Best Pastries: French vs. Italian vs. German vs. American vs. British Pastry

Best Pastries: French vs. Italian vs. German vs. American vs. British Pastry

Posted on: Pastries

By Lucy Yanckello, Ph.D.

Wildgrain is the first bake-from-frozen subscription box for sourdough breads, fresh pastas, and artisanal pastries.

What are popular types of German pastries?

Although Germany is usually known for beer and sausages, pastries are also popular in Germany. In fact, there are two types of German bakeries, one for bread (Backerei) and one for cakes and pastries (Konditorei). 

A common German tradition is “coffee and cake” (Kaffee und Kuchen), similar to the British tradition of teatime. This tradition brings families together in the mid-to-late afternoon to enjoy coffee and sweets, typically homemade baked goods or pastries from the local corner bakery. There are many popular pastries in Germany, including the franzbrötchen and the Berliner pfannkuchen

Franzbrotchen is a sweet pastry similar to a cinnamon roll. After being folded multiple times, it is filled with cinnamon and sugar and glazed with butter, leading to a sticky, caramelized surface. This pastry is usually served for breakfast, but is sometimes enjoyed during “coffee and cake” time. It is likely this German franzbrotchen pastry was inspired by French pastries, like the croissant

The Berliner pfannkuchen is thought to be the first European-style donut, prepared with a yeasted dough that is deep fried. This process creates a crispy outside and a soft, airy inside. These pastries are often filled with jam and dusted with powdered sugar; theymay also be filled with vanilla or chocolate custard.

What are popular types of Italian pastries?

Pastries and desserts hold an important place in not only the cuisine in Italy, but also in Italian culture. Many Italian pastries are associated with religious festivals and holidays in the country, and often signify love and appreciation for friends and family members. In fact, it is traditional in Italy to bring the hostess pastries as a gift when visiting friends or family. Two of the most popular Italian pastries are cannoli and sfogliatelle

Cannoli are pastry tubes that are deep fried and then filled with various types of creams. Cannoli are often filled with sweetened ricotta cheese cream, and originally hail from Sicily, where they are still very popular. Cannoli are often prepared for Carnival, the festival before the beginning of Catholic Lent. 

Sfogliatella is a pastry made with many layers of paper-thin dough that is arranged in the shape of a clam, with a pocket in the middle. This pocket may be filled with a cream made with ricotta and candied fruit. Foglia, meaning leaf in Italian, is meant to describe the layers of pastry dough that resemble flaky leaves.

What are popular types of French pastries?

France is known worldwide for its pastries. The art of patisserie in French culture started with the desire to have something sweet following a meal. Traditional cheese and fruits served after a meal did not satisfy sweet cravings, and thus the development of French pastries began. 

Many popular French pastries are made from one of two types of dough: puff pastry and choux pastry. Croissants, arguably the most well-known French pastry, are made from puff pastry, as are millefeuilles (Napoleans). While choux pastry is the base of other types of French pastries, like profiteroles (cream puffs) and eclairs. 

Puff pastry is a flakey pastry made from creating layers of butter and dough before baking. Gaps then form between the layers as the butter melts and turns to steam, creating the flakey texture typical of croissants. Croissants are sometimes filled with jam, chocolate, or raisins. They are sold fresh and mainly consumed for breakfast. Millefeuilles is a flakey pastry that consists of layers of puff pastry alternated with fillings such as jam, whipped cream, or custard. Millefeuilles is often topped with almond, vanilla, or chocolate icing. The name millefeuille is translated as “a thousand leaves.” 

Choux pastry is a bit different than most doughs. There is no raising agent, but instead, the high moisture content of the dough is used to puff the pastry. As the water content creates steam and evaporates, it creates a hollow center, perfect for filling. Two common French pastries made from choux pastry are profiteroles and eclairs. Profiteroles are shaped like small puffs with a crispy exterior covered with chocolate. They are filled with whipped cream, custard, or vanilla ice cream. Eclairs are made into an elongated shape, allowing for a soft doughy interior that is filled with custard.

