Why make homemade puff pastry when you can buy store-bought? It’s a challenge, but it tastes better, richer. Also, many store varieties use hydrogenated fat instead of real butter. However, by making it at home, you can control what fat goes into your puff pastry. In France, you can buy beurre sec, which is a dry butter that has a low moisture content, but a high fat content and therefore doesn’t melt as fast. The butter in Canada and the U.S. has more moisture. If possible, try to locate European (or European-style) butter. If that’s not possible, try to find the hardest butter in your supermarket by using the finger test!
Puff pastry is used in both sweet (such as shells for tarts, napoleons, palmiers, Danishes, strudels, and turnovers) and savory dishes (such as croissants, cheese straws, beef wellington, salmon en croûte and pâté en croûte, and vol-au-vents). Although my allumettes were fatter than matchsticks, I tried making puff pastry strips again using a more matchstick shape.
What separates puff pastry from regular pastry is the layers. Layers of dough and butter are carefully combined so as to make a pastry with exactly 729 layers.
The layering is accomplished through turning (also called lamination). Lamination means sandwiching something between layers, in this case dough-butter-dough. Each rolling and folding is called a turn. Classic puff pastry is turned 6 times. If each turn creates 3 layers, that means 3 to the 6th power which equals 729 layers of butter between 730 layers of dough. I love Google! When I typed “3 to the 6th” in the Google search bar, this is what it showed:
Puff pastry depends on these 729 thin layers to hold the steam and puff up. Puff pastry is sometimes called Mille feuilles, or a thousand leaves. This is because there are 730 layers of dough and 729 layers of butter. If you add these together, you get 1457 layers.
If all goes well, the layers of butter alternate with the layers of dough. In the oven, as the butter melts, the dough absorbs the flavour, and steam is generated. This evaporation pushes the layers apart, making a buttery and flaky pastry with many layers.
A big key to making puff pastry is keeping the dough and butter cold, around 60°F. This means patience, which I don’t tend to have a lot of. After a couple of attempts at making this pastry, I decided given that our home is warmer than it should be given the wintry weather outside, I needed to do one turn and then put it back in the refrigerator. This helped avoid the situation of having the butter seep through the dough causing a big sticky mess.
Use a cold, marble slab, if you can. I don’t have that, so I filled a large bowl with ice water and put it on the counter where I would be rolling out the dough. This helped keep the counter cool. You could also put a cookie sheet in the freezer and then use it to work with the dough.
Recipe for Puff Pastry adapted from Le Cordon Bleu at Home
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cake and pastry flour
1 teaspoon salt
⅔ to ¾ cup cold water (up to 1 cup)
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
14 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter
1 large egg, slightly beaten, for glazing
You can mix the dough by making a mound on the counter or use a bowl. After you’ve added the flour, salt, cold water, and melted butter, you mix it with your fingertips (and using a pastry scraper if you opted for the counter) until it’s loosely mixed, enough to hang together in a “shaggy manner” (according to Julia Child). If the dough is too dry, add sprinkles of water. I had to add an extra ¼ cup. At this point, the dough is called détrempe.
Form it into a ball. Cut an X on the top and about half way through the dough.
This helps to cut the gluten strands so that they can relax more quickly, eliminating the rubbery-ness of the dough. Cover with a wet towel or plastic wrap. Put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Now for the butter, or beurrage (which means the butter block)—all 200 grams of it (or 14 tablespoons or 7 ounces). The butter should be slightly softened, or beurre en pomade. Between two sheets of plastic wrap, pound the butter with your pin into a square that’s ¾=inch thick and big enough to fit in the middle of the rolled out dough. Another key is that the butter must be the same consistency and temperature as the dough (ideally 60°F).
Retrieve your dough from the refrigerator. Lightly dust the work surface so that the dough doesn’t stick. Form the détrempe into a ball. Make a cross in the dough with your pin. Roll out each arm of the cross leaving the middle mounded a bit. Put the beurrage in the middle of the mound.
