When people think of France, the imagery generally includes the Eiffel Tower, small towns in lush green meadows, cafes full of loitering people wearing berets, a mime perhaps; and most of the time a croissant or a baguette. Oddly enough, the croissant, probably the most quintessentially French thing outside of Charles de Gaulle, is not French.
Go ahead and ask, “what does this picture possibly have anything to do with Gaulish puff pastries?” Answer: this is an image of the 1683 Siege of Vienna
The word “croissant” actually ends up meaning crescent, a clever name for a crescent shaped roll of dough. Similar to croissant, the Austrians have a food called a Kipferl, similarly crescent shaped, though the Austrian treat is usually dusted in sugar and filled with honey and almond. The story that holds is that the French imported the Kipferl into their country around 1800 when Marie Antoinette requested the treat from her native homeland of Austria be brought into the court. Marie Antoinette likely didn’t bring the bread to her husband’s country, but if there’s one thing people love to do in history, it’s making shaky connections between famous people and famous inventions (citation: Al Gore inventing the Internet). Many now believe that France didn’t begin having croissants until almost 1840 when Augustus Zang opened an Austrian pastry shop in Paris.
The Austrians on the other hand were thought to have created their Kipferl treats a good 150 years before the French got their hands on them. While there are several stories for when it happened, many point towards the siege of Vienna in 1683 as the origin point of the Kipferl. The story is that the Viennese were under siege, unable to leave their city walls, but somewhat safe from the Ottoman army outside. The Ottoman army began sapping the walls, digging underneath them at night to force a breach in the wall. Legend has it that Viennese bakers, while up at the wee hours of dawn making bread, heard the sound of the digging tools and were able to alert the military about it. The Viennese were able to counter the digging efforts and prevented it from destroying their walls. The story is that the bakers began making small crescent shaped sweets to celebrate their victory over the Ottoman army (who had the star and crescent as their flag).
Nobody can really be sure about when the crescent roll began, or if it was actually a means of celebrating a European victory over Islamic forces, but that hasn’t stopped the legend from having an impact. in 2013, Syrian rebels banned croissants within their territory, citing it as a symbol of oppression and a commemoration of Western victory over Muslims.