Your life will be changed when you discover the majesty of the pastry. Pastries have become an international sensation, with different pastry techniques and unique desserts made from pastry to be found all around the world. After all, can any of us ever resist our bread and butter? Well, pastry is both, and no, we cannot.
Perhaps you’re an avid baker—maybe even a big fan of the Great British Baking Show?—and you’re curious about pastry. Pastries are beautiful, intricate, and delicious, and you’d love to give them a try.
Making pastry will be a challenge and it may take multiple tries to get right. But that’s okay, because then you’ll have many batches to eat– and even if the technique isn’t perfect enough for Paul Hollywood, they’ll still taste amazing!
Or maybe you’re a beginner baker, hoping to educate yourself about the different types of baking. Well, pastry is a big one of those!
Most of the world’s most famous pastries find their origins outside of America, but we have our own to be proud of. You’d be surprised how many places we stumble across pastry in our average baking practice once you’ve learned what it is!
Isn’t that funny? You never notice things until you’re informed of them, and then all of a sudden, they’re everywhere!
Many of your favorite foods could very well be made of pastry, and you had no idea! As you get into this article and explore the different types of pastries, see if you recognize any of your favorites.
What Is Pastry, and What Makes a Food Become Pastry?
Simply put, pastry is a type of dough that possesses an abundance of a fattening agent. The dough is simple enough, consisting of flour, water, and the fat component, which is most commonly butter. However, depending on the bake and what you have available, you can also use shortening or oil to achieve a proper pastry.
How does food become pastry? Well, you may assume that foods made with pastry are all desserts. Although many are, this is not the case. Pastries can be savory as well as sweet. Typically, savory pastries are filled with some sort of meat and vegetable mix, but we’ll get to the specifics later.
Essentially, any food, sweet or savory, made with fatty dough is a pastry. The content of fat in the dough needs to be high, however, which helps distinguish pastry from other food that could be mistaken for pastry, such as cookies, pizza, or bread.
What Does it Mean to Laminate Your Pastries?
Don’t worry, there will be no flattening your pastry between pieces of plastic! However, there is a pastry-making technique called lamination that will be essential to know when making your own pastry. Some pastries will require lamination, and some won’t – it all depends on the specific pastry you want to make and its style, but we’ll talk about the specific pastries in a moment.
Lamination refers to pastry dough that has been folded. Why has it been folded? To create tiny, intricate layers of butter in the pastry.
The dough is chilled so that the butter doesn’t melt, which would smudge the perfect layers one is trying to produce.
After the folding process is finished, when the pastry bakes the butter melts, evaporating into the dough and it puffs the dough up. The texture is light, spongy, and buttery, and leaves the smallest little creases throughout the pastry. The crust can be baked to perfection as well, leaving a crispy, buttery texture when biting into all the layers. Delicious!
What about non-laminated dough? Non-laminated dough is dough that you mix, but that is not folded. Because it lacks the puffing quality of the laminated dough, non-laminated pastries may need to use leavening agents such as baking powder or yeast to rise, or it can just stay flat and use only the original three ingredients.
Why would you not want to laminate your dough? Well, some styles of pastry don’t want laminated dough for reasons such as being able to roll out, cut, and shape their dough.
Laminated dough is very delicate, and the layers can be ruined if you mess around with it too much. You’ll see, but I can assure you that non-laminated dough can taste and be just as marvelous as laminated dough!
Types of Pastries from Around the World
Ready to learn about the international pastry craze? Below, we’re going to introduce you to the biggest names in the pastry industry, the most famous and popular types of pastries from around the world. Read on!
1. The Cannoli
Cannolis are Italy’s pride and joy when it comes to desserts, apart from gelato. Cannolis were first created in the ninth century in Palermo. These pastries are folded up by the corners into a tube shape, then fried to hold their shape like a shell.
Then, they’re loaded up with a sweet, creamy ricotta cheese blend, and topped with a garnish of chocolate chips or crushed pistachio. Sampling cannolis is a must whenever visiting this gorgeous country.
2. Delightful Danishes
Danishes originate from Denmark. They are an example of strict dough lamination, requiring precisely twenty-seven layers in their dough. Danishes are highly leavened as well, using yeast as well as the puff from lamination, but they are not tall as you’d expect. Relatively flat, the layers become even more small and intricate.