Now, press the dough with a rolling pin 4 to 5 times along its length until it is about 7 inches wide. Then, using flour to dust the work surface so that it doesn’t stick, roll it about 21 inches long and 3/8-inch thick. Stay away from the ends. Be neat. Don’t roll it side-ways. Always roll it length-wise. Use as little flour as possible when rolling out the dough so that the dough doesn’t get too tough. Roll it thinly and evenly so that the layers are even when baked. Roll the ends first, and then the middle. The straighter your rolled dough, the more uniform your puff pastry square. Whew, lots of rules!
picture from Link
Now that you’ve rolled out the perfect rectangle, there are two types of folds you can do after you roll each layer: simple folds or book folds.
For a simple fold (also called a single fold or letter fold), fold the dough like a letter taking the top 2/3 of the way down and then taking the bottom 2/3 of the way up to form a square.
729 layers after 6 turns
picture from Link
For a book fold (also called a double fold), fold the two shorter sides into the center and then fold the dough in half like closing a book. This fold gives you even more layers.
1,024 layers after 5 turns
picture from Link
As you fold, brush off any excess flour. After making the fold, turn the dough clockwise so that the folded edge is on your left. It’s important to always turn the same way so that the seam is always on the same side and so that the layers form properly. Roll and fold once more. Then push two fingertips into the dough to indicate that you’ve done two turns. Refrigerate the dough for up to 30 minutes.
Do not try to work with soft puff pastry; the butter will melt and seep into the dough, which ruins the layering effect and your pastry will not puff when baked. Work with the dough in short spurts (such as 10 minutes) and refrigerate in-between for up to 60 minutes. But, don’t refrigerate for too long or the butter will get too hard, making it too difficult to roll out.
Repeat the roll-fold-turn so that you have turned it six times making sure to refrigerate in-between turns. Mark the number of turns on the dough with your fingertips to keep track. If you’re fast, you can roll, fold, and turn twice before having to refrigerate it. I found I had to refrigerate after each turn. Take your time and be patient.
If you don’t use the dough right away, you can store it in plastic in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight before using it.
Recipe for Cheese Straws adapted from Le Cordon Bleu at Home
2 ounces (½ cup) Parmesan cheese, grated (I used old cheddar)
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Butter the baking sheet and sprinkle it with water. The water keeps the bottom layer stuck to the pan allowing the other layers to rise.
Roll out the dough ⅛ inch thick and ½ inch longer and wider than the baking sheet. Place it on the baking sheet. Trim any excess.
Any leftover scraps can be used for decorations or appetizer crisps. You can sprinkle the scraps with cheese or sesame seeds or whatever you like from your pantry. However, don’t re-roll the dough or it won’t rise properly.
Brush with egg glaze. When you put an egg glaze on the dough, make sure you do it before cutting it or else make sure the egg glaze doesn’t touch the sides. If it does, the egg glaze will “glue” the layers together and therefore won’t rise.
If you prick (or dock) the dough before baking, it won’t rise as much. Some recipes require you to prick the dough so that the steam can escape and the filling doesn’t explode. It can also help prevent uneven puffing. Prick where you don’t want it to puff much.
Sprinkle with cheese, pressing it gently into the pastry. Refrigerate 20 minutes.
When chilled, cut the dough. You must cut the dough, with a pastry wheel or pizza cutter, so that there is a fresh edge for it to rise. A folded edge won’t rise. You could use a pasta machine set to the fettuccine width to cut cheese straws. Cut into strips ½ inch wide and 3 inches long.
Here’s another tip c/o Alton Brown found at this Link: If you’re cutting the dough on a cutting board, flip the dough so that the side that was touching the cutting board is on the top. It was not torn, stretched, or squeezed as much as the top.
Bake until puffed and golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and break apart any strips that are attached to one another. Cool on a rack.
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Running total: $163.18 + $4.35 = $167.53
Butter used so far: 3 pounds, 9.5 tablespoons