Liberal Arts Blog — Croissants — A Little Bit of Myth, History, and Math
Liberal Arts Blog — Sunday is the Joy of Humor, Food, Travel, Practical Life Tips, and Miscellaneous Day
Today’s Topic: Croissants — A Little Bit of Myth, History, and Math
After six weeks of travel posts on Afghanistan and Pakistan, today the inauguration of a new culinary series, starting with the croissant. What is your favorite variation on this theme? The flaky, layered pastry that we know as a croissant may be a 19th century invention. Earlier crescent shaped, but non-layered pastries, existed back in the 13th century and perhaps in Roman times. The most common myth is that it was invented in Vienna in 1683 to celebrate the lifting of the Ottoman siege. Another takes the invention further back — to the defeat of Umayyads by the Franks in 732. An Arab alternative origin story is that the croissant dates back to the “feteer beshaltet” of ancient Egypt (1250 BCE).Today a few more notes. Experts (especially chemists) — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
THE KIPFERL (KIFLI) AND THE RUGELACH — horns of an animal, cart, or moon?
1. “Rogal” in Old Polish means “horns.” (second link)
2. “kifli (above) were probably a traditional monastery pastry baked for Easter.” (ditto)
3. “breads or pastries in the shape of a crescent moon are believed to have been served in ancient times as offerings to the goddess of the moon, Selene”
NB: “A list of foods eaten in a 10th-century convent include panis lunatis, described as a small crescent-shaped roll often eaten during fasts.”
18TH AND 19TH CENTURY — MARIE ANTOINETTE, ARTHUR ZANG, CHARLES DICKENS
1. When the Austrian princess moved to Paris in 1770, she missed her Austrian pastries. An accommodating royal baker came up with an even better mousetrap — the croissant. Apparently, not true. Just like the story of her saying “Let them eat cake.”
2. Another candidate for “inventor of the croissant” — an Austrian artillery officer named Arthur Zang who set up a Viennese pastry shop in Paris at 92 rue de Richelieu and later became a press mogul.
3. “in 1872, Charles Dickens wrote (in his periodical All the Year Round) of “the workman’s pain de ménage and the soldier’s pain de munition, to the dainty croissant on the boudoir table.”
PUFF PASTRY, AKA “PATE FEUILLETE” — Greece, Spain, and the math
1. “A flaky, light pastry made from laminated dough (detrempe) and butter or other solid fat (beurage). The butter is put inside the dough (or vice versa), making a paton which is repeatedly folded and rolled out before baking…The gaps that form between the layers left by the fat melting are pushed (leavened) by the water turning into steam during the baking process.” (fourth link below)
2. The layering process has been traced to the unleavened Greek phyllo (meaning leaf).
3. “The first known recipe of modern puff pastry (using butter or lard) appears in the Spanish recipe book Libro del arte de cozina (Book on the art of cooking) written by Domingo Hernando de Maceras and published in 1607.”
NB: “The production of puff pastry dough can be time-consuming, because it must be kept at a temperature of approximately 16 °C (60 °F) to keep shortening from becoming runny, and must rest in between folds to allow gluten strands time to link up and thus retain layering. The number of layers in puff pastry is calculated with the formula: where is the number of finished layers, the number of folds in a single folding move, and is how many times the folding move is repeated. For example, twice-folding (i.e. in three), repeated four times gives layers. Chef Julia Child recommends 73 layers for regular pate feuilletee and 729 (ie 3 to the sixth) for pate feuilletee fine (in Volume II of her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
FINAL WORD — frozen, pre-formed unbaked dough — and the role of the USA
1. “In the late 1970s, the development of factory-made, frozen, pre-formed but unbaked dough made them into a fast food that can be freshly baked by unskilled labor. The croissant bakery, notably the La Croissanterie chain, was a French response to American-style fast food, and as of 2008, 30–40% of the croissants sold in French bakeries and patisseries were baked from frozen dough.”
2. Can anyone explain the miraculous chemistry succinctly?
LAST THREE YEARS OF POSTS ORGANIZED THEMATICALLY:
Anything miscellaneous to share? Best trip you ever took in your life? Practical life tips? Random facts? Jokes? Or, what is the best cartoon you have seen lately? or in the last 10 years? or the last 50? Or what is your favorite holiday food? Main course? Dessert? Fondest food memories? Favorite foods to eat or prepare?
This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your mind a memory that might otherwise disappear. Or to think more deeply about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.