Last week I gave a Puff Pastry lesson to a couple friends, and it reminded me of how much I love making this dough. Yes, it is a major pain in the butter. But there are few recipes that are ultimately this rewarding to make.
I don’ care what anyone says. There is a HUGE difference between frozen store-bought puff and homemade. First, store bought is usually made with highly processed butter-flavored vegetable shortening. Even if you couldn’t tell the difference by taste (which you can) you’d recognize it by the film it leaves in your mouth after you eat it. (I agree… disgusting.) I prefer cooking with butter for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is an animal fat that melts at body temperature. Vegetable-based fat needs a higher temperature to melt, and therefore lingers on the palette like teenage girls at the stage door after a Ke$ha concert. (Note to self…change spelling of name to Le$lie.)
Once it’s made, puff pastry can be frozen in sheets and stored for weeks. Nothing beats being able to whip up cheese straws or palmiers from a piece of homemade puff when those unexpected guest drop by. (Although beware. Once you start being impressive at a moment’s notice, expectations go WAY up.)
This recipe has two components: a butter portion and a dough portion, which then get folded or “turned” together. (See Lamination if you need help turning.) It also needs a few hours of attention. But it’s worth it! Next time I’ll give you some brilliant recipes for showing off your puff. (That is not a euphemism.)
Butter Block (butter portion):
2 lb. 3 oz. unsalted butter
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 oz. kosher salt
8 (3/4) oz. bread flour
Deutremp (dough portion):
16 fl oz. water
1 oz. kosher salt
6 oz. cake flour
1 lb. 6 oz. bread flour
3 oz. unsalted butter, softened
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The secret to puff pastry is in the lamination. Laminated dough is dough with alternating layers, tightly compacted. In the case of puff pastry, the layers are dough and butter. Without these layers, there will be no puff. The key is in the butter.
Butter contains a large amount of water. When the butter hits the heat of the oven, the water evaporates into steam, and the steam pushes the dough layers up. It is the same principle employed in biscuits and pie dough (the cut-ins), and pâte a choux (cream puffs). Behold the power of steam!
To get those many layers, butter is encased in dough and the entire mass is rolled out into a sheet. Then through a series of rolling, folding, and refrigeration, the layers increase to several hundred. Throughout this process, known as turning, The dough and butter should remain cold, but not so cold that it becomes brittle. This determination can only be made by the cook, as refrigerators, kitchens, seasons, and parts of the world all vary in temperature.
The basic turn is called a single turn, and it is essentially a business letter fold. The dough is rolled into a large rectangle. That rectangle is divided visually into thirds, and each end folded toward the other.
For the double turn the dough is divided visually into four columns. The edges are folded in to meet in the middle, then the entire dough is folded in half, like closing a book. (It is sometimes brilliantly called a “book turn”.)
Throughout the process, remember that refrigeration and flour are your friends. Work quickly to keep the dough cold, and have patience.
Problems may arise if the rolling squeezes some butter out of the dough and onto your counter. It is not uncommon, and easily remedied. Just douse the butter with flour, tuck it back in, and pretend it didn’t happen. (“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”) Try not to roll over that spot again, fold it inward on the next turn, and let it chill to solidify.