The Many Layers of Pastries

Pastries are baking products made from flour, butter, milk, sugar, and eggs. They can be savory or sweet. The sweet pastries are also called baker’s confectionery. The pastries are made two ways – laminated (in this method, the fat (butter or margarine) is folded repeatedly into the layers of dough) and nonlaminated (in this method, the fat is cut or rubbed into the flour).

Types of Pastries

There are five types of pastries – Shortcrust Pastries, Filo pastries, Choux pastries, Flaky pastries, and Puff pastries.

Shortcrust Pastries – Shortcrust pastries are used as a base of tart, quiche, or pie. They are made using the nonlaminated method and the ratio of flour to butter is 2:1.

Filo Pastries – Filo pastries are the thin, flaky layered pastries that are usually made for Baklawa (Middle Eastern sweet pastry). They are made using the laminated method.

Choux Pastries – Choux pastries are bun-like cream-filled dough pastries that are made for eclairs, profiteroles, croquembouches, etc. For choux pastries, the flour is mixed into the warm mixture of melted butter and water and cooked. The eggs are added when the mixture has cooled down.

Flaky Pastries – Flaky pastries are similar to puff pastries in a way that the dough is rolled into sheets and folded. However, instead of beurrage, small chunks of butter is added to the flour.

Puff Pastries

Puff pastries are laminated pastries. They were originated in France and can be dated back to 17th century. They are called Pâte Feuilletée in French. The basic concept of puff pastry is spreading the butter inside the layers of dough sheets. A block of butter (called Beurrage) is put in the center of the dough sheet and then the dough is folded to form an envelope (This is called Paton in baking terminology). The dough is then rolled several times which creates layers one over the another separated by a thin layer of butter in between.

Formula for Puff Pastry Layers

Yes, there is a formula to calculate the number of layers in a puff pastry, which goes like this:

L = (F + 1)n

In this formula,

L is the final number of layers

F is the number of folding in a single step

‘n’ is the number of times the folding steps is repeated

So, if I folded the dough sheet 2 times in one folding step and repeated this process 6 times, the total (final) number of layers in my pastry dough will be,

(2+1)6 = 729 layers

For a regular pastry, you can repeat the folding steps 4 times and it will give you a good flaky, layered pastry. However, in commercial pastry making, the folding process is repeated 6 times.

Use of Butter or Margarine for layering

When making pastries at home or in less quantity, it is suggested that you use butter as beurrage as butter gives more flavor, sweet smell, and rich taste to your pastry. However, when pastries are made commercially in large quantities, we generally use shortening like margarine (vegetable oil). Margarine is easy to spread in between the dough layers, as it is thin in density. Also, it has a high melting point which results in flakier and well-risen pastry layers.

Things to take care of when making a Puff Pastry

When making puff pastries, you need to careful about the following:

  1. The butter should always be chilled – Till the time butter is chilled, it will spread properly between the sheets and will not come out of the edges. Make sure you keep the Beurrage and Paton in the fridge chilled. When you are rolling the dough, make sure the surface is cold and as soon as you have rolled the dough, keep it back in the fridge for chilling.
  2. Be consistent in making the Paton and Layers – For the layers in the puff pastry to come out evenly on top of each other, it is important that you roll the dough to same size (length and width) to get even layers.
  3. Bake the Pastries in the Hot Oven – Before the pastries go into the oven, they are in fridge so that the butter in between the layers remain chilled. In case the pastries are kept in the oven which is not hot, the butter will melt and come out before the pastries are cooked.

Click on the links for the recipes for Croissants and Puff Pastries – Croissants and Vegetable Puffs