Caramel Sauce with crème fraîche

Caramel sauce can at times be cloyingly sweet and one dimenstional. Adding crème fraîche gives it a bit of tang and cuts the sweetness. It’s delightful served along side a slice of apple tart or topping off a scoop of ice cream. 

1 cup (7 oz / 200 g) granulated sugar
About ½ cup or 125 ml water
7 tablespoons (3 ½ oz /100 g) salted butter, cubed
Scant ½ cup (3 ½ oz / 100 g) crème fraîche
½ teaspoon flaked sea salt or to taste

Measure out the ingredients and have within reach. Pour the sugar into the middle of a wide, heavy-bottomed pan and pour water over it to get the sugar wet; think wet sand. Set over a medium heat. Keep an eye on it as the sugar will begin to melt and turn amber in color.

Once it turns a deep, but not dark, amber colour (about seven minutes), take it off the heat and whisk in the butter until it is completely melted, then stir in the creme fraiche and ½ teaspoon salt.

Once you have a smooth sauce use immediately, or store in a sealed container in the fridge. You can reheat as necessary, adding a little additional crème fraîche or cream if it is too thick.

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Perfect Sugar Cookies

This recipe makes the perfect sugar cookie and by perfect I mean the dough doesn’t slide outside its edges when baked.  After they cool they’re an excellent canvas for decorating with royal icing. If you decide to forgo the decorating pastry bag they are equally delicious and still melt in your mouth.

cups (9 oz / 255 g) all-purpose flour
½ cup (2 oz / 55 g) almond flour
3/4 cup (3 ½ oz / 100 g) cornstarch
1 cup (8 oz / 225  g) cool, unsalted butter, cut into 16 approximately equal pieces
1 cup (7 oz / 200 g) granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon pure almond extract

If using convection set the racks on the upper, middle, and lower third of the oven. If using a conventional oven set the rack on the lower third of the oven.

In a medium bowl sift together the flours and cornstarch.  Set aside. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment cream the butter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl; add the sugar and salt and beat until smooth. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Mix in the egg yolks one at a time until each is incorporated; then add the extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the flour mixture and mix on medium low speed just until the dough starts to come together. Tip it out onto a smooth, cold work surface, such as a counter-top. Using the heel of your hand, smear the dough away from you a little at a time, turning it back onto itself with a bench scraper. Do this until the dough is combined. This method of “mixing” is called fraisage. Once it’s combined divide the dough into thirds and form each into a rectangle.

Roll each piece of dough out between 2 sheets of parchment paper, to a thickness of a scant ¼ – inch. (I went to the hardware store across the street and found 2 rubber rings that are the perfect depth.) After rolling out leave the dough between the parchment paper and stack on a half-sheet pan. Refrigerate for about an hour or until firm.

Before you’re ready to bake off the cookies allow enough time to preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Remove a “slab” of dough and cut out the cookies using your favorite cookie cutters. Gently gather the remaining dough back into a rectangle and reroll. Refrigerate the rerolled dough to firm it up and cut as you did the other cookies.  It works to reroll just once, otherwise the cookies start getting tough.

Of course on the last batch I got the idea of using the back of a paring knife to draw an indentation down the middle of the cookie to resemble the vein of the leaf. Just be sure not to cut all the way through the dough. Set each cookie about an ½-inch apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. Pop back in the refrigerator or freezer while you are lining another sheet pan with cookies.

Three pans can be baked in a convection oven or one pan on the lower third of a conventional. Regardless, they all bake for 9 – 12 minutes or until just barely beginning to brown.  Slide the parchment paper with the cookies still on it to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before decorating.

 

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Butter Cookie or Sablé Breton

Salted butter (le buerre salé) is the name of the game when baking this popular French cookie. They hail from Brittany (“Bretagne” in French), a region where butter reins supreme. And, sablé translates to sand as they have a crispy, melt in your mouth texture.

Getting the cookies to the exact same size is easy. Just bake off the rolled-out, slab of refrigerated dough. Then, remove the pan from the oven and carefully but quickly cut out as many cookies as you can with your desired size cookie cutter. I used a 2 ½-inch round fluted edge cutter.

The “shards” of cookies of course can be sampled, or crumbled and sprinkled on top of ice cream, or added to a dessert plate as part of the garnish. I’m going to freeze any remaining crumbs and see what happens when using them as the crust of a holiday cheesecake. I’ll let you know how that works.

