Puff Pastry is truly a magic act. There’s only four ingredients that need to be involved:
The “magic” is the combination of the preparation technique, and the reaction of the butter to the heat of the oven. See, the way that the dough and butter are rolled together creates thousands of layers and pockets filled with tiny little bits of butter. When the heat hits the butter it releases its water in a tiny burst of steam. The steam causes the dough to form a pocket, and all of the pockets are what form the delicious flaky layers that make puff pastry, well, so puffy. Puff pastry is what croissants, danishes, napoleons, and other flaky goodies are made from (there are several specific types of puff pastry too, this recipe is the most versatile). It is a bit time consuming to make, but well worth it if you value the fruits of your own labor, and despise preservatives. Most puff pastry that you can buy at the grocery store is loaded with strange sounding ingredients. I find it well worth it to make a double batch and freeze it for future use. However, I won’t think any less of you if you just don’t have the time or energy or desire to make you own puff pastry. 🙂 I hope you’ll read on just to learn more about it, though!
My recipe for Puff Pastry calls for a bit of “starter.” If you’re unfamiliar with Starter, I explain it here. What your need to know right now is that Starter is the secret weapon of any good bakery. A starter’s flavor is unique to it’s environment. For example, if you purchase a starter from King Arthur Flour, or from your local bakery, once it is in your kitchen it becomes *your* distinctive starter.
However, you do not need a starter to make puff pastry. You may just omit it altogether if you don’t care to get that involved. It’s all in your hands 🙂
Here are the ingredients & tools you’ll need to “mise en plas.” (Measurements are provided in American and Metric)
- Flour – 250g or 2 cups
- Salt – 5g or 3/4 tsp
- Starter – 50g or 1/4 cup (scant)
- Melted Butter – 37g or 1/4 cup
- Water – 125g or 2/3 cup
- Cold Butter – 150 or 1 stick + 3 Tbsp
- Rolling Pin
- Bench Scraper
- Stiff Spatula
- A pinch bowl of flour
- Parchment Paper
- Mixer (optional, but helpful)
- Combine the flour and salt. Sifting is not necessary.
- Fold in the butter, starter and water.
- Work it into a dough. Knead it until it stretches about an inch without breaking. The picture on the top shows the dough as “too tacky.” The picture on the bottom shows it “just right.” Add small amounts of flour as needed to keep it from being overly tacky-allow it to be just a little sticky though.
- Gather the dough into a ball. Dust lightly with flour to keep it manageable.
- Cover the dough with a damp cloth and chill it in the fridge for about half and hour. This step is VERY important, it allows the dough’s glutens to relax-or as I like to think of it-let the dough “know thyself.”
- Take your cold butter (seriously, keep it in the fridge until you’re ready for this step) and place it on a sheet of parchment paper.
- Fold the parchment over the butter and lightly beat the it with your rolling pin to flatten it out.
- Unfold the parchment to expose the butter. Use your bench scraper (or stiff spatula) to shape the butter into a nice rectangle, about 9 inches (23 cm) long by 6 inches (13 cm) wide. Scrape and mold it to be a consistent thickness. *Keep it chilled while you do this. If the butter starts to get soft, just stop and put it back in the fridge until it firms up.*
- When you have a nicely squared and flat slab ‘o butter, fold the parchment back over the butter. Return it to the fridge and chill well.
- Take the ball of dough out of the fridge and uncover it. Place the dough on the counter. Sprinkle the ball and the counter around it with flour.
- Gently roll the dough into a rectangle about 6 inches (23cm) wide by 18 inches (45cm) long. Pay special attention to the corners, keep them square. Work from the center out. Also pay attention to the thickness of the dough, keep it uniform. If you mess it up, just gather the dough back into a ball and try again! Use a minimal amount of flour to keep it from sticking to the counter.
- Gently lift the dough off the counter to let it relax and find it’s natural shape.
- Get the chilled butter from the fridge. Peel back the parchment from one side. Place it “butter side down” on the lower third of your dough rectangle. The butter should come very close to the edge of the dough.
- Peel the parchment off the butter. Enclose the butter in the dough by folding it over. You can slightly overlap the edges to ensure a good seal. Tips: If you have a lot of overlap, cut off the excess dough and discard. If you can’t cover the butter, then you need to stretch the dough a bit by rolling out the unbuttered section of dough a bit more. If you’re following my measurements called out in steps #8 and #11, you should be within striking distance.
- Sprinkle the work area lightly with flour again. Flip the dough to put the seam in contact with the counter.
- Dust a bit more flour on this side of the dough and gently roll out to be about 18 inches (45cm) long by 12 inches (30cm) wide. It should be about 1/4 inch thick. Avoid overstretching and cracking the dough
- Dust off any extra flour with your brush.
- Make your first “four-fold”. Fold the edges to the center. Dust off extra flour again.
- Then fold the whole thing together to enclose the center, like this:
- Place the dough on a plate or in a pan, etc. Cover it closely with a wet towel and put it back in the fridge, chill for at least one hour before doing another four-fold.
- Pull the dough from the fridge and roll it out again, following steps #16 – #20 exactly three more times. Four “four-folds” will create over 1000 very thin layers off butter and dough.
- Roll the dough out one more time. It is now completely ready to go. At this point you have four options:
- Bake it off (croissants, danishes, pie crusts, pot pie topper, napoleons, brie en croute, beef wellington, etc.)
- Refrigerate it and bake it off later (no more than 24 hours)
- Freeze it
- Gift it
How to store it:
Cover the pastry with a sheet of parchment paper and roll up. Enclose in a plastic bag or plastic wrap to keep fresh and retain the moisture.
I suggest that unless you’re cooking for several hungry mouths, cut the puff pastry into two or three equally sized pieces. Roll up each piece with parchment and freeze individually. Next time you want puff pastry, just defrost it on the counter, or in the fridge overnight. Lightly roll it out and do with it what you will.