French pastry

What is the French pastry?

WHAT WILL YOU LEARN

‘French pastry is an expression of the fragmentary, discontinuous, particulate qualities of wheat flour.’

Harold McGee ‘On food and cooking.’

Yes, I know… It’s a pretty strange and complex definition.

To make it simpler, pastry is made from water, flour, and lots of fat. These are the three main ingredients, and each pastry style depends on what technique we use to make the dough, though the formula is almost always the same:

‘We use just enough water to make a cohesive dough from the flour, and work in large amounts of fat to coat and separate flour particles and dough regions from each other.’

That’s the most basic stuff you need to know.

To master the art of French pastry, you need to know much more.

Technique, flour, temperature, fat, chilling, rolling, and even overworking, all these little details have to be perceived and used in practice. So, keep reading, and you’ll get all information you need to know and much more.

Today, we’ll discuss techniques and explanations.

Note* Explanation quotes are from Harold McGee’s ‘On food and cooking.’

What are the types of French pastry?

Even though there are lot’s of differently called pastries, the main four types that require this technique are:

  1. Crumbly pastry (shortcrust)
  2. Flaky pastry
  3. Laminated pastry
  4. Laminated bread (hybrids)

All four styles depend on how the fat was incorporated and whether we need to develop lots of gluten or not. So, let’s check each and every one and find out how to make them.

Crumbly pastry

What is a French crumbly pastry?

A crumbly pastry is made by dispersing fat to create, coat, and separate lots of small dough particles. The smaller they are, the more crumbly the pastry is.

It is crumbly but firm to create a good crust for savory pies and all kinds of tarts. If you’re asking whether this is the American pie dough, then no. American pie crust is a flaky pastry, which is more tender than shortcrust pastry.

As I said above, it is important how you disperse fat and whether you need gluten or not. 

To make anything crumbly, you need minimal gluten development and distribute fat in a way, so you get lots of small dough particles. You can’t see those particles with a naked eye, but we can be sure we did everything right with the technique we use for this pastry.

What is the French crumbly pastry technique?

Note* This is not a recipe. I want you to understand the technique. Later on, when you get more experienced, you’ll succeed with any recipe and THIS technique.

For the French version of classic shortcrust pastry, we need salt, sugar (optional), butter, egg yolks, and flour.

  1. Place butter cubes with egg yolks in flour, and work everything gently together with your hands to make a rough dough. 
  2. Then knead the dough by pushing it into and along the work surface to disperse the butter into the dough till small, fat coated, and separated dough particles are created. 
  3. After that, we leave the dough in the fridge to rest, so later, it is firmer and easier to roll out and shape.

Explained

‘The butter separates small flour aggregates from each other and prevents them from forming a continuous, tough mass, while egg yolks provide moisture, fats, and proteins that will coagulate during cooking and help hold the flour aggregates together.’

Flaky pastry

What is a French flaky pastry?

Flaky pastry is for all American and chicken pie crusts. This pastry creates irregular, thin, and much shorted than puff pastry layers that come out as small and tender flakes. 

It is made by working fat into flour to create pea-sized chunks, and then the water (very little!) is added to form the dough. Lots of kneading is banned, and chilling in a refrigerator is required!

When the dough is formed, you’ll see some parts of the dough (flour & water) and some butter. All is good because after rolling, it will create various-sized butter layers that will come out as flakes.

What is the flaky pastry technique?

Note* This is not a recipe. I want you to understand the technique. Later on, when you get more experienced, you’ll succeed with any recipe and THIS technique.

All you’re gonna need is flour, salt, sugar (optional), butter, and just a few spoons of water.

Here’s what we gonna make and it will take a maximum of 10 minutes:

  1. (Best) In a food processor, add flour, salt, sugar (optional), butter chunks, and pulse everything to get pea-sized or slightly bigger butter pieces.
  2. Pour in the ice-cold water (DON’T POUR EVERYTHING AT ONCE!) and mix a little. The dough shouldn’t be wet or sticky.
  3. Take it out of the food processor, knead fast, but confident for a few seconds, so it comes together into a ball.
  4. Cling film the pastry ball and refrigerate while you make the filling.
  5. Take the dough out of the fridge, flour the surface, and roll to about 0.4cm thickness (everything depends on what you’re making), and use it wherever you need.

Here I have a traditional chicken pie recipe that uses exactly the same dough to practice. Go here!

Explained

How the layered texture is created?

‘The rolling stretches the dough and thus develops some gluten and flattens the fat chunks into thin sheets.’

How the flaky texture is created?

‘In the oven, the sheets of fat, trapped air, and steam from the dough water (and the water in any butter) all help to separate the dough into layers and give it a flaky texture.’

Laminated pastry

What do we call the French laminated pastry? What is puff pastry?

The laminated pastry is what we call puff pastry. It also includes phyllo and strudel, which are a bit more difficult to make. This kind of French pastry is unique cause it is constructed of ‘729 layers of moistened flour separated by 728 layers of fat.’ There are large, separate, delicate, and super thin layers. 

To my mind, laminated pastry is the most complicated to make. Even croissant dough is much easier (check the recipe here) cause it’s semi bread. But here, all you have is the dough (flour & water) and fat.

And they want you to layer them.

What is the puff pastry technique?

So, how do we make those gorgeous layers?

Once again, what you use and the quantities depend on the recipe, but here’s the technique:

First, you need to make the dough. Usually, we mix flour with ice water (proportion 2:1) to get a rough dough and then shape it into a square. We will develop the gluten at later stages with rolling, folding, and chilling.

Then take the fat. We need it to be around 15°C, ‘it’s consistency matching the consistency of the dough.’ Flatten the fat, place on the dough, cover with it, repeatedly roll, and fold. Each turn with a different direction of rolling and resting in the fridge until you reach a total of 6 ‘turns.’

When the puff pastry is done, cover with cling film, and let it rest in the fridge for at least an hour. Use it wherever you need.

Explained

It is important to keep everything chilled. Otherwise, because of too warm fat, the dough layers might be glued together. But the fat could also tear apart in large, hard-to-roll pieces if the temperature is too cold.

So, keep it always in mind and be aware.

How does the French puff pastry expand?

‘When the puff pastry is baked in a very hot oven, the expanding air and water vapor puff the separate layers apart from each other and cause the volume to increase by four or more times.’

Laminated bread | Hybrids

What do we call the French laminated bread?

Laminated bread is all croissants, pain au chocolat, and Danish pastries. These baked goods are richer in flavor than any other pastry cause the dough is a bread dough, and it contains yeast, milk, and eggs, but still has those gorgeous layers.

Because of the yeast, the fermentation here is everything. It is where all the flavor comes from. Consequently, we have to give the dough as much time as we can. There’s nowhere to rush.

What is the laminated bread technique?

As you can see, laminated bread is like the midst between the bread and laminated pastry. Therefore, the technique is the same as for puff pastry (4 turns are enough), but the dough has ingredients such as milk, yeast, eggs, and butter.

I highly recommend reading these two articles I wrote. They have lot’s of information about the laminated bread, the whole process and gives a deeper understanding of the details you need to be aware of:

MEDA | CHEFFY PARSNIP

MEDA | CHEFFY PARSNIP

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