Fundamentals: Puff Pastry

How to make puff pastry at home
Why do tv chefs tell you to purchase puff pastry? Now, I'm not saying that store-bought puff pastry is bad, quite the opposite, but I've heard Ina Garten, Alton Brown, and countless other food celebrities wax on that it isn't worth your time, it's a painstaking process, it's highly complicated. When in reality, I've found puff pastry to be quite simple. It takes time, yes, but that's it. The process itself is similar to making croissants  although the lack of the yeast in the dough actually makes for a much simpler process. Just keep it cold and take your time.

Once I got comfortable making croissants, I decided it was time to give a go to puff pastry. As I said above, it took some time, an entire afternoon as a matter of fact, but the results were a very flavorful all butter pastry that is just delicious.

Don't get me wrong. I still buy puff pastry (Dufour is my favorite) since I don't always have the time to make and fold the dough and butter layers myself. Compared to homemade though, it is definitely inferior. Since I am in general cooking for two, I also have the added benefit of freezing the puff pastry I make, therefore one 3 hour job turns into 4 meals.

Most of the time, I use a Jacques Pepin recipe from the book, Cooking With Master Chefs by Julia Child. It's extremely reliable and uses a little less butter proportionally (3 units butter to 4 units flour) than other recipes (1:1 is pretty common) which means it's a little bit easier to handle if you are new to laminated doughs. Also, instead of creating a butter block that you place in the center of the dough and envelope in, Pepin has you cut the butter sticks and lay them out flat. I found this a lot easier than dealing with a big block, especially my first time around. Also, after encapsulating the butter he only uses double folds, which I think makes life a bit easier in the beginning as well.

I've also had great success with the puff pastry recipe in Baking with Julia, but that recipe follows the more classic proportions and utilizes a butter block as well as using single and double folds. While the result has a bit more puff, it was definitely more finicky and harder to handle than Pepin's.

I've included my take on Pepin's recipe here. My advice is to open a bottle of wine, turn on Netflix, and give yourself an afternoon. You don't want to be rushed or nervous. Just relax and keep the dough cold.

Basic Puff Pastry Recipe
Adapted from Jacques Pepin, in Cooking With Master Chefs

1 pound (a little more than 3 cups) AP flour (plus more as needed for rolling, etc)
1 tsp salt
9 ounces (1 cup plus 2 tbsp) ice cold water, plus more if needed
3 sticks (12 oz) unsalted butter, each stick cut into 4 long slices of equal size

Start by making the dough. I like to use a food processor or mixer, but it is soft enough that you can make it by hand. The food processor is my first choice because you want the dough to come together quickly, keeping it cold, and without over-mixing which can turn it rubbery. I start by reserving 2 oz of flour, placing 14 into the food processor along with the salt and the ice water. Process/pulse it until it just comes together as a fairly soft dough. If it is too wet, you can always use the reserved flour (or more if needed) and if too dry, add (just droplets at a time) more ice water.

Once it is together, dump it out onto a lightly floured surface and rapidly roll it into  a rectangle. You are aiming for 9x15 inches which means you want the dough about 1/8" thick.

Next it is time to encapsulate the butter. Leaving a half inch border of dough free at the edges, you are going to cover the top 2/3 of the dough with butter slices. Assuming you got the dough rolled out to 9x15, that should be 2 rows of 6 long butter slices. Take the lower third of the dough and fold it to cover the bottom row of butter slices, then slip again over the top third. You should now have a roughly 9x5 rectangle that goes dough layer, butter layer, dough layer, butter layer, dough layer. If you have hot hands, or if this took you longer than expected, feel free to pop this in the refrigerator for a rest and to let everything stay nice and cold.

When you are ready, it's time to begin folding. Use your rolling pin to now roll this layered pastry into a roughly 11x20 inch rectangle. If your butter is nice and cold, you will probably need to gently (but firmly) pound that 9x5 rectangle down. This will extend it and start softening the butter, which makes it easier to roll. You are aiming for about 1/2-inch thickness.

Now, take both ends and fold them to the center, then fold again at this center line. This is considered a double fold, also called a double turn or a wallet fold. You've just turned your 3 layer of dough and 2 layers of butter into 9 layers of dough and 8 layers of butter.

If you worked fast, you can roll this out again and do another double fold. If not, refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes before doing a second double fold. Refrigerate again. then repeat twice more. After the last turn let it have one more rest and it is ready to use. By the end you've got more than 500 layers of butter and dough. Pretty impressive, and when baked at 400 F, yields a lovely, flaky, pastry that knocks the socks off of anything you can buy in a store.

The Double Fold (Double Turn/Wallet Fold) Step-by-step in pictures...

Step One: Roll out your dough into one large rectangle.

Step 2: Fold the outside edges in to meet in the center.

 Step 3: Fold those 2 halves together.

Top View

Side View
Step 4: Roll out a little to flatten and make then next fold easier. Then wrap it in plastic and place back in the fridge to rest until your next fold.

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