancy rolls called viennese, of dextrin, gruau, croissants...(1850)"

"August Zang began his adult life as an officer and ended it as a wealthy banker and mine-owner. His involvement in the bakery business was brief, a way-station on the road to his real success, and possibly even an embarrassment to him in later years. Future generations might have found this ironic, had those most affected not been blissfully unaware of his impact on their daily life."

Table of Contents

  • The Kipfel
  • Croissant Myths
    • The Siege of Vienna
    • Marie-Antoinette
    • Enter, the Croissant
  • August Zang, "Baker"
    • The Boulangerie Viennoise
    • Innovations
    • Zang's Influence
    • Elegance and Upgrades
    • The Baguette
  • Towards the Modern Croissant
  • The Father of the Daily Vienna Press
    • Girardin
    • Die Presse
    • Zang, the Man
    • After Die Presse
    • "The Well-Bread Count"
  • Meanwhile, Back in Paris
  • NOTES

And now, two follow-ups (on-line) to the book
(for lovers of bread and baking history):

About the Baguette

And....

Ten Fun Croissant Facts


From Appleton's Journal of Literature, Science and Art (1872):

In 1848, a man appeared in Vienna who has entirely revolutionized journalism in the Austrian capital. This bold reformer, the father of the daily Vienna press of today, was neither a littérateur of extraordinary ability nor a poor journalist, favored by Fortune, but a baker, named August Zang.

This man, while residing in Paris, where he did an excellent business with Wiener Kipfeln and Kaisersemmeln (different kinds of fine bread), had made himself as throughly acquainted as possible with the editorial and administrative departments of the Parisian journals. He took especial pains to study the system on which Emile Girardin conducted his paper, La Presse; and when, on his return to Vienna, he saw the condition journalism was in throughout the whole empire, he promptly decided to start a paper upon the Girardin plan. This he did in 1848, calling his paper Die Presse.

All text and translations copyright 2009 Jim Chevallier.
Please do not reproduce or post elsewhere without prior permission.

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Interested in historical cuisine? Here are three other books from Chez Jim:

Yes, the French kings really did eat peacocks - and swans, and herons, and blackbirds too. Taillevent, the cook who served two of them, not only cooked these dishes, but left a book on how to do it. He called it Le Viandier. In this new translation, it's called:

How To Cook A Peacock


How To Cook a Peacock

 

 

·         For recreational medievalists


·         For lovers of culinary history


·         For students of medieval life


·         For adventurous cooks

Have you ever wanted to make an eighteenth century meal? This book, starting with a menu from a classic French cookbook, tells you how. Even if you don't have a house full of servants and a kitchen with numerous hearths, you'll find enough original French eighteenth century recipes - newly translated - here to entertain a number of guests in true eighteenth century style.


Apres Moi Le Dessert


This collection includes recipes for game, veal, beef, chicken and various sauces, salads and other tasty items, worth making on their own or as part of a full, elegant period meal.

The second volume in this series presents VEGETARIAN recipes from Old Regime France. No, it's not a modern gimmick - in Catholic France, meat was forbidden on some days, and so one of the choices was this "meal of roots"; including not only carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, etc., but also lentils and peas, onions, artichokes and asparagus.



Apres Moi Le Dessert II


This collection includes over 100 recipes for soups, stews, salads, sweets, even... mock fish, made from vegetables of every sort (and even a fish or two).

UPDATED: November 30, 2010