The Evolution of Pastry Dough

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Pastry dough has evolved vastly over time, mainly due to technological advancements and globalization, but its evolution has also had many cultural effects. The evolution of dessert dough and how it's impacted different cultures can be seen from B.C. to the present. With the knowledge of pastry’s inception, the opportunity to become a successful pastry historian is born. In today's ever-growing technological industry, it is of the utmost importance that the technology used to make pastries and its own evolution be discussed to the fullest extent. Whilst time passed, pastries have changed for example, through the pastry explosion of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, pastries always found their way into the heart of cultures around the world. With culture comes globalization, and with globalization comes the introduction of new ideas. Although not all ideas created this way are perfectly executed, it is paramount to note its effects. As any knowledgeable chef must understand, the only way to perfect a dish is to first recognize its effects in history. This is the what, when, where, and whom, of pastry’s greatest creations and advancements.

Since long before man recorded recipes, we learned to cook. Once the ability to cook was realized, the challenge of baking soon followed. Dating back as far as 9000 BCE in Mesoamerica, pastries got their debut. From a recently discovered ingredient called maize, Mesoamericans created their form of flour. Flour was first discovered in roughly 10000 BCE in France, but due to the lack of world travel, Mesoamericans discovered it for themselves. With the introduction of maize flour, the first recorded pastry was developed; the tortilla. Although nowadays the tortilla is not seen as a pastry or dessert product, the tortilla was an all-around dish able to be served as bread, as a plate, as a spoon, and as desserts. Served filled with fruit or cheeses, the tortilla-based desserts were only fit to tribal leaders or other people of great importance. Tortillas are the staple of Mexican and Mesoamerican cuisine. They were originally made from maize (corn) and ground limestone. Mesoamericans made tortillas from boiling the maize kernels and limestone, waiting one day until peeling the kernels and grinding them, adding the water and kneading the dough. Once the dough is rolled out thinly it is placed on fire until rounded and golden brown.

On the other side of the world in Greece, pastries were a delicacy fit only for the gods. Pastries were used as sacrificial offerings to their gods. Their pastries of choice are called “filo” meaning multi-layered dough. Most food historians agree that filo dough has its roots in the Greek Empire. Due to greek ingenuity at the time, they were very efficient at creating flour and growing wheat. As a result, they made large amounts of dough that they baked as pastries, loaves of bread, and other treats. Greek cooks were always inventing new ways to use wheat-based products. Filo was one of these and has been part of Greek desserts ever since. Fillo dough is a thing salty dough use primarily for layered desserts. Nowadays filo is used in all sorts of popular desserts such as baklava, spanakopita, and tiropita.

In order to understand the importance of pastries nowadays, it is necessary to know their original purpose and significance. Egypt was one of the original innovators of pastry doughs. From Egypt’s pastry inception in roughly 5500 B.C.E., pastry doughs had been at the center of Egyptian culture. They have been used for ceremonial, sacrificial, and royal pleasure purposes.

Dough-based pastries were used as royal pleasures. Egyptians used pastries mainly based on fruits. Whether the natural fruits of Egypt such as dates or figs, or the traded fruits of Egypt such as pomegranates or watermelons, fruit-based pastries were a delicacy unfit for most Egyptians. It has been discovered that dough based pastries such as Zalabya and Feteer meshaltet, were used as offerings from the lower class to the pharaohs. They believed that if their pastries were capable of pleasing the pharaoh, the pharaoh may return them with good fortune.

Pastries also were used ceremonially. This was mainly through helping souls of the deceased pass through into the afterlife. A core of Egyptian pastry use was in tombs or graves. They believed that if surrounded by items, foods, or delicacies that someone enjoyed in life once dead, a person can pass through the afterlife successfully.

In addition, pastries were used as sacrificial offerings to the Egyptian Gods. Dough-based pastries were one of the primary food offerings to Egyptian Gods, because of this they were revered as sacred. For example in Offering Formula and Ritual, Marie Parsons states, “The principal inscription on the False Door Stelae (in Cairo) of the Early Dynastic period formed the focus of pastry offerings in early private tombs...” (10). Both in Egypt and all around the world, pastries played a vital role in culture and religion, shaping the modern pastries we know and the cultures we study.

When dough based pastries were first introduced, the technology and tools used to make them were archaic in comparison to modern day baking instruments. Due to the lack of electrical technology, pastry chefs or patissiers were challenged with a much more hands-on style of baking than what there is have today. Although even today baking takes time, passion, and very hard work; when pastry dough was first incepted it was greatly more difficult to construct.

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Dating as far back as 10,000 BCE, when flour was first introduced, the French began using a tool called a mortar and pestle. The mortar and pestle consist of a stone bowl called the mortar and a bat-like tool used to crush called a pestle. The mortar and pestle were used to crush wheat and other grains to make flour. Although the mortar and pestle is not a tool that would be seen or used often today, it was one of the first baking-specific tools.

One of the most important tools in a patissier’s kitchen of any time is the oven. The first record of baking using an oven is in the upper kingdom of Egypt in roughly 3200BCE. The Egyptians used a form of oven called the wood-fired brick oven. This oven was made by stacking bricks in a circular formation with a fire and coles lit underneath the bricks and a large stone cover. A variation of this design of ovens is still used today in modern-American pizza restaurants.

