I wrote about puff pastry Long, Long Ago, but apparently the word isn’t out that puff isn’t that big a deal. So, because I am a Selfless Helper, I will now tell you all about puff pastry–the ins and outs, the folds, the terminology: all of it.
Puff Pastry Isn’t That Hard To Make. Honest.
First, here’s a secret: it is more difficult to make a good pie crust than it is to make puff pastry. For real. Most folks consider making puff pastry a daunting task because it is time consuming. That it is, but it is not difficult at all. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty mindless. You don’t even have to remember how many times you’ve turned the blasted thing–all the directions I’ve ever seen tell you to make marks in the dough after each turn to keep count!If you can use a rolling pin and fold things, you can make puff pastry.
Puff pastry is a laminated dough. This means that the whole is comprised of layers that are all sandwiched together. In the case of plywood, you’ve got thin layers of wood sandwiched together with glue. In the case of puff, you’ve got thin layers of gluten-rich dough sandwiched together with butter.
How to Get Layers in Your Puff Pastry
To achieve the layering effect, you could just roll out ridiculously thin pieces of dough, brush some butter on them, and stack them up. That’s exactly what you’re doing when you use phyllo dough. Think of that process as sort of a deconstructed method of making puff pastry.
In order to make true puff (as opposed to rough puff), here’s the rundown:
- Take some lean dough (very little, if any, fat) and wrap it around a slab of butter.
- Start rolling it carefully so it’s thin enough to fold. This first rolling starts you off with three layers–the bottom lean dough, the butter in the middle, and the top lean dough.
- If you fold it into thirds like a business letter (a letter fold), you’ll have 7 layers: dough, butter, (dough, dough), butter, (dough, dough), butter, dough. The doughs are in parentheses because the two layers get mashed into one by rolling.
- Fold both ends into the middle and then fold at the middle (a book fold), you’ll have 9 layers: dough, butter, (dough, dough), butter, (dough, dough), butter, (dough, dough), butter, dough.
- From there, keep the dough chilled between rollings and proceed with making book folds and/or letter folds until you have hundreds of layers–about 6 turns.
Most pastry experts agree that classic French puff pastry is made by folding the dough into thirds and rolling it out again a total of six times.
Keep in mind that you can make as few or as many folds and turns as you want, though. Fewer layers (although we’re still talking over 100) will rise higher but won’t be as flaky and ethereal. More layers will certainly puff, but not as high. After 7 turns, your layers will be so thin that they won’t puff much at all, negating all your hard work.
I recommend rolling and folding between 5-7 times.
The classic ideal is that the dough should rise 8x its initial height. So, if your dough is 1/4″ to begin with, you can expect the height after baking to be around 2″.
And look: I made a video to help you out!
Tips for Successfully Making Puff Pastry
Don’t let the minutiae scare you. They say that the devil is in the details, but why not be a glass-half-full kind of person and say that God is in the details?
- Rule number One for achieving Lovely Lamination is that the consistency of the butter should mimic as closely as possible the consistency of the dough (called detrempe, if you’re fancy). If the butter is too hard, it will just break up and poke holes in the detrempe. Rolling out will be Difficult At Best, and you won’t end up with a continuous sheet of butter. If the butter is too soft, it will just soak into the dough and guish out the sides, leaving you with an overly-rich dough with exactly one layer. Not good.
- Rule number Two: extra flour is mandatory. Make sure your rolling surface and the surface of the dough is lightly floured at all times. This means that you’ll have to keep adding more, a little at a time. Sticking can tear your delicate layers, allowing even right-consistency butter to guish out. Since the tough layers (lean-ish dough) are separate from the tender layers (butter), a little more flour isn’t going to hurt anything–you’ll still get an excellent rise.
- Rule number Two-A: brush off the excess flour before folding. See, that’s why this is rule 2A instead of rule 3. The time that you want the dough to stick is when the dough layers are being rolled together. ‘Member that (dough, dough) I talked about earlier. To make sure that those two layers become one, you need to make sure that the surface is as flour-free as you can make it before folding. They make a keen tool made especially for this purpose, but you can just as easily use a fairly stiff pastry brush or paint brush. Plus, bench brushes are expensive.
- Rule number Three: as you roll, flip your dough over fairly frequently. Because of friction, the top layer will always roll farther than the bottom layer. In order to keep the layers even, flip frequently.
- Rule number Four: Chill out. The refrigeration periods between folding and rolling (turns), allow for the butter to maintain Optimum Plasticity–not too cold; not too hot–and for the gluten formed by all the turning (which is really just a type of kneading) to relax enough to be able to roll out multiple times. Don’t think you can get away with making more than two turns at a time. Either your butter will start guishing out or the detrempe will become too sproingy, making it very hard to roll out. Thirty minutes to an hour under refrigeration will take care of Both Issues.
- Rule number Five: It’s hip to be square. As much as I love the rustic look of Free Form Baked Goods, puff pastry requires fairly strict adherence to the Ideal Rectangle. Roll with finesse, and when finesse fails pull gently with your hands, to square up the dough as much as possible before folding. Keeping the dough square with all the edges meeting up more or less perfectly gives you the maximum amount of dough containing all possible layers. If you don’t keep the dough square, there will be some areas around the edges that could lack as many as hundreds of layers, causing uneven rising. This is especially crucial if you want to bake a large sheet of puff, but for consistency’s sake it’s always good practice to Shoot for the Rectangle.
