Proto-Laminated Dough

The laminating technique that produces the dough for sfogliate riccia may be the world’s oldest. As you may have noted from the posts below, the method involves stretching a rich, flexible dough to paper-thinness, rolling it up into a log that’s about two inches across, then cutting it into slices. This method predates folding-style lamination by a minimum of 50 years, having been documented by the Belgian master chef Lancelot de Casteau in his book Ouverture de cuisine in 1603 (folded laminated dough was first mentioned in Le Pâtissier françois written by François Pierre de la Varenne in 1653). However it’s probable that roll-style lamination is much older than that.

For the interesting thing about Casteau’s recipe isn’t so much that it’s a rolled-up dough, but that he calls it “leaf” pastry “in the Spanish style”. This suggests that his roll-style lamination was an adaptation of a much older technique, one that was common in the courts of Renaissance Italy and Spain, that likewise involved rolling thin sheets of dough with fat or oil, then slicing it.

But the Italians and Spanish didn’t invent the method, they learned it from the Arabs who occupied Spain from 711 A.D. until 1492, and Sicily from 831 to 1072. The Arabs had been preparing dough in this way for who-knows-how-long, though it seems likely that the technique was refined over the centuries in Europe, with the layers getting thinner and thinner. The documentation for this theory isn’t impeccable, though it does explain, as I mentioned in an earlier post, why you still find this roll-lamination being used here and there in both Italy and Spain.

Why not anymore? Because folding really is a better method for making laminated dough. Not only can you produce thinner layers with it with less effort, it only takes one operator to do the job. As I’m discovering experimenting with this dough, roll-style lamination takes two people: one to stretch, one to roll. So folding has several major advantages over rolling. For those who prize ultra-thin and flaky dough, it’s more pleasing aesthetically. It’s more versatile in terms of the shapes and sizes of pastries you can create with it, and as I mentioned it’s also more efficient. No wonder pastry makers prefer it to this day.

Still it’s well worth making I think, if only to get a sense for how laminating was first performed way back when, before the technique was improved upon and roll-lamination faded into obsolescence.

8 thoughts on “Proto-Laminated Dough”

  1. That’s an awful lot of knowledge to be dropping on a backing website! Did you know all of this or are you a google-fu master? I really enjoy reading this stuff in addition to all the great recipes, I never knew any of this. Thanks

    1. Ha! A lot of the fun of the blog is the little connections I get to make from time to time. Over the years I’ve written a little on the history of laminated dough. There isn’t actually very much to tell on the subject. Several of the books that mention it refer to puff pastry’s ancestor, a rolled Arabic dough smeared with oil. I never thought much about it until I started fiddling with this recipe. Then suddenly over there weekend it occurred: holy cow, here it is! Leaf pastry in the Spanish style!

      So to answer your question: it’s a combination of my slow and trivial mind and the internet. Together they occasionally produce something interesting!

      – Joe

  2. Wait, wait, wait. Folding-type lamination can be dated to 1609, at least, in Hugh Plat’s Delightes for Ladies:
    “Take a quart of the finest flower and the whites of three eggs, and the yolks of two, & a little cold water, and so make it into perfect paste: then drive it with a rolling pin abroad: then put-on small pieces of butter, as big as Nuts, upon it: then fold it over, then drive it abroad again: then put small pieces of butter upon it as you did before, do this ten times, always folding the paste, and putting butter between every fold.” (Text is online at http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/delights-ladies-1.php).

    It’s not quite the modern technique with a butter block and a letter-fold, but it’s quite definitely laminated pastry made by folding.

    On “leafy Spanish pastry”, there’s a 13th c. Andalusian recipe (originally in Arabic) for “Preparation of buttered [pastry] which is leafy”, that involves rolling out dough very thin, buttering it, then rolling it up again.

    (Pre-17th c. pastry is something of an obsession of mine, if you hadn’t noticed…:) )

    1. I’m the know-it-all workin’ this side of the street, sister!

      Actually, I’d never seen the Hugh Plat one before, Jane. Thanks very much! Both of these fit nicely into the overall thesis. I appreciate you taking the time to write in with them!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

    1. Hello Sialia!

      That’s a tough question! Phyllo and brik are very thin sheets, no doubt related to roll-style laminated dough…just not rolled!

      Thousand layer mooncakes are a lot closer in terms of the technique involved, though as far as I know the dough isn’t nearly as fatty! 😉

      Cheers and thanks for the comment!

      – Joe

      1. Thanks–sorry–that was a weirdly phrased question. I was thinking in terms of evolutionarily–do you suppose folks in the near east were fooling around with various ways of making thin layers (either by laminating, or just rolling and brushing with melted fat) and came up with this, or were influenced by a folding technique from the far east? I’m not sure exactly how pastry ideas travel through space and time prior to the internet, but it seems to me as though phyllo and brik were geographically closer. But the thousand layer mooncakes look more like what you are working on here. But from so much farther away! I don’t know the timeline of these inventions either–which came first? I suppose there’s no reason different people couldn’t have figured out similar techniques without knowing about each other . . . but this is such a complicated little trick, it seems like something that wouldn’t have been discovered by accident easily. So I wonder about the Silk Road, and trade routes and whether pastry travels very well . . .

        1. Hey Sialia!

          I think your last line is as good a theory as any! If there is a connection between Arabic rolling-style lamination and thousand-layer mooncakes, the knowledge would have had to travel down the silk road…a real possibility. As for which came first, flat stacked sheets or rolls, it was almost certainly the sheets, which the ancient Egyptians are supposed to have employed. Rolled pastry came later, though no one seems to know exactly when. The technique might have traveled down the silk road from the Middle East to China (or the reverse!). The Chinese have been growing wheat since 2,500 B.C. after all. But then as you say, people are inventive everywhere and might have just created these techniques on their own. Without any documentation it’s impossible to say!

          Cheers and thanks for the clarification!

          – Joe

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