Pâte: Types and Techniques

Food and Travel, International Food, Recipes
on August 30, 2012

Roughly translated, pâte  (PAHT) is French for “paste” and refers to various doughs, batters and pastries. The word is easily confused with its more accented derivative—pâté—which means “pie,” and originally designated a savory mixture of ground meat or vegetables baked in a crust. (In a further linguistic twist, pâté came to refer to the filling itself, and now, when encased by a crust, is more properly referred to as pâté en croûte.)

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 (pronouncedproh-FIY-ter-olh, often stuffed with ice cream for dessert, savory fillings for canapés.) With the addition of cheese, choux pastry becomes gourgères, a specialty of Burgundy.

—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.