French bakeries are famous worldwide. But if you have already entered one, you might have faced a difficult problem: what to get in a French bakery? There are indeed plenty of yummy things to try in good French bakeries. In this article we will focus on the “Viennoiserie”.
A Viennoiserie is a kind of Pastry which is baked in a similar manner as bread, made with puff pastry or leavened dough. They mostly have a crunchy exterior and a soft interior made of thin layers. We can say that they are a kind of “bridge” between Breads and “patisseries”: They are more sugary and fat than bread, but much less than other pastries. Viennoiserie comes from the French name of Vienna, in Austria. Indeed, these pastries originated in Austria: one Austrian baker opened the first “Viennese-style” bakery in 1839 in Paris. Viennoiseries are mostly eaten during breakfast or teatime.
The croissant is the classic example of Viennoiserie. It originates from Vienna: in 1683 the city was besieged by Ottoman Empire. After the Austrian finally defeated the Ottomans, one baker created croissant: it has the shape of crescent moon symbolizing the crescent of the Ottoman flag, “eaten” by the Viennese. Many people say that Marie Antoinette, who was Austrian, popularized croissants in France. It became a symbol of French bakeries only during the late 19th century.
The croissants should be crusty outside, while being soft and thin inside. There are several kind of croissants, the normal one, the croissant au beurre (made with more butter, which makes it tastier) and also croissant aux amandes (almond croissant).
The second most famous Viennoiserie is Pain au Chocolat. It’s a sweet roll with one or two pieces of dark chocolate in the center. There is a big debate in France about the name of this viennoiserie: Chocolatine is used in Southwest France and Canada (Quebec) while pain au chocolat is used in Northern and Eastern France, as well as in Belgium. According to their places, people always claim one of the name to be right and the other to be wrong.
You might have already seen this heart shaped Viennoiserie. It’s a large and flat viennoiserie made up of flaky layers and covered with caramelized sugar.
Brioches are similar to bread, but richer and sweeter with grains of sugar on top. They can be of different shapes. There is a famous French anecdote about brioche: during the 18th century, it was a really prestigious and expensive viennoiserie, as sugar was a rare imported ingredient. It is said that in the beginning of French Revolution, poor hungry Parisians went to protest in Versailles to see the King and were shouting “We want bread”. Queen Marie Antoinette would have said: “If they don’t have bread, why don’t they eat brioche?”
The Financier is a light and moist almond cake which contains sometimes fruits or nuts. They can have different shapes, from round to square. The first financiers were made and sold by nuns during the Middle Ages, but they became popular from the 18th century.
Chausson aux pommes might be the most healthy viennoiseries: it’s made of cooked apples put inside a flaky pastry crust. It’s better to eat it when it is still hot.
Pain aux raisins, which means Grape bread in French, is a spiral-shaped pastry filled with custard cream and covered by raisins. The shape is very similar to the Danish cinnamon roll.
We introduced the most famous ones, however there are plenty of others, and they can vary from one Region to another. So do not hesitate to try many different ones, to find the one you prefer.
Words and Photographs by Vincent Sacau