What about the viennoiserie?

Who bakes that? The boulanger or the pâtissier? An excellent question, reader Tom! The viennoiserie, loosely translated as the “stuff from Vienna”, is the portion of the French baking canon that hails from the former Austrian empire. Most people are quite surprised to discover all that’s in it, the stereotypically French items that it turns out aren’t really French at all: croissants, brioche, pain au chocolat, the list goes on.

The products of the viennoiserie all share certain characteristics. First they’re all made, at least classically, from fine white wheat flour. Second, packaged yeast cultures are critical ingredients (“brewer’s” yeast back in the day, granulated yeast products today). These concentrated yeast populations — which you could never achieve via natural “starter” cultures — create a quick rise and by extension the fluffy, light and/or crispy textures that are synonymous with “Vienna” breads. Lastly they are rich. The Viennese have never been content to leave bread alone. They add milk. They add eggs. They add butter. And the results speak for themselves: wow.

But to answer the question, Tom, the viennoiserie is the responsibility of the boulanger, the bread baker. As I understand it, they are legally entitled to handle anything that calls for yeast, and that includes laminated croissant dough.

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7 Responses to What about the viennoiserie?

  1. Paul says:

    Hmmmm, quite true. However, all formally trained pâtissiers are boulangers to a certain extent. Of course, few of us will admit that, the boulanger falls lower in the culinary pecking order.

    I went through 120 hours of boulanger at culinary school not counting the 90 hours of viennoiserie. Agreed, that is far less than the 828 hours for the full boulanger course, but, coupled with the rest of the pastry training puts us pretty much up there.

    Personally, I love making breads and the like. It puts me in touch with over 4000 years of history.

  2. Just one thing on the viennoiserie: the stuff known by that name today is far more French than Viennese. The Viennese did indeed use milk, and a fair amount of yeast, in their products, and the first products known as ‘Viennese’ in Paris did share these traits. But somewhere around the start of the twentieth century someone had the idea of making the croissant with puff pastry – a French (possibly originally Arab) method, but not a Viennese one. Today Viennoiserie (a word originally used for musical fluff like Strauss) refers largely to products made with laminated dough; only the Vienna loaves in French bakeries – made with some milk and no laminated pastry – retain some trace of the true Vienna influence.

    • joepastry says:

      Yes, as I recall there are also theories that laminated doughs originated in Italy as well. Me, I’m more inclined to believe they came via the Turks into Europe, since as you point out the Arabs were fond of thin doughs (baklava is a good example). There might be another book topic in there for you, Jim!

      - Joe

  3. Actually puff pastry is mentioned as early as the fourteenth century, so the Arab influence in question probably came up from Spain. Though the Crusades brought a huge Arab influence too (including, possibly, the particular soup to dessert sequence which became standard in Western meals).
    On the other hand, a Turkish ambassador introduced coffee to Paris, so the Turks provided HALF the continental breakfast. :)

    • joepastry says:

      Hmm….I’m skeptical on that count. Actual puff pastry? Turned with butter? Layers of thin pastry I can see, but pastry folded together with butter, that’s got to be a European innovation. The distinction is subtle, but it’s important.

      - Joe

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