In the medieval cuisine of Northern Europe, pastry chefs were able to produce nice, stiff pastries because they cooked with shortening and butter. Some incomplete lists of ingredients have been found in medieval cookbooks, but no full, detailed versions. There were stiff, empty pastries called coffins or "huff paste", that were eaten by servants only and included an egg yolk glaze to help make them more enjoyable to consume. Medieval pastries also included small tarts to add richness.
Hot water crust pastry is used for savoury pies, such as pork pies, game pies and, more rarely, steak and kidney pies. Hot water crust is traditionally used for making hand-raised pies. The usual ingredients are hot water, lard and flour, the pastry is made by heating water, melting the fat in this, bringing to the boil, and finally mixing with the flour. This can be done by beating the flour into the mixture in the pan, or by kneading on a pastry board.
Different kinds of pastries are made by utilizing the natural characteristics of wheat flour and certain fats. When wheat flour is mixed with water and kneaded into plain dough, it develops strands of gluten, which are what make bread tough and elastic. In a typical pastry, however, this toughness is unwanted, so fat or oil is added to slow down the development of gluten.
The use of chocolate in pastry-making in the west, so commonplace today, arose only after Spanish and Portuguese traders brought chocolate to Europe from the New World starting in the 16th century. Many culinary historians consider French pastry chef Antonin Carême (1784–1833) to have been the first great master of pastry making in modern times.
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