August 16, 2014

The delicious history of viennoiseries

Croissants are one of the most recognizable examples of viennoiserieViennoiserie is perhaps the most recognized category of French pastry around the world, thanks to its flagship baked good, the croissant. This crescent-shaped roll is actually not very French at all, but rather a product of the former Austrian Empire. The word “viennoiserie” – French for “things from Vienna” – describes a whole category of pastry that includes croissants, pain au raisins and brioche. These products, traditionally associated with France, tend to bridge the gap between boulangerie and patisserie in traditional pastry school philosophy.

The baker and the pastry chef
The French have a very subtle differentiation between bakers and pastry chefs. The division comes down to hot and cold materials. Bakers are those who work with the heat of the oven to create more rustic products such as breads. The pastry chef, however, is thought of as working with exclusively cold materials. This profession is concerned with creating artful confections from icings, fruit and fillings. As such, where does the responsibility for making the world’s croissants fall?

On the one hand, viennoiserie could be considered the hot work of a boulangerie baker. The perfection of a perfect brioche crust is surely under the purview of this master of heat. However, making the proper croissant dough so that the end product is light, fluffy and buttery falls squarely on the patisserie chef. That being said, should you be visiting Paris any time soon, you are much more likely to find viennoiserie in a boulangerie and not necessarily a patisserie. As such, these products give bakers the opportunity to be a little bit more artistic in their craft.

So what is viennoiserie?
Traditional viennoiserie are made from white wheat flour and use packaged yeast cultures. These active cultures cause the quick rise of the dough, creating the perfect flakiness when it is baked. Starter yeast cultures are not as developed, and thus can’t produce the right consistency for viennoiserie in the right amount of time. Thus, packaged yeast cultures must be used.

This dough is known as a pate viennoise, and it first rose to prominence in French pastry circles thanks to a small bakery in Paris known as Boulangerie Viennoise. This bakery was opened by an Austrian military official by the name of August Zang between 1837 and 1839. It wasn’t long until the style of pastry that Zang introduced would become a culinary phenomenon throughout the city. As such, while the pastries may have been invented in Vienna, they were perfected in Paris.

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