1 ¾ cups ( 8 oz / 230 g) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1 oz / 25 g) almond flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (aluminum free)
½ cup (3 ½ oz / 100 g) granulated sugar
1 plump vanilla bean
zest of one lemon, preferably organic (optional)
2 sticks (8 ounces) salted butter, diced, at room temperature
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ cup (1 oz / 30 g) confectioners’ sugar
3 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 large egg, plus ½ teaspoon water, well-beaten for egg cash

In a medium bowl sift together the flours and baking powder; set aside. In a small bowl weigh (or measure) the granulated sugar. Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape the seed pulp and add it to the granulated sugar. If using lemon zest, add it at now as well. Using your fingers, rub the vanilla bean pulp (and zest) into the sugar until blended.

Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer beat the butter until smooth. Scape down the sides of the bowl. Add the granulated vanilla sugar, and salt and continue beating for about 3 minutes on medium speed, or until smooth. Scrape down the bowl. Beat in confectioners’ sugar and then beat in the yolks one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the sifted flour. Mix on low speed until the flour just begins to come together.

Tip the mixture out onto a smooth, lightly floured surface. Using the heel of your hand, smear a bit of dough at a time away from you, then using a bench knife, fold the dough back onto itself. Repeat until the dough has come together in a homogenized mass. This method of mixing dough is called fraisage.

Divide in half and flatten each into of a rectangle. Place each rectangle between sheets of parchment paper. Roll the dough out to a thickness of between 1/4 to 1/8-inch. (The thinner the cookie the crispier they will become after baked and cooled.) I found these rubber rings that are 3/16-inch that I have on my rolling pin. They make rolling out the dough easy and keeps it at an even thickness.

Refrigerate rolled-out dough for at least 2 hours on a sheet pan between the two pieces of parchment paper. When ready to bake, center the rack on the lower third and preheat oven to 375°F. 

From here you can bake them off in one of two ways.
Option 1:  Leave the dough on the sheet pan and remove the top piece of parchment paper. Quickly brush with egg wash. Take the tines of a fork and run them across the dough in a crisscross pattern.

Place the sheet pan in the preheated oven and bake 12 – 15 minutes or until the slab of cookie dough is golden brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and quickly cut each cookie out using your favorite cookie cutter. 

Option 2:  Cut out the cookies from the cold slab of dough. Use a wide offset spatula to move them onto a parchment paper lined sheet pan. Bring the scrapes together, roll one more time and continue cutting out as many as you can. Brush each disk with egg wash and make the crosshatch design on each as shown above.

Either way after baking cool for 15 minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Resist enjoying the sablés while still warm. They need to cool so that their texture will set up and become crispy.

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Salted Cultured Butter

I make crème fraîche a lot because it’s delicous as a dollop and as an ingredient. Serve it next to a slice of fruit tart, Gateau Basque, chocolate dessert, or add it to the filling of this Pumpkin Tart. I even include it as part of an ice cream base. You get the idea just how much I enjoy it. If you search crème fraîche on my blog you’ll find even more recipes.

It’s similar to sour cream and mascarpone but different enough that each should have a place in your cooking repertoire. There are times though when I make too much of this good thing and unfortunately it doesn’t last forever.

This is when I make cultured butter. It’s considered cultured because the lactic acid in the cream ferments slightly creating a tangy, creamy, delightful flavor.

 

Crème Fraîche is made with just two ingredients. This recipe makes about 8 ounces of butter and a pint of buttermilk.

¼ cup cultured buttermilk, minimally processed and preferably organic
1 quart heavy cream (not ultra pasteurized, no additives, and preferably organic)

Combine the buttermilk and cream in a saucepan and heat to 85°F on an instant read thermometer. Pour into a clean glass, stainless steel, or ceramic bowl. Cover with a couple of layers of cheese cloth or clean cotton towel. Let sit at room temperature (between 65 and 75 degrees F) for 8 to 24 hours, or until thickened. Refrigerate for up to a week.

Salted Cultured Butter
1 batch of crème fraîche from above recipe
½ teaspoon sea salt or to taste

Place the cold crème fraîche in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment (and covering the entire mixer with food film or a cotton towel to help contain the splattering) whip it until the curds of butter separate from the whey (buttermilk). This can take anywhere from 5 to 1o minutes.

Once the buttermilk has separated from the curds pour the contents of the mixing bowl through a fine mesh sieve saving the buttermilk for cooking or to enjoy as a beverage.

Place the butter curds back in the mixing bowl and pour ice cold water over it. Using a small spatula or wooden spoon press out any remaining buttermilk. Keep pressing and rinsing the butter until the water runs clear.

 

Mix the sea salt into the butter according to your taste. Form the butter into a log, wrap it in a piece of parchment paper, then plastic wrap and freeze. Let it return to room temperture before you enjoy it on a crusty baguette, ear of corn, or biscuit.

