Pastries, as we know them today, evolved in medieval Europe where the dominant fats were lard and butter. Unlike the olive oil used by Greek and Roman cooks, butter and lard produced stiffer doughs that made crisp, tasty cases for various baked foods. The French became masters, and while the names of the varieties may sound intimidating, some are no more daunting than swapping butter for the lard your grandma used in piecrusts.
- Pâte brisée (paht bree-ZAY): The French term for short-crust pastry, made with butter, flour and water, used for pies, tarts and quiches.
- Pâte sucrée (paht soo-KRAY): Same as above, but sweetened and enriched with egg. Used for pies and tarts.
- Pâte feuilletée (paht fuh-yuh-TAY): French puff pastry. Dough is rolled thin, spread with butter and folded and re-rolled repeatedly to produce multiple flaky layers. True puff pastry (700 microscopically thin layers separated by equally skinny layers of butter) is generally left to professionals, but a more rustic form called “rough puff” or “demi-feuilletée” can be successfully tackled home.
- Pâte à choux (paht ah SHOO): Extremely versatile dough made by boiling water with butter, adding flour, cooking briefly, then beating in eggs. Spoonfuls are dropped or piped onto a baking sheet, resulting in hollow, cloud-like shells. Used for éclairs, cream puffs, and profiteroles (pronounced proh-FIY-ter-olh, often stuffed with ice cream for dessert, savory fillings for canapés.) With the addition of cheese, choux pastry becomes gougères, a specialty of Burgundy.
—By Joe Marshall, Creator of Cookcabulary