A Cuban pastry is a small, filled pastry traditionally made with a puff pastry crust and often described as similar to an American turnover. Eaten warm, when possible, and with coffee, they are a common breakfast or snack item in the Cuban community. Fillings may be sweet or savory and some, such as guava paste or jelly, are traditional favorites. Cuban pastry can be made at home, but because puff pastry is time-consuming to prepare, most people buy them at bakeries. Pasteles is the Spanish word for pies and the diminutive form, pastelitos, or “little pies,” is the Cuban term for these pastries.
The puff pastry crust for Cuban pastry is usually made with butter. Several layers of dough and butter are folded together, rolled out, then refolded and rolled again. This process is repeated several times, with a chilling period between each set of folding and rolling. When baked, the pastry puffs up into delicate flaky layers that brown well in the oven. Commercial frozen sheets of prepared puff pastry are often substituted by home bakers, though if the frozen sheets were not made with butter the flavor will be slightly different
Cuban pastry is always served in individual portions. Sometimes they are assembled and baked that way and sometimes larger pieces are filled and baked, then cut into the desired shape and size for serving. They can be round, rectangular, square or triangular, and sometimes the shape has a traditional relationship to the filling.
Like turnovers, Cuban pastry can have any filling, but a few fillings are definitely traditional. Guava jelly or paste, made from the tropical guava fruit, is the classic filling for sweet Cuban pastry. Other traditional sweet fillings are guava jelly paired with cream cheese, sweetened coconut, and sweetened cream cheese. Less traditional options include apple, cherry or anything that might be used to fill a pie. Sweet pastries are brushed with sugar syrup before or during baking, which sweetens the crust a bit and helps it brown better.
Savory fillings can be ham, cheese, or various seasoned meat mixtures. Picadillo, a traditional Cuban meat dish made with ground beef, a creole onion and tomato sauce, pimento-stuffed olives and raisins, is the most common meat filling. Savory pastries are also traditionally brushed with sugar syrup, which gives them a slight sweet and savory flavor combination. The traditional shape for meat pastries is round.