I’d love to know the answer to that myself, reader Finn. The French claim to have invented puff pastry, but then don’t they stake a claim to everything with that much butterfat? The Italians also claim to have invented — or at least perfected — puff pastry, and indeed there are mentions of laminated dough that date back to Renniassance-era Venice and Florence. But then Spaniards and the Turks also maintain they were the first to perfect laminated dough, and at about the same time. So who’s right?
My own belief is that none of them are. Why? Because thinly-layered pastries have a long history in another (nearby) part of the world: the Middle East. Dough layering is said to go back to the Egyptians, only they used oil to lubricate their layers instead of butter (phyllo dough, for example, was originally lubricated with olive oil).
Leaving aside the French for a moment, what do Florence, Venice, Spain and Turkey all have in common? They all had extensive contact with the Middle East well before the rest of Europe. Spain was occupied by the Moors from about 700 A.D. to roughly 1500 A.D.. Florence and Venice were seafaring city-states that traded extensively with Arab peoples all through the Middle Ages and Rennaissance. As for Turkey, it was part of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire which bordered the Islamic Caliphate until Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453 (at which point it became the defacto capital of the entire Middle East).
So…plenty of opportunity here for the societies of the Northern Mediterranean to pick up laminated dough-making techniques from the Arabs — which they then adapted to their local fats. All these peoples, especially the Turks, were big butter eaters. Anyway, makes sense to me! Thanks, Finn!