Jumping forward to colonial America, when the colonists were attempting to make cakes and other pastries using formal brick ovens. The only challenge was that they cannot regulate temperature accurately. The foremothers of America designed a new beehive-shaped brick oven. The idea of this was to be able to more easily regulate temperature by letting the wood burn to ash and putting their hands through the ‘hive-holes’ to feel if the temperature is accurate. Although not nearly as accurate as today's oven gauges, the women of colonial America came closer than anyone beforehand.

In 1795, the first cast iron stove was invented. This invention came from Count Benjamin Thomas Rumford of Woburn, Massachusetts. He was an American-born British physicist and inventor. The main idea of this oven was to have a single fire-source that could regulate the temperature individually for several ports at the same time, all of this while heating the room. The only drawback to this outstanding invention for their time was the size. Due to the ability for multiple port cooking, the oven was designed for professional kitchens. This meant its size was too large for most modest kitchens.

Whilst time has passed, pastries and the science surrounding them have changed vastly. Some of these developments include the isolation of bakers yeast and the development of chemical leavening agents. Each of these advancements instrumentally changed how pastries were created without largely affecting their outcome on a flavor aspect.

To open, the isolation of baker's yeast played a large role in what is called the pastry explosion of the 19th through 20th centuries. In the 19th century, the yeast used by bakers was obtained from french alcohol brewers. In the brewing process, yeast multiplies and thus is a by-product of brewing. However, yeast selected for brewing did not have the properties needed for baking. Both bakers and brewers yeast are of the Saccharomyces Cerevisiae species but are different strains. In the early 20th century, advances in microbiology enabled a yeast strain suited for baking to be isolated and create an industry centered on producing yeast for baking. Over the past century, a number of changes and improvements have been developed for yeast production. Active dry yeast was developed for the armed services during World War II. In a sealed pouch, it has a shelf life of one year and when properly hydrated is able to reproduce. This form of yeast was immediately readily available in supermarkets for home bakers. However, come the 1990s commercial bakeries switched to cream yeast for bread production which was not easily available to the public.

Another advancement to which aided in the pastry explosion of the 19th and 20th century is the development of chemical leavening agents. During the 19th-century pastry goods were produced mainly in the home or small shops. Baked pastry goods available we're limited by the leavening agents baker's had at hand. These were essentially only air or ammonium bicarbonate. Ammonium bicarbonate is a leavening agent made from the ground antlers of reindeer, this is an ancestor of modern baking powder. Although air is an effective leavening agent, it does not by itself produce a light product. Generally, air-leavened products tend to be heavy and/or debts. Ammonium bicarbonate was available but was limited to use in products that do not retain much moisture. Many of the problems with leavened pastries were solved with the invention of baking powder. Baking powder was invented in the late 19th century and came into wide-spread use early in the 20th century. Baking powder is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and one or more acidic salts together with a dry inert powder of which is usually dried starch. Baking powder can be single or double acting, in the case of single acting baking powder the acid is usually soluble in water and dust leavening is triggered as soon as the water is added. In Double Dash acting baking powder, however, the less soluble acid often requires heating of the product in an oven to trigger leavening. With the invention of baking powder, pastry chefs were able to much more accurately leaven doughs.

The technology used currently for pastry chefs is not something typically thought of. As opposed to the time of pastry’s inception, when all baking had to be done by hand; baking pastries nowadays is almost completely automatic. There are machines in which all is needed is ingredients and in only a few minutes there will be perfectly cooked pastries. In order for this to happen, first, a modern day oven is needed and second a new stand mixer.

As previously discussed, ovens have come a very long way from their beginnings. Presently, the main oven type on the market is gas. The first gas oven was invented in 1802 but didn't hit the market until three decades later. Even from then ovens have changed a lot. Now, it's possible to start an oven and set its temperature all at once. In addition, ovens are the most accurate to which they’ve ever been in temperature settings. The more technology grows, the more the tools evolve.

Another piece of technology that has assisted in the evolution of pastry doughs is the stand mixer. Initially all ingredients were mixed by hand. This was a much more difficult and physically taxing technique of dough-making. Even on January 16th, 1856 when the first hand-mixer was invented; baking was still a difficult and manual task. It wasn’t until March 24th, 1908, when Herbert Johnson invented the stand-alone-mixer; that baking began to become automated. Nowadays, the stand mixer is an essential piece of any bakers culinary arsenal. They come standard with more options and modes of use than ever before.

Ultimately, pastry dough has evolved vastly over time. Primarily due to technological advancements and globalization, but its evolution has also had many cultural effects. The evolution of dessert dough and how it's impacted different cultures can be seen from as far back as Mesopotamia and Egypt. In order to fully understand a dish or style of baking is to know it's history. However archaic, the early technology used to make pastries is what has sparked the ever-growing industry of baking technology. The pastry explosion of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries opened up new scientific ways to bake doughs. As any knowledgeable chef must understand, the only way to perfect the art of pastry making is to first recognize its effects in history. Without these advancements and histories, pastries today would be nothing similar to what they are.

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