Pastry was originally made by the Egyptians. They made a flour and water paste to wrap around meat to soak up the juices as it cooked. Pastry was developed in the Middle East and it was brought to Europe by the Muslims in the 7th century. By medieval times local areas had their own puddings and pies. In the 17th century both flaky and puff pastries were used, and intricate patterns on the pies were a work of art.
Today the chief purpose of pastry is to complement the flavour of the fillings and to provide a casing. When learning about pastry it is important to know some terms. Paste is the uncooked pastry mixture with the fat added. It has less water and more fat than the dough which is used for bread and scones. In bakeries a special pastry margarine is used, whereas the tastiest fat to use at home is butter.
The two major types of pastry used in New Zealand are short and puff. Flaky pastry is a more quickly prepared version of puff pastry. Short pastry can be altered to make suet pastry and short sweet pastry. Other pastry types include strudel, filo and choux. Yeasted pastries such as Danish and croissants are made with yeast.
Short pastry is a soft, tender pastry that is made from flour, fat, salt and water. It is made by mixing the fat and flour together, adding water and then rolling the paste. It is cooked at 180°C. Different types of short pastry are used for different foods. Short pastry is used to make meat and other savoury pies. Short sweet pastry with added sugar, and sometimes eggs, is used to make fruit pies, Christmas mince pies and other sweet recipes for desserts. Suet pastry is used as a delicious cover on stew.
Puff pastry is light, flaky and tender. It is made by mixing flour, salt, a little fat and water to form a dough. The dough is then layered with fat, preferably butter, to form hundreds of layers of fat and dough by folding and rolling. When it is baked, water from the dough turns into steam and puffs up the pastry to produce lots of flaky layers. Flaky pastry is made in the same way but has less rolling and folding and is quicker to make. Puff pastry is used for pies and vol-au-vents and can be filled with meat or fruit and spices.