Making Pastry Or Paste: A Chef’s Essential Skill

Two danish pastries on a white plate with napkin on a beige table.
Danish pastries. Photo by adamkontor c/o Pixabay.

Cold hands, warm heart, great at pastry. All pastry is a mix of flour, many with fat and water which are all put together to form a dough or paste. Having said that there are so many variants it is hard to know where to start. Yet, a chef needs to master this basic recipe if there is anything to be gained in baking.

Pastries range in shape, texture and taste and their distinctiveness is mainly influenced by the amount of fat and kneeding that is needed to create the dough. Shortcrust pastry for example is the easiest to make.  The degree of shortness or ‘crisp crumbliness’ as read somewhere is dependent on the fat content, the type and way the dough is molded and shaped. Add more fat and the pastry gets shorter. This pastry is also very versatile as it goes well with a range of food flavours. Use it for tarts and pastries, parcels, pies and pasties.

What basic ingredients are needed ?

Flour is always plain, all-purpose, as soft as reasonable and low in gluten.  Harder flours are used for pastas, choux pastry and puff pastry to be honest. If lard is used as the fat, then a crisp, rich shortcrust pastry is prepared and gives the pastry a fine flavor. Butter produces a crisp, rich shortcrust pastry which has the most refined flavor.

Short pastry is sometime times called short paste. It is unsweetened and used for savoury dishes. When baked, a short paste is tender, slightly crumbly and certainly tender, brittle but melts readily in the mouth. It’s great for savoury flans such as quiches, pasties and meat pies.

Sweet pastry or sweet paste is sugar based variant used for dessert casings like tarts and tartlets.

Choux pastry or choux paste. A cooked mixture of flour with fat and water, some sugar and salt and beaten eggs. Always used for profiteroles and eclairs.

Suet pastry or suet paste. An unsweetened paste that is usually steamed and is used for both sweet and savoury dishes.The types of dishes served up include jam rol-poly, dumplings, steamed fruit puddings, syrup puddings and meat puddings like steak and kidney.

Puff pastry or puff pastry. A great example of a laminated paste where fat is sandwiched between layers of dough through folding. It is highly complicated and usually time consuming but the results are worth it. Often used to make savoury paste for sausage rolls, vol-au-vents, bouches, Beef or Salmon Wellington , pie toppings cheese straws etc.  The sweet types are found for apple turnovers and Eccles cakes.

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