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Basil Pesto with Walnuts or Pecans

I had copious amounts of basil and Italian parsley in my garden this evening. In past years I’ve waited too long and the basil would be blooming before I had a chance to harvest it.

This time I was able to pick it while it was still tender and bright green.  By cutting it back I hope to get a second batch in time for my tomato harvest later in August.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy a bit of this batch on boiled eggs, stirred into pasta, smeared on a sheet of puff pastry, rolled, cut and baked into crackers or nappéd on a serving of grilled fish or roasted vegetables.

1  cup (3 ½ oz) walnuts or pecans, coursely chopped, toasted and allowed to cool
3 cups packed fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
1 cup packed fresh Italian parsley leaves, rinsed and dried
2 – 3 large garlic cloves
1 cup good extra virgin olive oil, or enough for desired consistency
1 cup (4 oz) freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
Juice of ½ medium lemon
Kosher Salt and freshl ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place walnuts or pecans in a cast iron pan or other oven proof sauté pan and roast for 10 -15 minutes or until toasted. Remove the walnuts from the hot pan to a bowl and set aside to cool; then coursely chop. Place basil and parsley leaves in the bowl of a 6 qt food processor.

Sprinkle walnuts and garlic cloves on top of leaves. Using the metal “S” blade pulse a couple of time to get the ball rolling and then with the machine running drizzle in the olive oil.

Add cheese, lemon juice and salt and pepper and pulse until just blended. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula and pulse a few more times. Taste for seasonings.

Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator. Add more olive oil before serving, if taken straight from the fridge.

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Cardamon Shortcakes with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote and Maple Cream

Cardamom paired with strawberries and rhubarb is a classic combination. Though if the taste of cardamom isn’t for you, freshly ground black pepper, or a bit of freshly minced thyme or rosemary in the shortcake would also be great flavor combinations.

I am fortunate that rhubarb grows like a weed where I live. It’s usually one of the first vegetables to poke its leaves out of the ground, sometimes even through a late spring snowfall.

There’s nothing more satisfying too, than the taste of a local strawberry. If you’ve never had the experience of savoring one, I encourage you to make a beeline to your local farmer’s market. The only problem — the difficulty of ever again eating one out of season. Here in Minnesota, as soon as the local strawberries are here and gone one is advised to stop harvesting rhubarb due to the increase of oxalic acid; at least according to the website Gardena.

You can absolutely skip the rhubarb altogether or the entire compote process. Instead, just slice some strawberries in a bowl. Sprinkle them with sugar according to the berries natural sweetness and serve on the cakes with whipped cream.

I also experimented with different pans in which to cook-off the shortcakes. A half sheet pan was too large and they spread too much for my visual taste.  They didn’t stay round in my 9-inch cast iron skillet so the next time around I’m going to bake them on a ¼ sheet pan.  Also, you could leave them in a 2-inch square but I kind of like them round. That’s the beauty of recipes you can adapt them in so many ways.


Makes 9 servings

Shortcake:
3 large eggs
½ cup (4 oz ) heavy cream
3 cups (13 ½ oz / 385 g ) unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
4 teaspoons (¾ oz / 20 g) baking powder
½ cup (3 ½ oz/ 100 g)  granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon cardamom, ground using a mortar and pestle
zest of an orange, organic if possible
10 tablespoons (5 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into small dice
¼ cup sliced almonds
Sanding sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a ¼ size baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup whisk 2 eggs in heavy cream. Set aside in the refrigerator.

Measure out the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, cardamom, and zest. Place in the bowl of a food processor. Using the metal “S” blade pulse a couple of times to combine the dry ingredents.  Toss half the butter on top of the flour mixture and pulse until the butter is pea-size. Add the remaining butter and pulse again until the second batch of butter becomes pea-size bits, 10 to 12 times.

Stop the machine and pour the cream mixture over flour mixture. Pulse until some large clumps begin to form, 25 to 30 times. Tip out onto a counter, gather the dough and form until it can hold its shape and pat out to a 6 x 6 inch square. Cut dough into nine 2 x 2 inch squares. Leave as squares or form each into a 2-inch disk (think small hockey puck).

Place shortcakes on the parchment lined baking sheet. Whisk the remaining egg with 1 teaspoon water. Lightly brush shortcake tops.  Press a few almonds slices on top of each. Brush the almonds with additonal beaten egg and if using sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until cooked through and golden.

