Friday, January 3, 2014

How to make homemade puff pastry from scratch: a step-by-step

For Thanksgiving this year, I made one of my favorite desserts, an apple tart. As a twist though, I decided to make my own puff pastry. I've made my own croissants before (see this post for a step-by-step), and puff pastry is only 2 additional turns, so I knew I could do it!

I've realized that I really like making laminated doughs (layers of alternating butter and dough). Once you get the hang of it, they are not too difficult. You just need to be patient, precise, and work in a cool kitchen. If you have hot and humid summers, like me, don't even bother to make them when it's hot...this is definitely a winter project.

I used the puff pastry to make:
- apple turnovers
- an apple tart
- parmesan cheese twists
- pithiviers (an amazing French dessert of puff pastry filled with almond cream...yum!)

Look at how beautiful this dough is:

my finished dough

For the puff pastry, I used Julia Child's recipe from Baking with Julia, one of my favorite cookbooks, but I changed up the method a bit by adding some butter to the flour mixture. This was the method I learned in one of my baking classes at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts - add some butter to the flour mixture and mix the dough by hand on the countertop rather than in the mixer (as instructed in Julia Child's book).

Ingredients for puff pastry, courtesy of Julia Child:
2 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 c. cake flour
1 1/2 t. salt (note JC's recipe calls for 1 T. salt but I felt this was too much)
1 1/4 c. ice water
1 lb. (4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, divide and set aside 4 t. for the flour mixture, the rest goes into making the butter square.

Method:
Step 1, make the dough Sift together the flour and salt onto the countertop. Make a "well" in the center and add 4 t. of butter, cut into small pieces.

adding the butter

Using a bench scrapper - or your fingertips - cut the butter into the flour until it resembles cornmeal. If you use your fingers, work quickly so the heat of your fingers doesn't melt the butter. A good method for using your fingers is to gather flour in them as you bring them to the butter so you are incorporating fingers full of flour (into the butter) as you rub and smoosh the butter.

incorporating the butter with a bench scraper or your fingers

Add the water a few tablespoons at a time until the dough comes together. You should need all of the water, but stop as soon as it comes together.

adding the water, fluffing and combining as you go

When the dough has come together, gently gather it and press it into a 4" square. Dust lightly with flour and loosely wrap it in plastic wrap. Let it rest for 30 minutes (or longer) in the refrigerator.

formed into a square and ready for resting

Step 2, make the butter square You should have 3 1/2 sticks of cold butter remaining. Cut into pieces and place in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat the butter until it is completely smooth.

paddling the butter

Scrape your softened butter into plastic wrap. Using the plastic wrap to protect your hands, shape the butter into a 4" square. This is where you want to start being careful with measurements, so try to be pretty precise here. If the butter square is too soft, chill it until it has firmed up. You want the dough and butter square to be the same firmness so they will roll out easily together. If the butter is too soft, it will ooze out of the dough and ruin your layers.

scraping out the butter

my butter square, ready to be chilled

Let the butter chill for a while. Basically, you want the butter square and the dough to be the same firmness, so they will roll out together, smoothly and without tearing the dough.

getting ready to roll out the first two turns

Step 3, creating "le petit paquet" or incorporating the butter into the dough Roll out your dough to an approximate 10" square. You can make the four corners slightly thinner (since they will be coming together and overlapping in the middle) and leave the middle slightly thicker.

my 10" square of dough

Place the butter square in the middle, at a diagonal, as below.

the butter square goes on top

Then fold the four corners of the dough so they meet in the middle, pinching the edges of dough together so you seal the butter completely inside. After this step, I use the heel of my hand to gently push/flatten the packet a bit. I am trying to make sure the butter reaches the edges and is evenly dispersed inside (but don't push too hard as you don't want to the butter to leak out at all).

my sealed petit paquet

Step 4, the turns Now comes the fun part...rolling out the turns. You will roll the dough twice, then chill it (first two turns); then roll it out twice again (turns 3 and 4), then chill it; then roll it out twice more (turns 5 and 6), then it is ready to shape and use.

Lightly flour your surface and gently roll out the dough to a 12x24" rectangle. Flour sparingly, but use enough so the dough does not stick to either the countertop or the rolling pin. You will find you need less and less flour as you go, but you do not want the dough to stick or the butter will break through. If the dough tears and exposes the butter, pat some flour onto the butter spot and keep rolling.

I've flattened the packet out slightly to make sure the butter is
evenly dispersed inside

During the rolling, it is important to try to be precise and to try to keep the dough as rectangular as possible. I have a 24" ruler that I use for baking and it's perfect for rolling out the dough. I just set it on the countertop and keep rolling until my dough is as long as the ruler.

phew...done

24" exactly!

Now you are ready to make the first turn. Fold the dough into thirds, as you would a letter.

fold the top down and then the bottom up

voila, the first turn

Now, rotate the dough so the opening is on your right and the folded side is on your left, as below.

turned and ready to roll out again

Roll out the dough again, as you did before, to 12x24" and then fold into thirds again. This is your second turn completed. Now the dough needs a rest.

the second roll...24" check!

fold again into thirds

Wrap the dough losely, but completely in plastic wrap (you don't want any air to get in which will dry out the dough), set it on a cookie sheet pan and let it rest in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes.

ready to rest in the fridge

After the first rest, you will need 4 more turns. Repeat the above process (two turns), then rest the dough again for a minimum of 30 minutes.

After a total of 6 turns, your dough should be smooth, soft, and absolutely gorgeous. Look how pretty it is!

my finished dough

Now you are ready to roll out the dough and use it for delicious baking projects. The picture below is the dough measured out for my apple turnovers, which used 1/2 the dough. I used the other half of the dough to make an apple tart for Thanksgiving. The scraps are good for making cheese twists and/or palmiers.

For another batch of puff pastry I made a delicious dessert called pithiviers...so yummy! I made a second batch just a couple of weeks later, for Christmas...I have been a baking maniac the last two months.

measuring dough for apple turnovers and an apple tart


Bye for now...

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