Making the perfect pastry is an art (hence the name pastry arts). That’s because there are countless options, interpretations, and purposes for these popular treats.
But don’t be overwhelmed by the plentiful world of pastries–once you perfect the basics, you may find yourself experimenting with more complex pastries, or even creating your own signature dessert! And good thing, because some combination of flour, fat, and water combine to form pastries in every culture, and appear in almost every type of cuisine.
If you are on the path toward professional pastry work, here are seven pastries every baker should know.
1. Croissants & Other Viennoiseries
Viennoiserie–hard to pronounce, but delicious to eat! French for “things from Vienna,” viennoiserie encompasses an entire category of well-loved pastries, like croissants, danish, brioche, and pain au raisins. Croissants are a staple of French cuisine, taught as an essential in French pastry school. Eaten for breakfast, after lunch, or to accompany dinner, croissants are known for their light, fluffy texture and buttery flavor. They also act as the foundation for a variety of other pastries, with the addition of chocolate, almonds, or various other glazes and fillings.
Like many pastries, croissants use a laminated dough. This means that it is alternatingly layered with butter and dough to create the airy texture so many know and love. Also within the viennoiseries realm is pain au chocolat, a pillowy French pastry rolled around two sticks of chocolate, and pain au raisins which may include a buttercream filling and a fruity glaze.
Pronounced “shoe,” choux is another popular type of pastry that can take many forms, both sweet and savory. Known for its crisp outer shell and airy center, choux is made using an exact combination of butter, flour, water, eggs, and sometimes, salt. Once in the oven, steam from the liquid creates hollow pockets inside–the perfect home for your favorite filling.
Baking school students can learn choux pastry as the foundation for desserts like eclairs, cream puffs, crullers, and even churros. It is also used as a key component in savory dishes like Gougeres. Perfecting choux can be a painstaking process, but when done properly, yields a final product as delicious as it is versatile.
If you’ve enjoyed an apple turnover or feasted on beef wellington, then you’ve had puff pastry. Though historians trace puff pastries back to ancient Egypt’s “salt-rising bread,” the French perfected the puff pastry and it is now a staple of French cuisine.
You’ll encounter puff pastry when making desserts like Napoleons or turnovers. Similar to many other types of pastry, puff pastry dough is made from butter, salt, water, and flour–plus a whole lot of elbow grease! Puff pastry involves repeatedly rolling dough around a cold block of butter until you’ve produced countless layers of dough. The process can be time consuming, but pays off in golden, crispy goodness.
Another of the pastries every baker should know is rough puff pastry. Similar to the full puff discussed above, rough pastry contains a bit less fat, resulting in a slightly heavier texture with not as much…well, puff. This puff pastry option requires a little less time and effort than its full-puff relative and can be used to make tarts and palmiers.
Because of the work involved in making puff pastry, many home bakers opt for the store-bought variety. But french pastry and baking school students will be taught to raise the quality of their culinary creations by making pastries from scratch.
4. Filo Dough
Also called “phyllo”, but always pronounced “fy-lo”, filo dough is a pastry dough made entirely of flour and water. On its own, it doesn’t have a lot of flavor. But partner it with honey, sugar, fruits, herbs, or nuts, and filo dough takes on an entirely new and flavorful life.
One popular example of filo dough is its use in the Greek dessert, baklava, where it features chopped nuts and dried fruits. But the pastry can also be used in savory dishes and is a foundational pastry for professional bakers to learn.
Essential for tarts and other popular pastries, shortcrust is an important pastry for professional bakers to practice. In shortcrust dough, there is a greater amount of flour than fat, which contributes to a more crumbly texture than many other pastry doughs. A well-made shortcrust forms a great foundation for pies, tarts, and quiches of all kinds.
6. Flaky Pastry
Rather than being repeatedly rolled and folded like puff pastry, flaky pastry is rolled out, cut into flakes, and then layered.
Flaky pastry is commonly found in pies, tarts, and quiches and is one of the advanced baking techniques every pastry chef should know. The decision between puff pastry and flaky pastry is up to the discretion of the baker. If you think a flaky, less dense texture would elevate your pastry or creation, this is the type of pastry for you.
Becoming A Professional Pastry Chef
It’s pretty clear–the dough is in the details! So many types of pastries use the same ingredients, but when measured, mixed, and made differently, they create something totally unique. Becoming a pastry expert doesn’t happen by accident. Yes, it’s an art. But, there’s a science to it, too!
At Escoffier, Pastry Arts students can learn the technical skills involved in patisserie, confiserie, and artisan baking, as well as the history and business aspects to back them. At the end of their coursework, students may apply their new knowledge with a hands-on industry externship in a bakery, kitchen, or other professional environment.
If you are looking to take your baking skills to the next level, either as a hobby or profession, it may be easier than you think to start. Explore Escoffier’s online and on-campus Baking and Pastry programs today.
Check out these articles to learn more about a future in pastry arts:
- How Much Do Pastry Chefs Make?
- What Can You Learn in Baking School?
- Pastry Chef vs. Baker: What’s the Difference?
*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.