Pastries from the Past That Your Granny Should Have Told You About

Pastries are more than just delightful desserts; they are windows into the culinary traditions of the past. Many of the pastries we enjoy today have their roots in recipes handed down through generations, often with rich histories and cultural significance. Here are some classic pastries that your granny should have told you about, each with its own unique story and flavor profile.

1. Eccles Cakes

Named after the town of Eccles in Greater Manchester, England, Eccles cakes are flaky pastries filled with currants and topped with a generous sprinkle of sugar. These pastries date back to the 18th century and were originally sold in local markets. The combination of buttery pastry and the sweet, spiced currant filling makes Eccles cakes a timeless treat. Traditionally, they are enjoyed with a cup of tea, making them perfect for an afternoon snack.

2. Kouign-Amann

Originating from the Brittany region of France, Kouign-Amann is a pastry that embodies the French love for butter. The name translates to “butter cake” in the Breton language, and it lives up to its name with layers of laminated dough and butter, creating a caramelized, flaky crust. First made in the 19th century, Kouign-Amann was a product of necessity during a time of flour shortages. Despite its humble beginnings, this pastry has become a beloved delicacy, especially for those who enjoy a rich, buttery flavor.

3. Pastéis de Nata

Pastéis de Nata, or Portuguese custard tarts, are perhaps one of the most famous pastries from Portugal. These tarts were created by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in the 18th century. When the monastery faced financial difficulties, the monks began selling the pastries to the public. The tarts feature a creamy, custard filling nestled in a crisp, flaky crust, often dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Today, they are enjoyed worldwide, but nothing compares to savoring a freshly baked Pastel de Nata in Lisbon.

4. Sfogliatella

Hailing from Naples, Italy, Sfogliatella is a pastry that dates back to the 17th century. The name means “little leaves,” which refers to the pastry’s distinctive, shell-like layers. There are two main types: riccia (curly), made with puff pastry, and frolla (smooth), made with shortcrust dough. The filling is typically a sweetened mixture of ricotta cheese, semolina, and candied citrus peel. Sfogliatella is a testament to Italian pastry craftsmanship, offering a perfect blend of textures and flavors.

5. Pączki

Pączki are Polish doughnuts traditionally enjoyed on Fat Thursday, the last Thursday before Lent. These round, fried pastries are filled with a variety of sweet fillings, such as plum jam, rosehip jam, or custard, and are often topped with powdered sugar or icing. Pączki have been a staple of Polish cuisine since the Middle Ages, and their rich, indulgent nature makes them a favorite treat during carnival season. Each bite is a reminder of the festive spirit and culinary heritage of Poland.

6. Cannoli

A staple of Sicilian cuisine, Cannoli are tubular pastries filled with a sweet, creamy ricotta cheese mixture. The origins of Cannoli can be traced back to the Arab influence in Sicily during the 10th century. Originally made as a treat for the Carnevale festival, Cannoli have become a year-round favorite. The crisp, fried shell contrasts beautifully with the smooth filling, often accented with chocolate chips, candied fruit, or pistachios.

7. Bakewell Tart

The Bakewell Tart, a classic English dessert, features a shortcrust pastry base layered with jam and topped with frangipane (a sweet almond filling) and flaked almonds. Its origins are somewhat disputed, with some attributing it to the Derbyshire town of Bakewell in the 19th century. The tart’s combination of textures and flavors, from the crumbly pastry to the sweet and nutty frangipane, makes it a beloved treat for teatime.

Exploring these pastries from the past offers a delightful journey through history and culture. Each one carries stories of tradition, innovation, and the simple joys of baking. So, the next time you enjoy a pastry, remember the rich legacy behind it and perhaps share these stories with the next generation, ensuring these timeless treats continue to be celebrated.


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