Different kinds of pastry and dough
First, take some flour…
When cooking in general, and particularly in baking, we can make and use many different kinds of pastry and dough. All built on the same "base": flour - a powder to which we add fat, liquid or both to produce the dough which is then cooked.
Here is a brief overview of these different doughs.
[Translator's note: in French, all doughs, pastries, batters and pasta are covered by just one word: “pâtes”, a feature of the original article that has been somewhat lost in this English version!]
Shortcrust pastry (pâte brisée)
is the most basic pastry, used for sweet or savoury tarts (it contains little or no sugar). The French version consists of around 50% flour and 50% butter and eggs. The British version is plainer: without eggs and traditionally made with lard (these days, this is more usually a white vegetable fat, possibly with some butter).
This is the pastry of our grandmothers, particularly my own, Jeanne, who made tarts for me when I was a nipper with apples from her orchard – a memory that still moves me.
Sweetcrust pastry (pâte sablée)
is the pastry for sweet tarts. This is similar to shortcrust pastry, but with 15% sugar added, sometimes also (a great improvement!) with 15% ground almonds. It is fragile and crumbly, delicious on its own, so can be used just as it is to make biscuits.
Choux pastry (pâte à choux)
is the famous French dough used for éclairs, Saint-Honoré and profiteroles. It starts as a butter+water+milk+flour mixture, called “panade” in French, into which eggs are then incorporated. During cooking, the water contained in the dough turns to steam to form bubbles. This is trapped by the light crust forming on the outside, causing the choux pastry to puff up.
Puff or flaky pastry
Puff or flaky pastry (pâte feuilletée)
is used for thin tart bases, pies, pasties, turnovers, mille-feuilles. This is a more technically involved pastry, consisting of a basic dough (the "détrempe" in French,) which is like a shortcrust pastry made with more water. This is rolled out and wrapped around a slab of butter, then folded and re-rolled a number of times to produce alternate layers of butter trapped between layers of dough.
During cooking, flaky layers form within the dough. The butter melts and the water turns to steam, so creating the puff pastry's characteristic light open texture.
is the dough used for brioches, Kouglof and certain types of bread. The name covers rich doughs, made with yeast, which need time to rise. Brioche dough is enriched with butter and eggs and is best handled cold (the butter keeps it firm), but should then be left in a warm place to rise.
is a flaky raised dough used to make croissants and "pains au chocolat". It is like a sweetened cross between a simple yeast-raised dough and puff pastry. The dough is rolled with butter to create layers and is then left to rise, creating a very light texture. The downside is that it is technically involved and requires a great deal of work.
Fresh pasta dough (for lasagne, spaghetti, etc.)
The dough for fresh pasta
is definitely the simplest of all to make: a mixture of flour, eggs and a little salt (a proportion of 1 egg to 100g flour). This dough is designed to be poached, i.e. cooked in boiling water for around 3 minutes.
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