Pastry, Puff

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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pastry, puff, is a dough made by layering a flour–water paste with butter, resulting in very thin layers that “puff” up when baked into delicate layers or leaves; both the French pâte feuilletée and Italian pasta sfogliata derive from the word “leaf.” Bakers have figured out two ways to do this. In a technique documented in medieval Arab sources, dough smeared with liquid fat is shaped into a cylinder and then rolled thin. This technique was certainly used in medieval and early modern Spain and is still used to make Neapolitan sfogliatelle. The origin of the French technique, in which the flour–water paste is repeatedly folded around solid butter, rolled out, and refolded, is much more controversial. According to one story, a French pastry cook’s apprentice named Claudius Gele invented puff pastry in 1645, inspired by the diet of flour, butter, and water that his sick father was ordered to follow. An even more improbable tale ascribes that same discovery to the baroque French painter Claude Lorrain. Whether this technique was invented independently in France or developed out of the Arabic approach is difficult to verify. There is mention of a gâteau feuillé as early as 1311, although what this pastry actually was is pure conjecture.