What are popular types of British pastries?

Pastries play an important role in British culture as a part of tea time. Tea time was started in the 1800’s by the upper class in Britain. It is typically enjoyed as a late afternoon meal consisting of teas, along with light sandwiches, fruit, and pastries. There are numerous pastries popular in Britain that are enjoyed at tea time including tarts and scones. 

Tarts are a baked dish with a shortcrust pastry base filled with custard and fruit. Although tarts are not uniquely British, varieties such as custard tarts, Manchester tarts (filled with custard and raspberry jam), and Bakewell tarts (filled with almond paste and jam) are. 

Scones are a dense baked good that uses baking powder as a leavening agent instead of yeast. Scones are often sweetened slightly, and glazed with an egg wash. In Britain, scones may contain raisins, currents, or dates. Scones are typically enjoyed with jam and clotted cream.

What are popular types of American pastries?

Just like the United States itself, American pastries tend to be a melting pot in terms of influences from the rest of the world. Two of the most popular pastries in the United States, donuts and pie, have roots in various cultures across the globe. 

A donut is a yeasted dough that is deep fried, creating a soft airy texture. Donuts can have a hole in the middle (ring donut) or be filled with jam, custard, or cream. Typically ring and filled donuts will have a glaze on top, but may also be covered in powdered sugar or other toppings. You can find some form of fried dough dessert in almost every culture, making it hard to pin down the origins of the donut in the United States. The most likely origin of donuts can be traced to Dutch settlers in the 1700s when they were called olykoek (oil cake). 

Pie is a baked dish made of pastry dough. It can contain various fillings including fruit, nuts, sugar, and custard. Pie made its way to the United States with the first settlers from England and the Netherlands. Two of the most popular American pies are apple pie and pumpkin pie.

How are American pastries different vs. European pastries?

Countries such as Germany, Italy, Britain, and France have pastries unique to their countries, which is not the case for the United States. Instead, American pastries were heavily influenced by recipes brought over by European settlers.

Butter is a staple of pastry making and differs between Europe and the United States. European butters tend to have a richer taste because there is more butterfat -82% compared to 80% in American butter. This is because European butter is churned for longer than American butter. Additionally, more butterfat means the butter is softer and melts faster. Unlike European butter, American butter is not cultured, so there is a lack of fermentation which achieves a light sour taste. For these reasons, European butter is preferred for baking, because flavor is just as important as function. European butter is available in the United States, but other ingredients, such as flour are regulated differently, which will also lead to differences in the pastries.

Looking for Italian pastries, German pastries, French pastries, or British pastries in the U.S.?

In European countries, there are bakeries on every corner. However, if you want to buy traditional Italian, German, French or British pastries in the United States, you will have to find a local bakery, specialty cultural store, or brave the task of baking them yourself. There are some pastries sold in American grocery stores, but these are often deemed “ultra processed” which Harvard Health defines as “industrial formulations made entirely or mostly from substances extracted from foods (oils, fats, sugar, starch and proteins).” These ultra-processed baked goods are a far cry from the local bakeries found in Europe, which mostly use simple ingredients like butter, sugar, yeast and flour. 

At Wildgrain, we specialize in making European-quality fresh pastries that are then delivered directly to your door. Wildgrain is the first bake-from-frozen delivery subscription service for breads, pastries and fresh pastas. Some of our more popular pastries include French-style croissants and chocolate croissants, British-style biscuits, and classic American favorites like our Apple Pie Bites and Giant Chocolate Chunk Cookies. Learn more about Wildgrain and our artisanal baking methods.


About the Author

Lucy Yanckello received her Ph.D. in nutrition from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. She currently works as a medical writer and enjoys being able to help people better understand nutrition and science.


This content is for informational use only and does not replace professional nutrition and/or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is not a substitute for and should not be relied upon for specific nutrition and/or medical recommendations. Please talk with your doctor about any questions or concerns.

Liquid error (layout/theme line 183): Error in tag 'section' - 'pastry-footer' is not a valid section type