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This week is Pastry week and as exciting as it is, I am unsure exactly what it entails. If one were to look up the definition for pastry, one would get:

pas·try/ˈpāstrē/Noun:

1.A dough of flour, shortening, and water, used as a base and covering in baked dishes such as pies. 2.An item of food consisting of sweet pastry with a cream, jam, or fruit filling.

But most pastry chefs make more than just "pastry". I would argue that cake is a pastry. Or that Chinese pork buns are a type of Chinese pastry. So what I am essentially asking is, what is the scope/limit of a baked good to be included in the pastry genre of baking.

  • No, please don't ask definition questions like this on the main site, it's for practical questions. Meta was the appropriate venue. – Aaronut Jan 17 '12 at 17:05
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    cough tag wiki cough, we really ought to have them for the tag-of-the-week. – derobert Jan 23 '12 at 20:43
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    @derobert: It would help a lot to have advance notice of the topics (hint hint, Laura). – Aaronut Jan 24 '12 at 23:30
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But most pastry chefs make more than just "pastry".

I think that should be our guiding principle here. If you'd find it in a pâtisserie, or the repertoire of an average pastry chef, it's a pastry.

To me that conjures up images of profiteroles, tarts, macarons, tortes, danishes, possibly custard dishes (panna cotta, crème brûlée, etc.), and maybe cupcakes or sweet crêpes. Pastries from other regions like halva, gulab jamuns, beaver tails, etc. would obviously be welcome as well.

Cookies, cakes, candies, and savory dishes are out in my mind. Maybe it's just my background in French baking, but if somebody served me that and called it a pastry (as opposed to just "dessert"), I'd definitely look at them funny.

Honestly, I think that the current tag is a pretty good representation of this definition, aside from a couple of people who should have tagged their questions instead (I'm going to fix that shortly).

  • I think this is a great guideline for what is included in "pastry". If there are no objections, let's use Aaronut's suggestions. – Laura Jan 18 '12 at 15:25
  • Yea i think this clears up most of question about food that is on the fence of pastry and nonpastry. – Jay Jan 18 '12 at 18:51
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    Sorry, I find this extremely confusing. Maybe it is an ESL issue, but I tried to come up with questions and I was never sure if my question fits under pastry or not. Brownies? Saint Honoré? Why do you say that "tortes" are pastry and "cakes" are not, when dictionaries say that "cake" is the English translation for "torte"? And why do you include halva, which is a candy? Maybe we should create a longer list, or say that "everything which is included in 'The professional pastry chef' counts" - which however makes it way too inclusive. – rumtscho Jan 19 '12 at 18:09
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    @rumtscho: Halva is a candy? Where did you get that from? Brownies are definitely not pastries, and maybe I shouldn't have said tortes - 2 days later I can't remember exactly what I was thinking at the time, but it definitely wasn't cake. – Aaronut Jan 19 '12 at 19:38
  • @Aaronut In Turkey and other ex-ottoman countries, (tahini) halva is considered a "sweet" similar to lokum (=turkish delight), lollipops, and nougat halva (=turrone). It is definitely not considered a "baked dessert" like baklava or kadaif. I don't think there is a distinction between "baked desserts" and "pastry" in Turkish cuisine, but most things an American calls pastry will fall under the "baked desserts" category, and the other Turkish sugary desserts will fall under "sweet", so I consider halva to be a candy. – rumtscho Jan 19 '12 at 19:56
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    As for brownies, I asked in chat and got two different opinions from two different Americans. Which means that I am not the only one confused. Please don't understand it as an attack at your answer - it is already a good step in the right direction - but I am afraid that it isn't yet specific enough to be unambiguous. I would have proposed an improved version, if I had more trust in my own understanding of the "pastry" term as used by Americans, but as it is, I have to leave it to others. – rumtscho Jan 19 '12 at 19:59
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    @rumtscho: How can brownies be pastries? A brownie doesn't even have a crust. Halva doesn't have the sugar content to be considered a candy; confection maybe (although that's still pushing it), but not candy. – Aaronut Jan 19 '12 at 20:16
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    @Aaronut Nobody ever told me that a "pastry" should have a crust. This is exactly why I asked for more clarification. As for the halva, I may have picked the wrong word with "candy", I would agree with "confection" (although Wikipedia says that in US usage, "candy" is very broad and even includes chocolate bars). But the point is, I can't imagine a reason for including it in "pastry", not even if I try to work with a category derived from your list here, so I ask you to elaborate your definition. – rumtscho Jan 19 '12 at 20:43
  • To be honest, I don't really care that much, it's not like we're getting a flood of borderline questions. Go ahead and think of "pastry" as "dessert" if that's less ambiguous. I'm sure Laura would agree that the important thing is just to get people asking good questions. I'm sticking to my definition here but I'm not going to fuss about or retag everything that I disagree with, unless it's egregiously out of place. – Aaronut Jan 19 '12 at 23:42
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I know I'm a bit late to the party here, and perhaps this should be combined with the other answer, but here goes:

Pastry dough is made of butter, flour and water1; worked together with specific techniques, and shaped into a specific final form. Pastry dough is typically light and flaky with a tender inside. Anything made with pastry dough (sweet or savory) can be "a pastry".*

1) In place of butter, any fat (such as shortening or lard) may be used. A flavor enhancing liquid (such as brandy) for may be used in place of plain water.

Pastry includes croissants, some pie crusts, Danishes, tarts, baklava, pat a choux, as well as things made with phyllo dough or puff pastry.

Baked goods made with batter (batter can be poured) or which are constructed via the creaming method (beating sugar into fat creates air bubbles) are not pastry. This includes cake, cookies (biscuits in the UK), standard doughnuts, waffles, meringues, graham cracker pie crusts and quick-bread style muffins. Dough made with yeast or little fat is not pastry; this includes bread, rolls,

While a "pastry chef" is a chef who specializes in desserts, and a "pastry shop" would serve all kinds of sweets, I think that these terms have come about because it sounds better than "dessert chef".

  • This is technically correct but would also require a lot of retagging to be consistent; I think it would help to set up a good tag wiki, hopefully backing this definition up with a citation and including the disambiguation of "pastry chef" and "pastry shop", then we could start to gradually clean up the tag. For the contest, since it's been running for a week, IMO we should probably grandfather in the questions asked so far, not start cracking down on people who were genuinely trying to participate. – Aaronut Jan 24 '12 at 23:33
  • I wanted to provide a different definition of "pastry" and see if the community agreed. (Because, brownies are dessert, but not pastry.) I agree that it's fine to grandfather previous questions into the pastry contest. I would be happy to write the tag wiki if there are no disagreements with how I've defined pastry here. – KatieK Jan 25 '12 at 0:13
  • Thank you for the answer, it seems like a good guideline for question writers. @Aaronut I agree with the grandfathering - I know Mien wasn't sure about the definition of pastry too when she wrote the popovers question. – rumtscho Jan 25 '12 at 14:16

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