From Kipferl to Crescent: The (Dubious) Legend of the Ottoman Attack on Vienna
How did the kipferl get its crescent shape, and become, well, a croissant? Here’s where things get hazy and a bit problematic, since legends and rumors have muddied the waters for centuries
Legend has it that a group of Vienna bakers invented the prototype for the croissant in 1863, during an Ottoman siege on the Austrian capital. Ottoman troops, who dug a tunnel to enter the then-walled city from underground, were supposedly reported to the authorities by one or more of the city’s bakers, who typically worked in cellars and thus heard the approaching attack.
The Ottomans were expelled from the city, the story goes, and to commemorate the victory and the heroic alert of one baker named Adam Spiel, he and others concocted a crescent-shaped pastry called Hörnchen (little horns).
These were similar to the traditional kipferl but shaped into the form of a crescent moon, which appeared on the flags of the Ottoman Empire from the 14th century.
However, many have put this theory into strong doubt, noting for example that crescent moon-shaped breads and cakes, including kipferl, had been mentioned in poems and other texts for centuries prior to the Vienna attack.
And as food historian Jim Chevallier notes, origin stories for both the bagel and the yeasted Kugelhopf cake also mention the 1683 Ottoman siege of Vienna as the moment of invention for two other enduringly popular baked goods. This multiplication of origin stories suggests that the one around the croissant’s invention is partly– or wholly– untrustworthy. To be nice about it, let’s settle on “apocryphal”.
The full story of the croissant: