A Guide to Pastries: Ingredient Function and 5 Types of Pastry Dough

For some, baking is a fun pastime. It’s a way to de-stress in your own kitchen and get creative. However, it can also be a valuable career opportunity. While you probably didn’t think of becoming a chef in your youth, mothers often discover later that their passion for pastries can become an asset for a more fruitful life.

So, whether you’re thinking about opening a French patisserie or just started taking pastry classes to make delicious pastries for your family, this article can guide you through your journey. It covers an introduction to the functions of different ingredients in the art of patisserie and the different types of pastry doughs you will encounter.

What is Ingredient Function?

Besides mixing methods, one of the most fundamental knowledge you have to learn in baking is ingredient function. Understanding the role each ingredient plays and how to make them do exactly what you want takes you one step closer to becoming a baking expert.

If you have a good grasp of what an ingredient does and why it does it, you should be able to adjust the recipe according to the result you want.In fact, it can help you figure out how to correct many issues in the baked goods you produce, whether it’s an overly crumbly pie, or a cake base that didn’t rise enough, or anything that’s too pale, too bland, or too dense.

For example, a simple change in fatty ingredients used in a recipe affects the dough greatly. While all pastry doughs comprise flour, water, and fat, the fat can come in many forms, including butter, oil, lard, and shortening.

Alternatively, changing the ratio of these ingredients and how these are mixed together also determine the result.

5 Basic Types of Pastry Dough

Now that you understand what ingredient function is, you must also learn about the five basic types of pastry dough.

All your favorite pastries are made from these different doughs, so make sure you’re getting the right consistency and dough characteristics to match the pastry you’re aiming for.

1. Shortcrust pastry

Out of all the basic types of pastries, shortcrust is arguably the most forgiving of all. It is considered a foolproof dough, with high resilience to overworking. It is also quite versatile compared to other pastries.

Shortcrust is more cohesive than flaky pastries and is often used for quiche, tarts, and pies because of its sturdy constitution. In fact, this type of dough is not that different from the popular shortbread cookie dough.

Shortcrust pastry is made of plain or all-purpose flour and fat, which can either be lard, butter, or a combination of both. These are usually bound together using cold water, though using eggs makes for a richer pastry.

2. Flaky pastry

Flaky pastry – also called quick pastry, rough puff, or blitz pastry – is light, unleavened, and requires a brief time to make. It is similar to puff pastry but is also distinct from it.

Deemed as the simplest and most rustic of all pastry doughs, flaky pastry can also be used for pies and quiche, though it is also great for sausage rolls and turnovers.

The key to making this type of dough is the use of lumps of butter (about one to two-and-a-half inches across) rather than a big rectangle butter bar. The dough is rolled and folded, much like how bakers make puff pastry, albeit gentler. Otherwise, you’ll risk a tough and crumbly pastry that doesn’t suit a homemade pie.

3. Puff pastry

Puff pastry has a flaky texture, thanks to hundreds of paper-thin layers of dough with butter trapped in them. When placed inside the oven, the liquid in the mixture evaporates rapidly, making the dough puff upwards and melting the butter to achieve a golden and crispy pastry.

But unlike flaky pastry, puff pastry can take more time to do. Time-consuming as it may be, most pastry chefs like to make it because of the delicious outcome.

Also dubbed as pâtefeuilletée, puff pastry can be used for pie crusts, meat wraps, cream horns, vol-au-vents (a small hollow case of puff pastry), and mille-feuilles (layers of puff pastry, as in a custard or vanilla slice).

4. Choux pastry

Also called pâte à choux, choux pastry is made from a thick and sticky batter from a combination of water, flour, butter, and eggs. But instead of using a rising agent, choux batter is beaten on a stovetop until it turns into a thick mass.

During the process, steam is trapped within the dough. It is later released in the oven which results in a puff pastry with a crispy exterior. Like puff pastry, it is hollow inside and can encase different kinds of fillings for making profiteroles and eclairs.

5. Filo pastry

Also called “phyllo,” filo pastry is an unleavened ultra-thin dough that is made for pastries in Balkan and Middle Eastern cuisines. To make filo-based pastries, you have to layer many sheets of filo brushed with butter or oil. This will then be baked and used as a casing for savory and sweet dishes, like börek and baklava.

There are many ways filo pastry can be made, from layering and rolling to folding and ruffling. These can also be stuffed with plenty of different fillings. Today, filo makers use mechanical rollers, but before World War I, households in Istanbul usually required two filo makers to prepare very thin sheets of it for baklava and slightly thicker ones for börek.

Take Your Passion to the Next Level

Baking for yourself and your family is one thing, but learning how to make French macarons, pretzels, éclairs, pies, and more can be more fruitful as a career.

If you’re passionate about pastries, consider taking it to the next level and transform your love for these tummy-fillers into a source of income. Start with the knowledge presented in this article and learn everything there is to know about the craft from a reputable cooking school.


Shanaaz Raja is the Course Director at International Centre for Culinary Arts – ICCA Dubai.