Once again, I have been smacked with the Gauntlet of Challenge. So, while holding a bag of frozen peas on my jaw, I will attempt to rise to said challenge, one handed. Read slowly, so I can keep up.
Libby, Wielder of the Gauntlet, wants to know my thoughts on store-bought puff pastry. And then (the double smack) she would like some Helpful Tips on Making Her Own.
Fine, Libby. I accept your challenge. Let me just take some ibuprofen, readjust my Bag o' Peas, and we'll get down to it.
First of all, the flavor of puff pastry comes from butter. As far as I'm concerned, no butter equals no flavor. Let's just peruse the ingredient list of the ubiquitous Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry, shall we?
- Unbleached enriched wheat flour
- Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Shortening
- Mono- and Diglycerides
- Soy Lecithin
Um, wow. Yum? There's not even any salt in this stuff. If you want to use store bought, this is your last choice.
There are three brands of all butter puff pastry that I know of. One is from Dufour Pastry Kitchens. It's fancy and French, but it is available to the retail market in the US, so with some searching, you can probably find it. The other is a Trader Joe's product. In searching around on the Hinternet, some folks say it's seasonal, and others say it's available year round. If you have a TJ's in your area, hit them up for some frozen, all butter puff pastry. For those of you who pay for things in pounds, I found a website that sells a Swiss product, Saxby's Jus-Rol All Butter Puff Pastry. The website is Ocado. They deliver, so you can register to see if they'll deliver to your area. You're welcome.
If you can't find an all-butter puff that you like, or if you can't find one period, then there's nothing for it but to roll up your sleeves and make it yourself. I know--deep breaths, people. Here's the thing about puff pastry. It's not hard to make (it's much easier to deal with than croissant dough, for example), it contains only 5 ingredients, and all you need is some space, a refrigerator and some time.
Some Rules to Know
- Use the best quality unsalted butter you can find. You want as much butterfat as possible in the butter. US butter contains about 81% butterfat (the balance is made up of mostly water and some milk solids), while European butter is contains around 85%. Check it for yourself. The Plugra brand, which is widely available here in the US, has a much "drier" feel than US butter. Why? Well, you need some water to generate steam to get a good rise, but too much water just makes things soggy and hard to work with. Believe me, you'll be much happier if you use a "European style" high butterfat butter.
- Through the process of repeated rolling and folding, and with the large amount of water in the dough, you are developing a whole heck of a lot of gluten. The dough part of puff pastry (the detremps) is actually very tough. What keeps it from feeling tough in the mouth is that hundreds of tough but thin leaves of dough are separated into layers through the Power of Steam, and a rich mouthfeel is imparted by the butterfat. Puff pastry is an Extreme Fake Out in this way.
- When made correctly, puff pastry will puff up to 8 times its original thickness. Figure on an almost 2" rise if you are starting with dough that's 1/4" thick. (!!)
- If you bake small puff pastry shapes, as for vol au vents, in a convection oven, the air will blow over your little shapes and you will be left with puff pastry slinkies as opposed to cute little shells. I'm telling you; I've been there. Just turn off the fan for puff, please.
- The most important thing to remember when making puff pastry is that it's much easier to roll the butter and the dough together when both are roughly the same consistency. If the butter is way softer than the dough (or vice versa), you'll have a huge mess on your hands. Keep checking the consistency and refrigerate (or let sit for a few minutes) as necessary to keep the consistencies as similar as possible.
- You'll want to add a fair amount of flour when you're rolling, but make sure you brush it off completely before folding, or your layers won't stick together.
- Some recipes call for mixing some of the flour with the butter, to make a beurre manie. I've not made it this way, but I would think that it would yield a slightly more tender product since some of the flour would be completely coated in fat, limiting gluten production.
Okay, I think that's enough rules for now. Let's get to it.
- 12 oz. all purpose flour
- 2 oz. cake flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 13 oz. unsalted butter, divided
- about 8 oz. ice water
You will also need:
- a brush with firm bristles, for brushing off excess flour
- a bench scraper (just in case)
- a good rolling pin
- a pile of extra flour for dusting
- a bowl of extra ice water
- plastic wrap
- lots of room
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and the salt. Dice 3 oz. (6 TBSP) butter and toss in with the flour/salt mixture. Refrigerate the rest of the butter.
With your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until the whole shebang looks like coarse meal. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the water, a bit at a time, until you have formed a sticky, shaggy, rather ugly dough. You might not use all the water, but you might--just keep your eyes on the sticky, ugly, shaggy prize.
Gather up your ugly dough, flatten it into a vague rectangle, and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about an hour or so to give the flour a chance to completely hydrate and to let the butter firm back up a bit.
