There should be a word to describe the plain, genuine happiness of peeking through the beautiful cakes and flaky pastries over the transparent crystal showcases each time you’re at a bakery or café. Have you ever realised that these flaky, crispy, buttery and sinfully fragrant delights actually do not only belong to the kingdom of all that is sweet and powdery France?
Types of Pastry
Not all laminated pastries are French, a Danish is not French but Austrian. This will all make sense later. A pastry, by definition, is essentially flour and fat. Unlike bread, the high fat content (e.g., butter, shortening or lard) in a pastry creates a flaky and crumbly texture that is peculiar to pastry itself. Just like the 5 elements of Mother Earth, there also exist five key basic types of pastry in the world of pastries.
Laminated Pastry vs Non-Laminated Pastry
Before we delve into it further there are 5 types of basic pastry – puff pastry, flaky pastry, short crust, choux and filo. Bear in mind that pastries are separated into two main distinct categories: laminated and non-laminated. The former are usually layered, hence the name laminated, which we commonly find as puff pastry and flaky pastry, while the latter don’t have layers are are found in short curst, choux and filo.
Puff pastry was invented by a Frenchman named Claude Gelée in the 17th century. It is a flaky, light, laminated dough that has alternating layers of butter and dough, creating the multiple delicate and crisp layers up for chewing. The gaps that form between the layers left by the fat melting are leavened by water turning into steam while baking. Beef wellingtons, mille feuille, sausage rolls, strudels, turnovers are all patrons of puff pastry. As the puff pastry dough contains only flour, butter and water without any presence of seasonings like salt or sugar, it is relatively versatile in nature as it can either be made into sweet or savoury variations.
Variant of Puff Pastry: Danish Pastry
There is a subtle yet distinct line between a puff pastry and Danish pastry. Oftentimes people have a tendency to regard both as the same thing, but in fact a Danish is a variant of the puff pastry. A Danish is leavened with yeast, as opposed to puff pastry that is raised by steam. Danish pastry also contains sugar, hence with a composition of sugar and yeast, the high sugar content in the dough makes a Danish better catered to sweet creations, such as the commonplace ‘Blueberry Danish’ we see in local bakeries. Quite distinctive from puff pastry which is lighter and flakier in texture, a Danish, which also contains egg in its batter, is denser, fluffier and more bread-like, having a texture that is in between a croissant and a brioche.
A Danish is not Danish?
The name ‘Danish’ seems to draw an implication that it originated from Denmark, but contrary to that mistaken geographical indication, the Danish pastry was actually an invention by Austrian bakers during their time of employment in Denmark when Danish bakers went on strike in 1850. Interestingly, the Danes call it the wienerbrød (“Viennese bread”); meanwhile in other parts of the world, it continues to be regarded as the Danish. It is because of the renowned reputation of France that reigns the kingdom of pastry and desserts which has contributed to the inaccurate reflection that these crispy, flaky and buttery pastries were indeed a pure French produce, but in fact were Austrian-origin ‘Danish’ pastries.
Variant of Puff Pastry: Viennoiserie Pastry
A Danish has Viennese-Austrian origins, but it is not exactly a Viennoiserie (“Vienna Bread”) in French terms. A Viennoiserie is an enhanced version of a Danish which is developed and popularised in France. The intertwining and confusing relationship between a Danish and France does not stop there. Now that we established that a Danish isn’t a French creation, there’s also other baked pastries like a croissant or pain au chocolat, which aren’t Danish as well. It is French, yet not entirely French, as it also has Viennese roots. Let that sink into your mind. Confusing, yes?
Croissants, pain au chocolat and palmiers
Crispy and flaky croissants, pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins, palmiers, are internationally known to be French pastry signatures. These are true to an extent. Four of these pastries are known to be the main types of viennoiseries, attributing acknowledgements to the fact that these baked goods have origins somewhat related to Vienna, the capital of Austria. A viennoiserie means “things of Vienna” in French, which are yeast-leavened laminated dough with added ingredients of egg, butter, milk, cream and sugar. In other words, it is an enhanced version of a Danish with additional ingredients. This gives viennoiseries a richer and sweeter character which makes them very much capable of eating on its own without much fruit or cream fillings. A viennoiserie can be said to be a perfect marriage between the specialties of a puff pastry and a Danish. It has a crispy, flaky and crunchy exterior, though its interior may taste like bread and can be denser, the composition of the dough is such that it allows the insides to be softer and lighter with thin layers as compared to a Danish.
Flaky pastry is a light and flaky pastry that is distinct from puff pastry. It contains less fat and fewer layers. Large chunks of fat are mixed into the batter to create layers, as opposed to puff pastry which requires fat to be laid evenly and uniformly between each layer within the hundreds of layers in a puff pastry. As we have repeatedly noted the differences between puff pastry and Danish / Viennoiserie which the former is steam-leavened the latter yeast, they are nevertheless both leavened dough by some sort of raising agent. A flaky pastry on the other hand, though remains flaky and layered, it is made with unleavened dough without the use of any raising agent. More rustic dishes such as pasties and pies are made with flaky pastry.
Short Crust Pastry
A short crust pastry is what you would identify as the crust in tarts and pies – be it your chicken pie, apple pie, fruit tart or quiche, the outer layer that envelops your favourite filling is a shortcrust pastry. This type of pastry usually calls for a 2:1 flour to fat ratio.
Choux pastry is a French signature, coined as the pâte à choux. Choux is pronounced “shoo” in French, and it literally translates to ‘cabbage’ in French and is a cabbage-shaped decoration in a rosette or knot on a dress. Giving a bit more imagination you would find its resemblance to a cream puff (i.e., a chouquette), hence the origins of this pastry’s name. The choux pastry is delicate and has a crisp shell exterior from the eggs beaten into the batter aside from flour, water and butter to enrich it. Given the high proportion of liquid, it ultimately creates a high moisture content in leavening the dough that fortifies the pastry exterior into a hard shell. By contrast, choux pastry has a hollow cavity within that enables it to have the capacity to have cream or ganache pipings into its casing. You would have already guessed what a choux pastry is now! Cream puffs, eclairs, profiteroles, that sort of the kind.
Filo or phyllo pastry is said to be the earliest pastry invented by mankind which stems from the Ottoman Empire. It is a thin, unleavened dough that has a texture like layered pastry, despite the fact that it wasn’t layered but is merely dough stretched and stacked into paper-thin sheets. Turkish sweets like baklavas and spinach and cheese filled börek rolls are the representatives of filo pastry.
In the next part, we will explore the different laminated pastry dishes from around the world, from the many variations of puff pastry, Danishes and viennoiserie. Until then!
For part 2 of the series, see Dough You Know The Difference? Famous Pastries From Malaysia.