Classic Breakfast Pastries

by Fred Decker

    In much of Europe, a good bakery or coffee shop serves an array of classic pastries. They're made from a surprisingly small number of basic doughs, shaped and filled in inventive ways. Most are made from puff pastry, croissant dough, Danish pastry and brioche, all of them created originally by skilled professionals. Busy moms who want to make some of these at home can easily replicate the end result using frozen dough. Get your kids involved and build lifelong kitchen memories of making home-baked breads together.

    Puff pastry, croissants and Danishes are all examples of what bakers call a "laminated" dough because it consists of separate, distinct layers of dough and butter. Puff pastry is the simplest of these and the most exacting, because it contains no yeast or other leavening. All of its considerable lift comes from the layers of butter rolled into the dough, and a quick, hot baking process. Puff pastry can be folded around a fruit or cream filling to make breakfast turnovers, and pastry chefs often bake hollow cases -- called vol-au-vents, or patty shells -- to hold similar fillings.

    Croissant dough is made using a layering process very similar to the one for puff pastry. Croissant dough contains fewer layers than puff pastry and generates the remainder of its lift from yeast. A well made, all-butter croissant is a memorable pleasure. Industrial versions, using various combinations of shortening, butter and margarine, are still flaky and versatile, if lower in quality. In the United States, breakfast croissants are often baked with ham or cheese between the layers. In France, croissant dough is rolled around a bar of dark chocolate to make pain au chocolat, a popular breakfast pastry.

    Danish pastry is similar to croissant dough but is slightly richer and sweeter. The Danes themselves call this type of pastry "Wienerbrod," meaning "Viennese bread." The dough makes light and flaky pastries, though the extra richness makes them less crisp than a good croissant. Danish dough can be shaped into the familiar round snail shapes, twists, figure-eights, bear claws, pinwheels and any number of other variations. Most fillings are made from fresh or dried fruit, but cheese or custard fillings are not unusual.

    Brioche is a type of soft bread used at breakfast time in France and elsewhere. It is rich with eggs and butter and is often slightly sweetened. Small brioche rolls, or slices of larger brioches, are a common breakfast option on mainland Europe. They are traditionally baked in a fluted pan, with a smaller piece of dough baked on top as the "head." Brioche dough makes the best and flakiest of cinnamon rolls, a popular breakfast treat across the United States. It can also be used to make fruit bread or raisin bread for toasting, or can be shaped and filled like Danish dough.

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    About the Author

    Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer who has written and blogged on food-related topics since 2007. Previously he sold computers, insurance and mutual funds. Decker was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

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