Tag Archives: how to make puff pastry

You Asked for It: Puff Pastry Certification PP301

7 Jan

You guys know I have polls on my website, right?  Don’t go look right this very second, ’cause maybe they aren’t exactly updated right now, but still.  Anyway, last month, one of the polls asked something along the lines of “What’s the most daunting task in the pastry kitchen?”  Fully one third of you guys–maybe 10 of you–answered puff pastry.  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 talk to you all about puff pastry–the ins and outs, the folds, the terminology:  *all of it.

First, here’s a secret:  it is more difficult to make a good pie crust than it is to make puff pastry.  Honest.  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!

I submit that, if you can use a rolling pin and you know how to Fold Things, you can successfully 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.

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), you take some lean dough (very little, if any, fat) and wrap it around a slab of butter.  Then, you 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, once it’s large and thin enough to fold, you fold it into thirds like a business letter, 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.  If you fold both end into the middle and then fold at the middle, you’ll have 9 layers:  dough, butter, (dough, dough), butter, (dough, dough), butter, (dough, dough), butter, dough.  I’m starting to feel a bit like Homer Simpson with all the dohs, so I’m going to stop all of that now.  Suffice to say that subsequent rolling and folding will give you a Very Ton of thin, thin layers of butter and doh.

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.  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″.

Puff Pastry Minutiae That Must Be Addressed
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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Helpful Tips from Your Friend Jenni

  • 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.
  • 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 none of it 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…
  • 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.

*So Where’s the Recipe?

I’m not giving one.  So there.  There are tons and tons of recipes out there for puff pastry.  Oh, fine.  Go look at my other Puff Pastry Post.  There’s a recipe there, as well as rules. The rules are the important part, though.  Like so many other Pastry Items, puff pastry is all about technique.  Pretty much the only ingredients are flour, salt, water and butter.  The Magic of the Puff is in knowing how to combine them to achieve the Desired Results.

The Recap

  1. Be Not Afraid.
  2. The refrigerator is your friend.
  3. Keep it nice and square.  Puff pastry is the Anal Retentive Chef’s favorite thing to make.
  4. Do Not Stress.  Repeat:  Do Not Stress.
  5. Don’t forget to pick up your Puff Pastry Prowess Certification.

Puff the Magic Pastry

16 Mar
This is why my jaw is so sore.  Libby does not play when she issues a challenge.

This is why my jaw is so sore. Libby does not play when she issues a challenge.

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
  • Water
  • Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Shortening
  • Gluten
  • 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. (!!)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Puff Pastry

  • 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

  1. 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.
  2. Flip cut pastry over before baking.  Let cut pieces chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before baking.
  3. Placing a sheet of parchment paper on top of the puff pastry before baking can help you achieve a more even rise.
  4. 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.
  5. Don’t bake puff with an uncut edge.  It won’t puff, and you will have wasted your time.
  6. 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.

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