Pâte (pronounced “pat”) means “dough” or “paste” in French, and is a mixture of flour, liquid, and fat. The fat is commonly butter; however shortening and lard may also be used. Depending on the dough type additional ingredients of salt, eggs, and sugar are added.
The key to successful pastry is patience, practice, quality ingredients, and chilling the pastry as described in the recipe. The following is a description of different pastry doughs used in home and professional pastry kitchens.
Basic Pie Dough (Pâte Brisée):
This is a basic all-purpose pie and tart dough. Pâte brisée (pronounced “pat bree-ZAY”) is the French term for “broken dough.” referring to the broken pieces of cold butter or other fat that are “cut into” the dough until the particles of butter are about the size of peas. Water is then added to bind the ingredients together.
Pâte brisée is made with flour, cold butter, ice cold water, and salt. Sometimes a teaspoon or so of sugar may be added; however, this is not considered sweet dough. The dough should be made quickly with a minimal amount of handling to keep the ingredients chilled and the resulting pastry tender. The dough is chilled before using to allow the flour to absorb the liquid and keep the dough and butter cold.
When the dough is rolled out, the pieces of butter and the moistened flour are flattened out forming layers; the layers of flour dough are separated by the layers of butter. When the dough is baked the butter heats and melts. The heated butter and water create steam which expands the surrounding flour dough producing air pockets and flaky pastry.
This dough is often baked “blind”, meaning it is baked before adding the filling. Basic pie dough is flaky yet sturdy enough to be used for pies, tarts and quiches with sweet or savory fillings.
Cream Puff Pastry, Choux Pastry (Pâte à Choux):
This is the only dough that requires cooking in its preparation. Pâte à choux (pronounced “pat ah shoe”) is the French term for “pastry cabbage” as the dough puffs up similar to a cabbage-shape when baked. Pâte à choux is also referred to as cream puff pastry or cream puff dough.
Pâte à choux is first cooked in a pan on the stove top before baking in the oven. The basic ingredients for Pâte à Choux are butter, milk or water, flour, salt, eggs. When the dough will be used as a savory dish there is generally no sugar added; however, when used for a sweet dessert a small amount of sugar is generally added to the dough. The butter and water or milk is brought to a boil, the flour salt and sugar are added and the mixture is cooked together then slightly cooled. Eggs are slowly added to create a paste like dough. The dough is piped with a pastry bag to form various shapes, and then baked. After the shapes are baked and cooled they are normally filled with sweetened whipped cream, pastry cream, or a savory filling.
Choux pastry is used to make cream puffs having either a sweet or savory filling. It is also used to make sweet pastries such as croquembouche, éclairs, profiteroles, and two classic desserts, Gâteau Saint-honoré and Paris-Brest. See recipe for Pâte à Choux and Pâte à Choux Tips.
Rich Pastry, Short Dough (Pâte Sablée):
Pâte sablée is also known as short dough. Short dough is named for the high ratio of fat used (either butter or shortening) which makes the dough very tender and crumbly.
Pâte Sablée (pronounced “pat sah-BLAY”) is the French term for “sandy dough” referring to rich, sweet, crumbly dough that has a “sandy” appearance in the beginning stages of preparation. The dough is typically made with flour, butter, confectioners’ or granulated sugar, egg, salt, and vanilla or lemon extract, and is used for tarts, tartlets, and sometimes as sugar cookie dough. The pastry is fragile and crumbly and because of the crumbly texture it is normally pressed into the tart pan instead of rolling.
Short dough is generally used for cookies but can also be used for small tarts that have a sweet filling.
Sweet Dough (Pâte Sucrée):
Pâte Sucrée (pronounced “pat soo-CRAY”) is the French term for “sugar dough” or “sweet dough.” Pate sucrée is similar to pâte brisée but with a much higher sugar content.
Sugar is substituted for part of the liquid creating sweet, rich, crisp dough. Sweet dough is typically made with flour, granulated sugar, butter, egg yolks, salt, and vanilla. A small amount of liquid such as heavy cream may be added if needed to bind the mixture together. The pastry is chilled before using so that a minimal amount of flour is needed when rolling to keep the pastry from becoming tough.
Sweet dough is used for pies, tarts, and tartlets that have a sweet filling.
Puff Pastry (Pâte Feuilletée):
Pâte Feuilletée (pronounced “pat foy-eh-TAY”) is the French term for “puff pastry.”
This pastry has many thin crisp and buttery layers due to the way the way the butter is incorporated into the dough, called lamination. The dough is rolled, turned, folded, rested and chilled numerous times as it is prepared to produce mille feuille (pronounced “meel-FWEE”) the French term for “thousand leaves” or “thousand layers.”
Puff pastry dough is made with flour, ice cold water, salt, and butter. There is no sugar added, making this dough suitable for both sweet and savory fillings. The proportions of butter and flour vary with different recipes; however a common ratio is one-half the amount of butter to that of the flour.
The dough is kept as cool as possible while preparing. When the dough is baked the butter heats and melts creating steam which pushes the layers of surrounding dough up producing flaky pastry.
Puff pastry is used to make pastries such as croissants, Danish, Napoleons, palmiers, strudel, and turnovers.
Laminated vs. Non-Laminated Dough:
Lamination is a technique of dough preparation that layers butter and dough in a long process of rolling and folding to create alternating layers of fat and dough. Puff Pastry (Pâte Feuilletée) is laminated dough.
Non-laminated dough is when the fat, normally butter, shortening, or lard, is “cut-in” or sometimes rubbed into the flour. Non-laminated doughs are pâte brisée, pâte à choux, pâte Sablée, pâte Sucrée.