Take out the other 10 oz (2 1/2 sticks) of butter out of the fridge. Put it on a large clean work surface and bash it with a rolling pin to soften it. Your goal is to get the butter pliable and into a square shape about 5" on a side and about 1/2" thick (or so). Use a bench scraper to help shape your packet o' butter, if you want.
And now, let the fun begin. I personally find making puff pastry to be a relaxing pastime. Put on some music, grab a glass of wine, and get ready to introduce dough to butter and make 2 become 1. Here is a Very Keen Little Video which can help you. It's only 20 seconds long, so go take a peek real fast.
See?! Okay, once your dough has been in the fridge for about an hour, take it out and check to see if the consistency of the butter and dough are similar. Just poke each one to see. If the butter is firmer than the dough, refrigerate the dough for a bit longer. If the dough is firmer than the butter, refrigerate the butter for a little while. Always keep everything right around a magical 67-68F. The last thing you want is for your butter to melt all over the place.
Liberally flour your work surface and the dough, and roll until you have a square about 10" on a side. Now, roll each corner of the square out into a thinner flap. What you'll end up with is a thick-ish diamond of dough about 5-6" on a side with thinner flaps. Brush the top of the dough off, and place the packet o' butter in the center of the thick-ish square of dough. Fold up one flap at a time to completely encase the butter in dough. Don't forget to brush off all the excess flour. You might need to use a bit of ice water here to get the four flaps to stick together over the butter. For you visual guys out there, what you should end up with is something that looks like a dough envelope with a butter letter inside of it. Make sure the butter is all the way enclosed in the detremps (de dough). If you have futzed about with this for awhile, wrap it in plastic and throw it in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.
Flour your work surface again, and pound the packet of dough with your rolling pin to flatten it somewhat and start to make it a bit bigger. Roll your dough into a rectangle about 16"X8". Work with short strokes up and down the packet until things are nice and pliable. This will help keep your dough from ripping. If you do get a tear in your dough, patch it with some flour.
Brush off the surface of the dough very well, then the brush the surface with just a bit of ice water. (This is a Shirley Corriher trick, and she swears that, not only does this help to keep things cold, but that she gets a better rise because of the additional steam. Try this, or not--it's here as an additional step, if you want to give it a shot. It goes against what I say in Thing to Know #1. On the other hand, Shirley has never steered me wrong. I've not tried it yet. If you have, I'd love to hear about your results). Fold the dough in thirds, like a business letter, being sure to brush off the excess flour. Keep the edges as square as possible. Repeat the rolling and folding a second time. Wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap, and mark a "2" on the wrap with a sharpie. Traditionally, you're supposed to make finger indentions, but I figure that God made sharpies for this purpose. Besides, if you accidentally dent your pastry, you might get confused. If you're me, anyway. Throw the now twice turned dough into the fridge for an hour.
After an hour, take the dough out and give it two more turns. Use the ice water step, or not. If at any time you feel the butter starting to slide around inside the dough, throw it back in the fridge. Conversely, if the butter gets too hard, whack it a few times with the rolling pin to help keep it pliable. After the 2nd (4th) turn, wrap it up, mark it with a "4," and throw it in the fridge overnight.
The next day, take your dough out, whack it with the rolling pin a few times, and give it two more turns. Always keep the edges as square and even as possible, and always roll to a 16"x8" rectangle. Roll to a finished thickness of 1/4", and the dough is finally ready to be used. Hooray!
More Rules to Know
- When cutting puff pastry, be sure to cut straight down without twisting, or you might stick some of your layers together and inhibit a nice, even rise.
- Flip cut pastry over before baking. Let cut pieces chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before baking.
- Placing a sheet of parchment paper on top of the puff pastry before baking can help you achieve a more even rise.
- If you use egg wash, be very sparing, and don't let any run down the cut sides of the pastry. The egg wash will glue the layers together, and you won't get a good rise.
- Don't bake puff with an uncut edge. It won't puff, and you will have wasted your time.
- If you don't want your puff to rise (if you're making a Napoleon, for example) prick it all over with a fork, put a piece of parchment on top and weight it down with a couple of cookie sheets. Even so, if your dough is particularly ebullient, you might have to take it out a couple of times and, using oven mitts, press down on the cookie sheets to keep the dough flat.
Whew! I think that's all I have to say about making puff pastry right now. Besides, my peas are all mushy.
Later in the week, I might post some Things to Do with Puff Pastry ideas. I hope this answers some of your puff pastry questions--maybe even some that you didn't even know you had. Any other questions? Please leave a comment, and I'll see if I can't help you out.