The snack that's folded 81 times

A brief history of rogale świętomarcińskie

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Rogale Świętomarcińskie (St. Martin’s Croissant)

The basics

A croissant formed by folding the dough three times, then another three times, and another three times, and then three more times, which yields 81 layers. (Must be exact or it doesn’t count, see below!) Filled with a paste that includes white poppy seeds, nuts, and raisins.

The place

Poznań, Poland

The story

I’m a devoted pastry fan. For a long time, my Twitter bio included the line “chocolate croissant fiend,” which I later changed to “pain au chocolat obsessive” to be extra proper. I’ve walked for hours around Paris just to eat every croissant I could find; I’ve read possibly every trend piece on pastries published in the last ten years (like this one in T: The New York Times Style Magazine from 2018, details of which I have memorized).

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I learned that there’s a kind of croissant I’ve never heard of before. Another place to visit, another treat to eat!

Rogale Świętomarcińskie, which translates to St. Martin’s croissant, comes from Poznań, in Western Poland, situated on the Warta River and home of a clock tower with mechanical goats who butt heads at noon every day. So the legend goes—and this is straight from the croissant's very own museum, which is another real attraction in Poznań—in 1891, a priest at a local Catholic church named for St. Martin was out chatting with parishioners about the need to help the poor, following the lead of the good saint himself, who’s best known for giving his clothing (including half his cloak, on one miraculous occasion) to people in need. As the priest was making his rounds atop his white steed, it lost a shoe, and one of parishioners, a baker, saw it and was inspired to create a pastry in the same shape, which he then distributed for free to the poor (wealthier people paid full price).

Also, as the museum itself notes, there’s probably another explanation:

Almost all inhabitants of Wielkopolska know this message, but not everyone remembers that the first mentions of the shape of the region's greatest delicacy come from pagan times, when during the autumn festival, sacrifices were made to the gods of dough wrapped in buffalo horns.

So, you know. Pick your preferred story.

In any case, the croissants were a hit, and they became known as a snack to eat on St. Martin’s Day, which is November 11th, which also happens to be Polish Independence Day (which came at the very end of World War I), giving the pastries additional significance. According to Atlas Obscura, Poznań “consumes 700,000 croissants during the annual St. Martin’s Day parade.”

In 2008, the EU recognized Rogale Świętomarcińskie as a Protected Geographical Indicator, which “protects specific know how, authenticity and agro-environmental conditions.” The designation is highly specific and kinda bureaucratic, as such things usually are, mandating the precise details of what’s in the pastry and how many layers it has (again, 81 or it’s not the real deal).

If you’d like to watch a short cartoon version of this origin story, in Polish, here you go:

Get it here

Find them all over Poland and in Polish immigrant communities, or order directly from the museum itself.

Notes and stray thoughts

  • As you surely know/guessed, there are a ton of foods recognized and protected by the EU, and it’s worth a few minutes to explore the list. Nougats from Spain! Roe from Sweden with a specific orange hue! A Hungarian sausage with “a fascinating story and a pleasantly smoky and spicy fragrance”!

  • Google knows me and my interests too well (or, more likely, what things interest the most people), because when I searched for St. Martin, all the initial results were for the Caribbean nation and not the guy for which it’s named. But that island is interesting because, of course, it’s a colony of both the French and the Dutch, with a line down the middle. Go wander the island on Google Maps.

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Happy snacking!