Thanks to October’s Daring Bakers Challenge I was finally able to task myself to make some homemade Puff Pastry. I’ve been wanting to do it for so long now, but never really felt inspired to commit myself to the tedious affair that is laminated dough… But I am SO happy that I finally have! Because now I know that it really isn’t that tedious. I mean, it’s not like throwing together a batch of cookies by any means, but I’ve definitely made more difficult things. I’ve learned that the active time for making puff pastry is not very much. It’s mostly all about having the patience to wait around to fold and roll out the dough between multiple long, chilling periods.
If you are not familiar with puff pastry, I think it is really important that I fill you in on how it works. You know, scientifically and all.
Puff pastry is similar to croissant and danish dough in that they are referred to as laminated (layered) dough. The difference being that puff pastry dough isn’t yeasted. It relies solely on the steam from the butter upon melting to create the flakiness between layers. These layers are created by encasing butter in dough, then rolling it out and folding it over and over again to create hundreds of layers in the final product. I’ll explain some more as I walk you through the steps.
This particular recipe comes from Cooks Illustrated (my old faithful!). They use a very basic lean dough that uses lemon juice for what I can only imagine is to tenderize the dough… kind of like vinegar in a pie crust? That’s my guess at least. Some puff pastry recipes have you cut in some butter too- this recipe doesn’t. The dough comes together easily in a food processor. First you process to evenly disburse the dry ingredients, then with the food processor running you add the lemon juice and 3/4 cup water. You use the remaining 1/4 cup of water as needed to produce a dough that has no floury bits remaining.
I didn’t want to over-process my dough, so as soon as I used the full cup I pretty much stopped the food processor. I was left with some serious dry spots and some overly gummy, wet spots. I probably should have let it run until it was even but I didn’t realize it until I started to shape the dough and by then it was too late. But the good news is that between all the folding and rolling with the butter later on, all the dry pieces eventually went away. Anyways, I would just recommend that you watch out and make sure your dough is homogenous. I am sure you could also use a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment instead of the food processor. I think I’ll do that next time. I never have any luck with food processor’s distributing liquid evenly (particularly with pie crusts).
Once the dough is made, dump it out onto a dry surface, shape into a 6″ square, cover in plastic wrap, and let chill for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the butter block. The butter block plays a very important role in puff pastry and has many guidelines to follow when constructing. The butter must be chilled when you make the butter block. You want the butter block to always remain chilled so that it doesn’t melt into the layers during the rolling process and become part of the dough. It must also be flexible so it will effortlessly expand into a longer and thinner layer when rolled, rather than breaking into pieces. That is why the chilling time between folds and rolls is so important, it helps you maintain the proper temperature and consistency for the butter.
There are 2 techniques to making a butter block. The one called for in this recipe has you beat the butter between two pieces of parchment with flour sprinkled on it, until it is fully incorporated. OR you can choose the much easier method of using a stand mixer. Cut the cold butter into pieces, toss it with flour in the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat it with the paddle for 1 to 2 minutes, just until smooth and blended. You can then shape out the 8″ square on some plastic wrap, cover it, and refrigerate for one hour.
Why add flour to the butter? Well, the flour absorbs any water that may leak out of the butter during lamination. (Butter is not 100% fat, it contains a small amount of water.)
Here is where things are going to start to coast along for us.
Once the dough and butter block are chilled, you roll the dough out into an 11″ square. Then you place the chilled butter block diagonally in the center of the dough.
Fold corners of dough up to meet in the center. Make sure you pinch the dough seams well to seal!
Immediately start gently tapping the dough in an effort to roll it out into a 14″ square.
Then fold the dough into thirds like a business letter.
You then need to fold the rectangle in thirds to make a nice square little package like this.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for two hours.
This step needs to be repeated two more times, for a total of three sets of rolls and folds.
BUT! It is important during the rolling process not to roll over the edges and create a seal. You will lose the flakiness in that area.
I cut my dough in half so I could freeze some of it and use it later for something else.
But it provided a great cross-section to see all those wonderful layers! How cool is that!?
At this point you just roll it out and use it for your purposes.
I was making Napoleons so I had to make a pre-baked flat sheet of puff pastry.
Heads up- the dough shrinks back as it bakes. I didn’t realize this when I rolled my dough out, otherwise I would have made it bigger.
So there we have it- Puff Pastry! Not as difficult as you might have thought. Just as long as you know how puff pastry works and you have patience to wait out the chilling, it is really quite simple! I can’t wait to try other laminated doughs…. I smell some croissants coming up soon!
- For the Dough:
- 3 cups (15 ounces) all purpose flour
- 1½ Tb granulated sugar
- 1½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 cup water, chilled
- For the Butter Square:
- 24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
- 2 Tb all purpose flour
- For the Dough: Process flour, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. With food processor running, add lemon juice, followed by ¾ cup water, in slow steady stream. Add remaining ¼ cup water as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough comes together and no floury bits remain.
- Turn dough onto sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into 6" square. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- For the Butter Square: Lay butter sticks side by side on sheet of parchment paper. Sprinkle flour over butter and cover with second sheet of parchment. Gently pound butter with rolling pin until butter is softened and flour is fully incorporated, then roll it into an 8" square. Wrap butter square in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.
- Roll chilled dough into 11" square on lightly floured counter. Place chilled butter square diagonally in center of dough. Fold corners of dough up over butter square so that corners meet in middle and pinch dough seams to seal.
- Using rolling pin, gently tap dough, starting from center and working outward, until square becomes larger and butter begins to soften. Gently roll dough into 14" square, dusting with extra flour as needed to prevent sticking . Fold dough into thirds like business letter, then fold rectangle in thirds to form square. Wrap dough in plastic and let rest in refrigerator 2 hours.
- Repeat rolling and folding two more times, for a total of three times, chilling for two hours after each.