My husband has become something of a baker, and as he was allowing his dough to proof this weekend, he told me a fascinating story about the history of croissants.
Croissants were not originally French pastries. They were Austrian, created by Viennese bakers who were responsible for helping defeat the Ottoman army of hundreds of thousands who had laid siege to the city in 1683. The Turks, unable to starve the city into submission, had undertaken a project to tunnel under the city walls by night and breach it that way. However, the Viennese bakers, who kept owlish nocturnal habits, heard the activity and were able to alert the city guard in enough time to enlist the rescuing help of the Polish king.
In celebration of their victory, bakers made kipfurl, a pastry baked in the shape of the same crescent as they had seen on the Turks’ standard, and the commemorative pastries became a staple in Austrian fare. It was only when an Austrian princess married the French King Louis XVI (yes, the same one – Marie Antoinette, whom we negatively associate with other breads and cakes), that the princess insisted that French bakers take on baking her favorite homeland pastry. It became renamed – croissant – French for crescent, retaining the history of being a story-telling confection in the name, even though the recipe changed significantly in the years that followed.
The story captured my imagination, and even though a little internet research poured some cold water on the historicity of the account, I don’t think I will ever eat croissants again without remembering this ditty. Just like, once I learned that ciabatta (which literally means “slipper”), was so named because the folded dough had the appearance of ballet flats, I now always think of those ciabatta loaves as “slipper bread”.
Not unlike a 90s tub-thumping song, my husband’s dough got knocked down, and then got up again – and finally he formed and shaped it into the hot-cross buns which we eat every year in celebration of Easter. These sweet, spicy, raisin-kissed buns form a crucial part (pun intended) of our Good-Friday and Resurrection Sunday tradition: marked with a cross, they are a story-telling confection, too.
Which leads me to thinking that God shows his wisdom in yet another, surprising way – tapping deep into our senses with the idea of Breads of Remembrance. The Israelites were to remember their great deliverance by baking special bread for Passover: a reminder that they’d had to flee in haste, a double-reminder in bread free of yeast that they were free of Egypt.
Jesus taught us to pray for our Daily Bread – the everydayness of it a reminder of God’s provision. He taught his disciples that he himself is the Bread of Heaven – the everydayness of bread pointing to an everyday need for Him.
And, in a way far more profound than eating Hot Cross Buns, of the two specific ways Jesus gave for us to remember him, he told us to break bread and remember that this represented his body, given for us. “Feed on him in your heart by faith” we said, in the Anglican tradition.
He is life-giving.
Bread is on the menu in our house most days, and I want to do better at remembering.
And today, perhaps, there may even be croissants.