More Helpful Puff Pastry Tips
- If you can find it, use a high protein pastry flour. You want a lot of protein to develop a lot of gluten. You want pastry flour because it is finely ground and sifted. If you can’t find high protein pastry flour, a mixture of all purpose and cake flour will give you a nice texture.
- For the best puff in your puff, you’ll want to use a “European style” butter with relatively low moisture. Granted, water releases steam which causes the puff in the first place, but there’s already some water both in the detrempe and in Special Butter. Using plain old store brand or even name brand Amurkin Butter pushes you right over the edge to soggy. Plugra is an excellent US-made brand that is widely available and that I’ve had very good luck with. Regardless, look for a butter with a butterfat content of 82%. And, no, 80% butterfat isn’t close enough. That’s what “normal” butter contains.
- Once you’ve finished making all of your turns, trim off all the edges of your sheet of puff pastry. If you bake the folded portions, it’ll end up puffing like a book with a warped cover with leaves fanning out only in one direction instead of rising High and Even.
- If you’ll be using cutters to cut your puff pastry, or even if you’re cutting with a sharp knife, cut straight down rather than twisting or pulling the blade. You might also have heard of this in directions for making biscuits. In both cases, the rule exists to keep you from accidentally gluing your edges together and impeding the rise.
- If you egg wash your puff pastry, be very careful that no egg wash drips down the sides. This too can impede the rise. If you don’t believe me, egg wash a whole piece of puff, sides and all. It’ll bake up all dome-shaped and stupid. You really don’t want your efforts to be thwarted when Victory is Within Your Grasp.
- After you cut your pieces of puff, turn them over before baking. This will also help with even rise.
- Chilling the pieces before baking is a Good Idea. I usually let mine hang out in the fridge on parchment-lined baking sheets for half an hour or so.
- DO NOT USE a convection oven to bake small pieces of puff. You’ll end up with Slinkies as the air blows the layers over. I know; I’ve been there. Second practicum in one day? Sure, no problem…
- Bake your puff pieces with a piece of parchment paper on top. Catch the video below to see why.
- To make a classic Napoleon, or just to make a crisp layer of puff that doesn’t puff very much, place a few baking sheets on top of your sheet of puff. Every fifteen minutes or so, take all the baking sheets out of the oven and push down on the top ones to keep the sheet of puff from rising to Great Heights.
- If you need to cut puff pastry after baking, a serrated knife is an Excellent Tool.
What To Do with Puff Pastry Once You Make It
Here’s another video I made showing some different ways to use puff pastry. To watch a time-lapse of the rise in the oven, head to the 8 minute and 35 second mark.
Puff Pastry Recipe
If you’ve skipped the videos, please go back and watch them. I added links to the pertinent parts of the video for the different steps down in the instructions. Visual learners–the video should make the instructions clear. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch and ask!
- 12 oz. all purpose flour*
- 2 oz. cake flour*
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 14 oz. unsalted butter, divided
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 6-8 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 2 oz. (4 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 all the the lemon juice and 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 12 oz (3 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.
- 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. (See Video)
- 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 (the 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. (See Video)
- 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″x 8″. 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. See video for this action). Fold the dough in thirds, like a business letter, being sure to brush off the excess flour.
- Keep the edges as square as possible. Rotate the dough 90 degrees, and 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 indentations, 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 (a turn=rolling out and folding up), rotating 90 degrees between each turn. 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, or for at least a couple of hours.
- The next day (or a couple of hours later), take your dough out, whack it with the rolling pin a few times, and give it two more turns. Always rotate the dough 90 degrees between folds and keep the edges as square and even as possible, and always roll to a 16″x 8″ rectangle. Roll to a finished thickness of 1/4″, and the dough is finally ready to be used. Hooray!
- Cut the shapes you need, or cut the sheet to the desired dimensions, turn the piece/s over, chill for 30 minutes, and then bake at 425F until puffed and deeply golden brown. Time will vary depending on the size of your pieces, so keep an eye on them.
*You can also use a total of 14 oz of all purpose flour and leave out the cake flour.
Nutrition facts are based on 8 servings. Nutritionals will vary depending on the size of the pieces you cut/what you are using it for.
Active, inactive, and cook times are estimates.
Amount Per Serving Calories 536Saturated Fat 25gCholesterol 106mgSodium 298mgCarbohydrates 37gFiber 1gProtein 5g
And there you have it. How to make Puff Pastry. To recap:
How to Make Puff Pastry Recap
- Be Not Afraid.
- The refrigerator is your friend.
- Keep it nice and square. Puff pastry is the Anal Retentive Chef’s favorite thing to make.
- Do Not Stress. Repeat: Do Not Stress.
- Don’t forget to pick up your Puff Pastry Prowess Certification. (downloadable. Fill it out and then share a photo with me in the Pastry Chef Online Facebook group!