Compote:
2 quarts strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
1 cup (7 oz ) granulated sugar, divided
Zest of one lemon, organic if possible
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Juice of one orange, organic if possible
1 pound rhubarb (8 – 10, 16″ stalks), sliced ¼-inch thick, organic if possible
Pinch of kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger

In a medium bowl toss the berries with ½ cup of sugar, lemon zest, lemon and orange juices. Set aside for about 3o minutes, stirring occasionally and allow the berries to release some liquid.

Afterwards, using a fine mesh strainer, strain the berries, collecting the accumulated juices in a medium saucepan. Return the strawberries to the bowl and set aside.

Add the rhubarb, remaining sugar, salt, and ginger to the saucepan along with the strawberry juices and bring to a boil over medium heat over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is soft and liquid has thickened. This should take about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Mix the rhubarb mixture with the strawberries. Serve with the cardamon shortcakes.

Maple Whipped Cream:
1 pint heavy cream
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Whisk together in a bowl until a light cream forms. Serve with the shortcakes and compote.

 

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Gâlette des Rois

I have yet to be in France in early January. That’s the time you see these delicious gallettes topped with a gold paper crown in the windows of patisseries. They are generally served on Twelfth Night. But no one would complain if you served one a week or so after to continue celebrating the New Year.

The other tradition is that the baker hides a fevé (as it was often a fava bean) in the pastry. It can also be a small porcelain figurine or nut of some sort like a whole almond or hazelnut. Do I need to add a warning:  “Do not Choke”?  Whoever gets the fevé in their slice is crowned king or queen for the day.

With the traditions known, the most important element when working with puff pastry is keeping the dough cold which means working quickly to get it rolled out. If the butter starts to ooze out or if it’s being stubborn and springs back on you it’s time to stop, return it to a sheet pan and put it back in the refrigerator.

The next tip is to ever so lightly, flour your counter-top to prevent the dough from sticking. (I use a piece of marble for rolling out pastry dough, as the surface stays cold.) After the dough is rolled out to the desired size, use a pastry brush to remove any excess flour. You’ll thank me later for reminding you to do this.

As you see in the ingredient list there are lots of options. I had chestnut flour so added the 30 grams that were languishing in the freezer. Orange zest would be a great addition.  If I had I remembered the orange on the counter; organic no less, I would have added the zest. If the flavor of alcohol is not your cup of tea, by all means omit it and add orange flower water..or not.

Some recipes called for a bit of apricot jam.  I had some from another recipe test so I added it. And I’m just going to say it, I saw a YouTube video where a pastry chef added slices of poached pears as part of the filling. I had poached pears from another recipe too, so in they went. I’m not even adding pears to the ingredient list. By all means the classic version, using only almond flour with no optional ingredients is absolutely amazing. I hope I didn’t get carried away.

If time does not allow you to make the puff pastry yourself you can generally find frozen puff pastry in the freezer section of a well-stocked supermarket. Avoid brands though that list any fat other than butter in the ingredients.

1 cup (100 g) almond flour*
3 tablespoons (30 g) chestnut or hazelnut flour* (optional)
1 tablespoon (8 g) cornstarch
Pinch kosher or sea salt
7 tablespoons (3.5 oz / 100 g) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup (3.5 oz / 100 g) granulated sugar
Zest of orange, preferably organic (optional)
2 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, cognac, rum, or orange flower water*
Fevé such as a fava bean, whole almond, hazelnut, candied fruit, or porcelain trinket
1 ¼ pounds (~ 500 grams) all-butter classic or quick puff pastry, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons apricot jam*

Glaze
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

Paper crown for decorating

In a small bowl measure out 130 g almond flour or if using another flour too, measure out 100 g almond and 30 g of hazelnut or chestnut flour. Add the cornstarch and salt. Set aside

In a medium bowl mix together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon. Mash in the butter until it’s completely incorporated. (The reason to use the wooden spoon and not a stand mixer is that you do not want to incorporate air into the batter.)

Add the almond flour mixture, and orange zest if using to the butter mixture. Stir in the eggs one at a time, along with the liquor (if using) and almond extract. (The mixture may not look completely smooth, which is normal.) Set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On lightly floured surface, roll one piece of puff pastry into a circle about 11-inches round. Using a pot lid, plate, expandable cake ring or the bottom of a tart pan as a template, trim the dough into neat circle.

Place the dough on the parchment lined baking sheet. If adding the jam, carefully spread it over the center of the dough, leaving a 1-inch exposed border. Pop the pan with the dough in the freezer. (Why put the jam-smeared dough in the freezer? It allows the jam to freeze making it easier to spread the almond filling on top of it later.)

Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper, then roll the other piece of dough into an 12-inch circle, trim it and chill this dough in the refrigerator for about thirty minutes.

