Muriel Barbery once said: “Pastries can only be appreciated to the full extent of their subtlety when they are not eaten to assuage our hunger, and when the orgy of their sugary sweetness is not destined to fill some primary need, but to coat our palate with all the benevolence of the world.”
In celebration of Bastille Day, we’re revisiting three of our favourite French pastries, and share new and exciting ways in which to use them.
Light and airy, flaky pastry is often confused with puff pastry. Smaller clumps of butter are used rather than one big piece. It is made by folding and rolling quite a few times to create layers that rise into thin sheets in the oven. Heavier than puff pastry, but easier to make, flaky pastry is usually baked in an oven tray full of water at the bottom of the oven, because the steam helps it to rise evenly and develop a crisp crust. The butter should be very cold and the dough handled as quickly as possible to prevent the butter from melting. Winter is the best time to make this pastry as the temperatures are much cooler. Store it in the refrigerator for two to three days, or for three months in the freezer.
What to bake? Beef empanada
Short and sweet
Buttery, sweet shortcrust is so much better when it is home-made and should be made at least 30 minutes in advance. The best results come from handling the making of the dough properly. The ingredients should be at the same temperature, don’t try to blend in egg yolks straight out of the refrigerator and butter should be at room temperature. The dough should never be overworked as this will create gluten, which will make the pastry rubbery rather than a short texture. Icing sugar produces a finer pastry that holds its shape better as it cooks. Shortcrust pastry is often blind baked prior to filling to prevent it from getting soggy. It can easily be stored in the freezer until it’s ready to be used – it keeps keeps for two days in the refrigerator and three months in the freezer.
What to bake? Snoek, caperberry and olive quiches
Eat my choux… pastry
Choux is one of the easiest pastries to make and is very rewarding since the different shapes that can be created from it look spectacular: think, croquembouches, éclairs, profiteroles, etc. When making choux it is important to add the eggs one at a time while whisking, as they might split and create an undesirable texture. The pastry should also be baked long enough to prevent it from collapsing after baking. It is best to use the choux dough immediately after adding the eggs.
What to bake? Milk tart éclair trifle with pinotage jelly and naartjie syrup