Some mock these as “Frankenpastries,” a time period with echoes of “Frankenfood,” coined in 1992 by an English professor at Boston Faculty expressing dismay over genetically engineered crops. That label is tongue-in-cheek, although simply as Mary Shelley’s fevered novel hints at societal fears of miscegenation and “impurity,” the notion that these baked items signify unholy unions means that there are clear borders within the culinary world that one ought not cross. Two centuries in the past, the French led a shift from free-form cooking to codified methods and constructed a system for attaining and recognizing mastery that also defines the skilled kitchen, pastry or in any other case. So inevitably it’s the croissant that’s seen as being in peril of degradation: the noble, labor-intensive French pastry sullied by its union with the crude, arriviste American doughnut or muffin. (One other iteration was unveiled in January by Vive la Tarte in San Francisco: the tacro, a savory pork- or chicken-stuffed taco with a croissant shell.)
YET THE CROISSANT itself was born of crossed borders. The butter-laden layered dough has roots in medieval Arab apply, and the pastry’s form comes from the Viennese kipferl, stated to have been modeled after the Islamic crescent borne on the banners of 17th-century Ottoman invaders. (Though this again story is probably going apocryphal, in 2013 a insurgent stronghold in Syria banned croissants as symbols of colonialism.) Few dishes, not to mention desserts, have remained static over time: Blancmange, a molded milk pudding, was as soon as a hen casserole; craggy coconut Italian-Jewish macaroons share ancestry (going again to early Sicilian pasta) with the polished spherical French macarons which have ruffled hems, which languished as solitary disks till somebody sandwiched them round ganache a bit of over a century in the past.
If something, right this moment’s nouvelle pastries mark a return to the spirit championed by Marie-Antoine Carême, the early 19th-century forefather of French cooking, inventor of the soufflé and the croquembouche and architect of monumental confectionery centerpieces that rose as much as three ft — almost as excessive because the sculptured hairstyles of his late namesake, Marie Antoinette, the Austrian princess whose personal love for viennoiserie could have impressed the parable of her declaring, “Allow them to eat cake.” Carême has disciples in Paris right this moment, together with Christophe Adam, recognized for éclairs ornamented with edible silver, popcorn and Mona Lisa eyes; Jonathan Blot, conjurer of macarons that style like bubble gum; and, in fact, Pierre Hermé, who daubs raspberry-lychee pâté inside croissants and showers them with candied rose petals. Like the unique viennoiserie, which had been painstakingly elegant pastries designed for the Hapsburg courtroom in imperial Vienna that ultimately grew to become indispensable to town’s sidewalks, their decadence is matched by the virtuosity of their building and their ingredient of shock: They’re, then as now, as a lot for beholding as for consuming.
Their modern attract is aided by the diminishment of desserts at midrange eating places, which after the recession of 2008 started to shed pastry cooks, unable to justify the expense for a course that yields little revenue. As restaurant desserts have grow to be less complicated and homier — olive-oil cake, something with chocolate — as soon as plainspoken baked items have turned rococo, providing an aura of luxurious, enhanced by how troublesome they’re to acquire earlier than promoting out every morning. At $four to $eight every, these small however elaborate edifices appear worthier than the run-of-the-mill pastries accessible at each city nook deli and curbside espresso cart, enabling their artisans to cowl the ever-increasing price of primary elements, significantly butter, whose worth hit a historic excessive final yr.
Certainly, French butter, which has the next share of fats and a pronounced tang from cultured cream, is so fascinating throughout the globe, it’s starting to disappear from grocery cabinets in France. That is partly as a result of extra individuals are making pastries than ever earlier than; as a French professor defined to The Economist in November, “China has found croissants.” But when the pattern continues, the croissant as we all know it — a simple compact of butter, flour, milk, sugar, yeast and salt — could also be no extra. And as a substitute? These overgrown crescents too huge to slot in the palm of the hand, spangled and swagged, glutted with fillings, arrayed like objets d’artwork in austere concrete-walled patisseries the place the bakers fuss like apothecaries. They’re absurd till you attempt them: salty and candy and shattering in every single place, abandoning smears of cream and telltale butter fingerprints. The croissant is lifeless; lengthy dwell the croissant.