Remove the almond filling and dough from the refrigerator; and the other dough from the freezer. Spread the almond filling over the center of jam-smeared dough, leaving the same 1-inch exposed border. If you wish, place the almond, hazelnut, piece of candied fruit or trinket to act as the fève (prize) somewhere in the almond filling.

Brush water generously around the exposed perimeter of the dough then place the other circle of dough on top of the galette and press down to seal the edges very well. (At this point, you can chill the galette since it’ll be a bit easier to finish and decorate, although it’s not necessary. After it is decorated it can be returned to the refrigerator overnight or wrap it well and freeze it for up to a month.)

IMG_2352

To bake the galette, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Flute the sides of the dough (as shown in the photo) and use a paring knife to create a design on top.

Using a fork whisk together the egg yolk and sugar and brush it evenly over the top. Avoid getting the glaze on the sides, which will inhibit the pastry from rising at the edges. Use a paring knife to poke 4 – 5 holes in the top, to allow the steam to escape while baking.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the galette is browned on top and up the sides. (During baking, if the galette puffs up too dramatically poke it again once or twice with the paring knife to release the steam.) Remove from the oven and slide the galette off the baking sheet and onto a cooling rack.

The galette will deflate as it cools, which is normal. Serve warm or at room temperature topped with the paper crown if you were lucky enough to find one.

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Quick Puff Pastry

Here’s my earlier recipe for Classic Puff Pastry. Every baker at some point in their life should master this recipe. Trust me, contrary to popular belief, it’s not difficult. It just takes patience, meaning you need to give the dough time to rest in the refrigerator. While it’s resting you can too, or go about doing whatever it is you like to do.

The recipe below comes together quicker than the classic version and works just fine, though it might not puff quite as high. But who’s going to measure? Use the best butter you can find and either recipe whether it’s the Classic or Quick version will give you superior results.

The recipe below is adapted from the one by Jacques Torres in his book Dessert Circus. His recipe is three pages in length. If you can get your hands on his book it is well worth the read not only for this recipe but there are many other gems in it. If you can’t find his book I encourage you to hunt/google for at least a couple of recipes to get other “takes” on making puff pastry. As they say, knowledge is power!

The recipe below makes about 2 1/2 pounds of dough

7 tablespoons (3.5 oz / 100 g) unsalted butter, melted, cooled to room temperature
4 cups (17.6 oz / 500 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons (0.6 oz / 15 g) kosher salt
Scant 1 cup (8 oz / 220g) cold water
1 1/4 cups + 1 ½ tablespoons (10 ¾ oz / 300 g) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, frozen

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the melted butter, flour, salt, and water. Using the paddle attachment stir the ingredients on the second speed and mix for about 1 minute. Stop the mixer when the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl.

Scatter the frozen butter cubes around the dough and mix on low speed just long enough to distribute the butter throughout the dough. This should take all of about 15 seconds. It’s important that you still see large pieces of butter throughout the dough.

Remove the dough from the mixer and quickly pat into an 8 x 10-inch rectangle about 1-inch thick. Make sure the butter is evenly distributed throughout the dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours. This resting time gives the gluten in the dough a chance to relax. It gives you time to relax too and to pat yourself on the back that you made it this far.

When ready to proceed remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it on a lightly floured smooth counter. It’s important not to add too much flour though as it makes the dough tough.

Roll out the dough lengthwise into a 10 x 23-inch rectangle. You should still see the butter, though after rolling it will be smeared into the dough. (see picture below) Also, do your best keep the dough at an even thickness as you are rolling it out. If it starts to break or pull back, put it on a sheet pan and pop it back in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. This gives the gluten additional time to relax.

D71760AA-2D37-4BB5-A3F3-0FC2DBB82E29 (1)Once the dough is rolled out to the 10 x 23-inch rectangle, fold the two ends to meet in the middle, leaving them about an inch apart. Fold one side on top of the other. This is called a book fold. Rotate the dough so that the seam is on your right. This is fold number one.

Repeat the same process as you did above including what will now be the second book fold. (Make a note that you have completed 2 folds by making two slight indentations with your finger in the dough.) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator again for a minimum of one hour or up to 1 day.

Again, repeat the exact same process as you did above including what will now be the third and fourth book folds. Make a note in the dough that you have completed four book folds. Return to the refrigerator for at least another hour.

When ready to proceed, roll out the dough one more time and complete your fifth book fold. You now have 1024 layers of dough or what is called Mill-Feuille – a 1000 layer dough; give or take a few.

Cut the dough in half giving you about two 1 1/4 pounds of dough. Wrap each very well in plastic wrap and store for a day in the refrigerator or about two months in the freezer.

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