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!
Single and Double Turns
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.