A pastry chef is trained in the techniques of making desserts of all kinds. From the everyday fruit pies and simple cakes to the elaborate speciality doughs used in elegant desserts, the pastry chef turns out tasty confections that add the perfect ending to any meal or to an afternoon tea.
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Puff pastry consists of thin layers of pastry alternated with thin layers of butter. The butter is enveloped in the dough; then the dough is rolled out, refolded and rolled again. This is repeated six times by the pastry chef, after which the dough and butter layers are quite thin. Once the puff pastry has been formed, many kinds of desserts can be created from it. Pastry chefs make turnovers by filling squares of puff pastry with a sweetened fruit mixture, folding them into triangles, sealing the edges and baking. The chef can layer rectangles of baked puff pastry with vanilla cream and top them with a sugar glaze and ribbons of decorative chocolate for decadent Napoleons. Sometimes the pastry chef rolls out puff pastry dough into a large rectangle, spreads on a cinnamon or other flavoured topping and rolls the left and right sides until they meet in the middle. These are chilled until firm, sliced and baked for crispy Palmiers. Strudel is made with dough covered in brown sugar, raisins, cinnamon and apples, and rolled from one side, sealed and baked.
Chefs make choux pastry by mixing flour, eggs and other ingredients and cooking them in a saucepan, and mixing until the dough separates from the sides of the pan. The choux pastries is then placed on a baking tray in dollops, sometimes using a pastry bag with special tips, and baked in the oven. They rise high because of the accumulation of steam inside the pastries. Cooked choux pastry is filled with flavoured creams such as vanilla and chocolate to make cream puffs, otherwise known as profiteroles and eclairs. Doughnut-like confections called crullers are also made from choux pastry. Beignets, revered in Paris and in New Orleans, are sugar-laden fried pastries eaten for breakfast or a snack.
Pastry chefs turn out exquisite cakes, often decorated for a special occasion such as a wedding or birthday. These cakes may be sheet cakes of one layer or fancy tiered affairs. Speciality cakes such as Lady Baltimore and Lane cakes have highly flavoured fillings between the layers, consisting of some variety of nuts, raisins, coconut, cherries or figs. Both types of cakes are then frosted with a plain white fluffy icing. More often than not, the filling is graced with a measure of bourbon. Miniature cakes, called petits fours, are covered in a pourable icing; once that icing is set, the bite-sized cakes are decorated with piped designs of coloured frosting. Swiss roll desserts can be a simple sponge cake rolled with a sweet-but-tart fruit filling and sprinkled with confectioners' sugar or it can be a fancy holiday treat. The traditional cake version of the Yule Log, called the Buche de Noel, is constructed in jellyroll fashion and frosted with bark-coloured chocolate frosting.
Chefs use shortcrust pastry most typically for pie shells. These can include single crust pies in which there is only a bottom crust, a double crust pie that encloses the filling entirely, or a cooked bottom crust to which a prepared filling is added. Sometimes, strips of shortcrust are woven across the top of a pie for a lattice effect. Shortcrust pies can be sweet or savoury. There are many more uses for the tender-crumb pastry. Fancy fruit tarts can be formed in shallow, round tart pans. Shortcrust pastries formed as individual round pies, then folded and sealed in a half-circle can be baked or fried, with sweet or savoury fillings. Cornish pasties, originating from the Cornish area of England back during the tin mining days, are portable meals consisting of meat, potato and vegetable fillings. Bite-sized desserts such as pecan tassies are essentially a miniature pecan pie.
Filo dough, a paper-thin dough used in multiple layers brushed with butter, creates the crispiest pastries of all. It is a difficult dough to create from scratch, but is available frozen in preformed sheets. Pastry chefs make the Greek delicacy, Baklava, by layering the filo with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon and walnuts. It is scored for individual servings and baked, then drenched in a honey and lemon glaze. It is scored before baking because the filo is so delicate that it would crumble if the entire cutting took place after baking. Another dessert chefs make from filo dough is the bite-sized triangle pastry, in which a dollop of filling of choice, sweet or savoury, is enclosed on a long strip of filo dough layers by folding flag-style, sealed and baked.
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