Everything you need to know about buying ready-made pastry in France

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I was surprised when my French neighbour, who is renowned for her cherry clafoutis, told me that French women (and I suppose men, too, but she’s old school) rarely make their own pastry. Maybe that’s because they also see nothing wrong with serving a shop-bought dessert at a dinner party. They value talents of the local pâtissier. However, from time to time they do bake their own quiches and tarts, and this is when they turn their attention to chilled cabinets of the local supermarket.

Photo of pastry
Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

Is ready-made pastry vegan?

This is likely to be your first question. And the answer is: yes and no. Some types of ready-made pastry are ‘accidentally vegan’, though you’re unlikely to find any with a vegan label on them. The packs to look out for are those marked ‘sans beurre’ or even ‘avec beurre’ and ‘pur beurre’, the latter two to avoid. Obviously, the fat element has to be replaced with something when butter is not in the recipe and this is usually some type of vegetable oil or margarine. On the subject of palm oil, which is a concern for many vegans, I’ve noticed that the French are becoming more concerned about this too, so you may well find packs marked ‘sans huile de palme’.

What do some common vegan-friendly pastry packs contain?

There’s usually a good selection of ready-made pastry in even the smallest supermarket. The triangular packs are universal, and inside you’ll find either a circular or rectangular roll, ready to roll out and use straight out of the fridge. As an example, a pâte de tarte brisée bio from the brand Herta lists the following ingredients: wheat flour, vegetable margarine (palm oil, sunflower oil, water, salt, lemon juice), water, cider vinegar, alcohol, cane sugar, salt, wheat gluten and yeast. No butter, milk or egg, or their derivatives.

Similarly, Harta’s Pâte Feuillette also contains no butter, milk or egg, as does Carrefour’s pâte sablée. Some people may have an issue with the palm oil in ‘accidentally vegan’ pastry, but if it is bio then the palm oil may well from a sustainable source. (The issue is not quite as straightforward as it may appear.) You’d need to make further enquiry with the manufacturers. The good news is that gluten free versions are also widely available, too.

Pastry vocabulary

The basic word for pastry is ‘La pâte’. Not to be confused with ‘le pâté’ – meat paté like foie gras (yikes!) or ‘les pâtes’ – pasta. When it comes to pate feuilletée, the French equivalent of puff pastry, the French claim to have invented it. The credit goes to Antonin Carême, a Parisian pâtissier of the eighteenth century.

Pâte brisée  – a multi-purpose pastry made from flour, fat and water. This is similar to shortcrust pastry. Some brands do contain a small amount of sugar, but it’s barely noticeable. Used for both sweet and savoury tarts.

Pâte feuilletée – contains the same ingredients as brisée, but the pastry is layered with fat so that it rises rather like puff pastry. Used for vol-a-vent cases and mille-feuille.

Pâte sablée – in addition to the usual flour, fat and water, this recipe adds in eggs and sugar so it’s not vegan-friendly. It’s also sometimes called pâte sucrée – one to avoid

Pâte Brick – comprises thin sheets of pastry, interlaced with paper sheets. This originated in the Mahgreb region (north Africa and Tunisia) and is traditionally made with semolina flour. It is similar to, but not the same as filo pastry.

Phyllo or filo – if you can get hold of it, then filo pastry is exactly the same as the filo pastry originating in Greece and Turkey. However, it can be a rare find.

Pâte Pizza – French pizza pastry is not the same as a ready-made pizza base that you may find in a UK supermarket. It’s rolled-up and is more like pastry than a bread-type base you might be used to.

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