Danishes are a beloved breakfast pastry in America as well as their origin country. Made with such fruity, berry fillings as apple, raspberry, blueberry, and cherry, it is a common dessert to find in a coffee shop, bakery, or gas station as a quick and delicious (though highly sugary) breakfast. Perfect danishes should have a crispy outer layer and a flaky, buttery inside.
Éclairs are a type of choux (pronounced shoe) pastry, which is a French invention. You know American cream puffs? Or in French, profiteroles? Well, these are created from the choux pastry of the French. Choux pastry is made in a way that creates a crispy outer shell, and a hollow middle that can be filled with, specifically, cream.
So, with an éclair, the choux pastry is piped into long fingers, then fried like a donut (donut being another American version of the pastry). When it is finished in the fryer, it has puffed up and become hollow in the center.
The center is then filled with custard, chocolate, or any other type of cream, and frosted on the top of the pastry. When eaten, a great éclair should be crispy, light, and puffy.
Baklava is probably one of the more unique types of pastry. Baklava was created in Turkey and uses an abnormal pastry technique called filo pastry to achieve its crispy, flaky dessert.
Filo pastry is achieved by mixing the dough, then rolling it out into the thinnest of sheets, so small they are almost transparent and look like sheets of rice paper. From there, the dessert is made of a stack of filo pastry interspersed with chopped, candied nuts, and soaked in a sweet syrup.
Yes, we Americans get to come in somewhere! We have certainly made our own pastries over the years, one of the truly most American being the cronut. Made to be a blend of a croissant and donut, it takes the dough of a croissant, which is then shaped and fried like a donut.
Croissants use the lamination technique, so layers are formed in this dessert, to which cream is added to the center. Cronuts were invented in New York City very recently compared to many of these desserts– only in the past three decades! They are a must when visiting to get the full experience.
Macarons are another French invention (the French are known to be the queens of pastry, and they invented much more than what this article will go into). Macarons are a more unique version of a pastry like baklava is. These little desserts are small pastry sandwiches, around the size of a quarter.
Macarons are made with almond flour and egg whites, which gives them their height and their strange, shiny, domed shape. Between the two pieces of pastry, a frosting or cream is added. One of the best perks of making macarons is that they aren’t finicky when it comes to experimenting with colors and flavors like many other pastries are. You will never find brown bread-like macarons in bakeries– they will always be brightly colored and made with crazy flavors!
Strudels are an Austrian pastry, with a similar look to an American Pop Tart (Pop Tarts being modeled after strudel!). These pastries are made with filo pastry, making them full of thin, flaky layers.
Strudel is also stuffed with fillings that are similar to Danish fillings, such as apple, cherry, cheese, and chocolate. Finally, it is iced with sweet icing on top.
Empanadas are a pastry hailing from Spain (as it’s turning out, Europe has the monopoly on pastry inventions!). They are a non-laminated, savory pastry that is crescent-shaped and filled with hot fillings such as meat, cooked vegetables, and cheese.
They are best visualized as hot pockets – crescent-shaped, bulging pastries full of meat and vegetables, sealed on the end creating a ridged edge. When baked right, these pastries are crispy, buttery, and flaky and add so much pleasure to the dining experience.
Croissants are from, you guessed it – France! Probably known as the most famous of France’s foods, croissants are a laminated puff pastry that takes multiple days of folding and refrigerating to create. These pastries are then rolled out, cut into triangles, and rolled into their famous crescent shape.
These pastries should be flaky, light, and buttery and can be eaten as a roll, a breakfast, or cut in two for a sandwich. Croissants can also have fillings such as cheese, or sweet fillings such as honey and chocolate (pain de chocolat), which makes them both a sweet and savory pastry.
10. Game Pies
Typical Thanksgiving pies in America also count as pastry, but pies don’t always have to be sweet. In Britain, game pies are a famous Regency-era food.
Made with a laminated shortcrust or hot water crust pastry, these pies are made with a crust and a top, but rather than covering the sweet, fruity filling of an American pie, they cover savory fillings made from game meat and hot vegetables.
Think of chicken pot pie– a successful and delicious game pie that has a buttery, flaky crust that only enhances the enjoyment of the meal.
Pretzels may have been adopted heavily into the American diet and culture, but they are originally from Germany. These pastries are non-laminated. The bread is rolled and twisted into their famous knot shape, then fried in boiling water with a hint of baking soda to create their hard, crispy shell with the soft, tearable dough inside.
Typically these pastries are found to be plain and salted or filled with cheese, but there can be sweet varieties as well.