In fact much of it can be dated precisely: 1839 (or possibly ’38). That was the year that a rather odd and ambitious fellow by the name of August Zang opened the Boulangerie Viennoise in Paris. A former artillery officer in the Austrian army, Zang sought to spread the glories of Austrian baking among the philistines to the West. Though his business at 92 rue Richelieu started off rather slowly, it wasn’t long before his breads — and especially his crispy laminated crescent rolls which were known in Austria as “kipfels” — caught on in Paris and spread like ze proverbial wildfire.
But it wasn’t just Austrian techniques that Zang was introducing to the Parisians. One aspect of the Viennoiserie that I failed to mention below is that it all requires a steam oven to make (or at least make well). Steam ovens were unheard of in Paris before the opening of Boulangerie Viennoise, and Zang flaunted his high-tech gear with showmanship worthy of P.T. Barnum. No human hand has touched them! read the inscription on the wall over his goods (in those days mechanization was a sign of quality).
Whatever happened to August Zang and why isn’t he more famous than he is (i.e. not at all)? Because less than ten years after he brought high-tech baking equipment to Paris, he left the citizens of that city to bring Parisian high-tech printing equipment back to Vienna, where he became a very wealthy and well-known publisher. Truly, Zang had a very unusual and fruitful career. Find out more about him here. As for when the viennoiserie formally became “the viennoiserie” and was taught as a subject in pastry schools, I’m not really sure. It would have been sometime in the 20th century.