Let’s start at the beginning: what is puff pastry?
Puff pastry is a light, flaky crust or dough that is used a lot in baking. It entails layering dough with butter and then kneading over and over again, essentially forming layers of dough and butter – alternatives could be margarine or lard – which gives it its light texture. This layering, which causes the dough to rise in the oven, without yeast gives the delicacy its name.
Puff pastry is used in creating delicacies like croissants and tarts.
Like many concepts that have existed for centuries, the origin of puff pastry is obscure. The most widely spread account claims that a French pastry apprentice known as Claudio Gele invented it in 1645 by accident. Claudio was said to be baking bread for his sick father whose diet was limited to flour, water and butter. In this account, as his master watched him knead, he warned Claudio about the butter running out of the dough in the oven.
Unrelenting, Claudio bakes the bread anyway, and both apprentice and master are astounded at the results. Claudio goes on to work for many other bakeries and patisseries in Paris and Florence, gaining fame and fortune for his employers. At a point, his recipe was stolen, but he continued working tirelessly until he died a highly acclaimed artist in 1682. This hilarious article somewhat debunks this account, which doesn’t seem to have any reliable sources.
Many other speculations about the origin of puff pastry exist, some of which claim that is was a concept in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. It is said that thin sheets of flour and oil were stuffed with fruits, dates, nuts etc. Other accounts speak of the first version of puff pastry originating from 13th Century Arabs whose version used wheat flour.
Unless there’s a way to travel back in time, I doubt the origin of puff pastry can be traced back to one particular country or civilization. I’m inclined to believe that many different variations appear in different cultures throughout history. Puff pastry is pretty much a staple in baking today, used as the base for a lot of baked goods like quiches, tarts, pies etc. Due to the painstaking process required in making a good puff pastry, they can be store-bought, and pre-packaged.
One thing I am grateful for is that puff pastry exists!
Whats your fave Puff Pastry?
Ed Note: mine is Egg Custard Tarts especially the ones sold at M&S – sigh