Strikingly layered and inexplicably light — puff pasty is the prima donna of all pastry. Why bother making your own when puff pastry’s readily available at the local grocers?
Because the stuff in the freezer section tastes nothing like the real thing. It’s like comparing a croissant from a Parisian bakery to a breakfast “croissant” from a fast-food drive-through. The two are not the same. Once you make your own, I’m afraid you can’t go back.
You’ll become a hopeless puff pasty snob and, even if you’re too polite to say so, you’ll know the difference between authentic puff pastry and the packaged stuff.
You don’t need any special pastry skills to master puff pastry. It does, however, require patience and a bit of practice. It’s not difficult once you understand the ingenuity of laminated dough. Simply put, one slab of butter is sandwiched between two layers of dough.
The butter and dough “sandwich” is rolled into a rectangle and then folded in three, as you might fold a letter. This process is repeated a total of six times, with a resting period of at least 30 minutes between folding intervals. When I explain this in my cooking classes, I get a lot of nervous looks. Relax — once you’ve rolled out and folded the dough once, the rest is repetition.
This process of rolling, folding and turning the dough, creates a multi-layered dough separated by butter. In a hot oven, the butter layer creates steam that pushes up the individual layers to create the pastry’s magical “puff”.
The secret to making puff pastry is simply controlling the temperature of the dough’s butter. If it’s too soft, the butter will squish out of the sides when you roll the dough. If the butter’s too firm, it will tear the dough.
If you think of your fridge as your butter firmer and your counter-top as your butter softener, you can easily move the dough between these two areas to manage the dough at its most pliable.
Flour-dusted parchment paper will prevent your dough from sticking to the counter. It will also help shape your dough into a neat rectangle.
Don’t let the lengthy instructions put you off, I”m just trying to be thorough. If you look at the step-by-step photos, you’ll see the process is straight forward. And, there’s no need to make it in one day; I often make over two.
One last tip — keep your dough well covered between intervals because, as my chef instructor used to shout: “Air is death to dough!"
Makes About 4 lbs. of Dough (1500 grams)
■ 600 grams flour, plus more as needed
■ 60 grams unsalted butter, pliable
■ 400 ml – 425 ml cool water
■ 12 grams salt
■ 450 grams unsalted butter, pliable. If the butter is cold, grate it to soften it
■ 45 grams flour
Blend together by hand, or in a standup mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, the butter and flour until smooth and well combined.
Transfer the butter to a sheet of plastic wrap. Top the butter with a second sheet of plastic wrap and, using your hands or a rolling pin, shape the butter into a rectangle approximately 6” x 8”.
Wrap the butter block in plastic and chill until firm.
Blend the softened butter with the flour and salt using your hands, or a standup mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, until the butter forms small (flour-coated) nuggets.
If you’re using a standup mixer, replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook. If you’re mixing by hand, mix the dough with a sturdy wooden spoon until the mixture becomes too sticky, then knead the dough by hand.
Add the water all at once and mix on low speed until smooth about 3 minutes or mix with a wooden spoon. Add more flour by the spoonful if the dough is sticking to the dough hook or the sides of the bowl.
When the dough comes off the sides of the bowl easily, but is still quite rough (not yet smooth) transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment dusted with flour, and roll the dough into a rectangle, approx. 12” x 16” (or the size of a baking sheet), using more flour if the dough is sticking to the parchment.
Brush off any excess flour and cover the dough in plastic wrap, place on a baking sheet, and allow the gluten to “relax” in the fridge for 30 minutes or longer. This will prevent the dough from springing back so quickly when you’re rolling it out.
Turn the chilled dough onto a lightly floured sheet of parchment, keeping the edges straight and the corners square.
Set the chilled butter on half of the dough and fold the remaining half of the dough over the butter.
Seal the edges and when the butter feels slightly malleable when you press the dough with your fingers, roll the dough in a rectangle approx. 12” x 16” (or the size of a baking sheet). Try to get edges straight and the corners fairly square. Dust lightly with flour if the dough is sticking but be sure to brush off any excess flour.
If you’re having difficulty rolling the dough, the butter is still too firm. Leave the dough at room temperature for 5 minutes, then try again.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap, place on a baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a sheet of parchment dusted with flour. Roll it out a few inches longer, lightly dusting with flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. Remove any excess flour with a dry brush.
When the dough feels pliable, fold it into thirds, as you would a letter. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, you may have to wait a few minutes for the butter in the dough to achieve a malleable temperature.
After the pastry is folded, you’ll notice one side of the pastry has a seam (see photo 8). Each time you roll out the dough, keep the seam on the same side. If you think of your pastry as a book, you’ll remember to keep the seam on the right.
This is the first “turn”. (You will need a total of six “turns”.) To remember which “turn” it is, make an indentation in the dough; one fingerprint for each turn (see photo 9).
Cover the dough with plastic wrap, place it on the baking tray, and return it to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Remove your dough from the refrigerator and place the dough in front of you, seam to the right, like a book.
Roll the dough into a rectangle 12” x 16” (or the size of a baking sheet), dusting with flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Remove any excess flour with a dry brush and fold the dough into thirds. This is your second “turn” — two fingerprints will help you keep track of how many “turns” have been completed.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and return it to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
You will need to repeat this process for a total of six “turns” with at least 30 minutes “rest” in the refrigerator between “turns”.
You can use the pastry immediately in your favourite recipe or freeze it for later use.
I like to cut the dough in the shapes I plan to use, before I toss them into the freezer.
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