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Classic Puff Pastry

Don’t be dissuaded by anyone who tells you that it’s difficult to make puff pastry.  It takes basically two things – time: most of which is the dough chilling in the fridge and patience: the process cannot be rushed.

Here’s the reason for not rushing it.  The butter needs to remain cold to stay within the dough while you roll it out.  If it starts to seep or ooze through – STOP – wrap it back up and put it in the refrigerator for awhile.  If you take these two details into account, the likelihood of success is greatly increased.

Here’s another tidbit of information.  I have made puff pastry for years, but most recently happened upon a recipe calling for lemon juice.  I couldn’t for the life of me find the reason why acid would need to be added.   All it took was an message to a friend who is a pastry chef/instructor to learn something new.  The lemon juice denatures the gluten strands in the flour, giving them greater strength.  When it comes to puff pastry, having robust gluten is an asset.  Some recipes call for bread flour, which makes sense due to its higher gluten content;  however, bread flour is not always readily at hand, even in my kitchen.

The following is a classic recipe for puff pastry.  It involves creating a block of butter and flour, which is then encased in pastry dough.   The encased block of dough is then rolled and folded six times.   I’ve never done the math, but I’m told that after the “six turns”, 729 layers of dough/butter are created.  However, sept-cent-vingt-neuf-feuille is definitely more complicated to pronounce than simply saying “mille-feuille” or 1000 layers.  Other times it is called “pâté feuilletée”, which means pastry made leaf-like.”

Regardless of what you call it, homemade puff pastry is amazing.  Make two batches back to back.  Dividing each batch in half, two batches will give you about four 1½ pound blocks of dough.  These can be individually wrapped, frozen and ready to use later.

If you do freeze the dough, remember to thaw whatever portion you want to bake off overnight in the refrigerator.  Thawing it on the counter is not the best option.  It tends to sweat and then become a sticky mess; much like me in the summer.  Also, do not attempt to thaw in the microwave.  You will regret that you even attempted such a thing.

The block of butter
1 lb 1½ oz (500 g) cold unsalted Butter
2 teaspoons (10ml) fresh lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons (1/4 oz or 10g) kosher salt
1 cup (4.5 oz or 130g) unbleached all-purpose flour

 The dough
2 ½ cups (11.25 oz or 320 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ cup (2 oz or 60 g) cake flour
4 tablespoons (2 oz or 60 g) soft unsalted Butter
pinch salt
1 cup (240 ml) ice cold water

In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, mix butter, lemon juice, salt, and flour into a smooth mass.

Lay a piece of plastic wrap down on the counter that is about 24-inches in length. Using a spatula scrape the butter mixture from the mixer and plop it near the middle of the plastic wrap.  Fold the plastic wrap over onto the butter and form it into an approximately 6-inch square.

Peel off the plastic wrap when it starts to wrinkle and place it back over the butter.  Flip the block over as well if it starts to wrinkle on the bottom.  The end result is a block of butter with obviously no plastic wrap incorporated in it only wrapped around it.  I only mention this from my own experience.  After you’ve got the butter evenly squared up and wrapped, refrigerate it until firm.

While the block of butter is firming up in the fridge, it’s time to make the dough.  In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal “S” blade pour in the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt.  Pulse to mix.  Scatter the 4 tablespoons of butter around the flour mixture and pulse again to evenly incorporate it.  Remove the lid and all at once, pour the water near the outside edge of the bowl but over the flour mixture.  It’s been my experience that if you pour the water through the feed tube with the machine running, some of the water collects under the blade.  This is not the result for which you are aiming.  Return the lid and run the processor again until the dough forms a ball on the blade.

Be careful of the blade as you remove the dough from the machine.  Form it into about a 4-inch disk and using a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about ½ hour.

You are ready to proceed when the block of butter is firm and your dough has rested a bit under refrigeration.   Unwrap the chilled dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour.  Pat out the dough into about a 6-inch square.  Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad that has “ears” or flaps at each corner.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the “ears” over the butter, stretching as needed so they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely.  It should be about 6-inches square.  The first time I saw that huge block of butter on the dough I thought to myself, “there’s no way all that butter is going to fit in such a small amount of dough.”  Have no fear, it will fit just fine.

It’s now time to make the first of six turns.  Using a rolling pin, press the dough 5 or 6 times to create creases across the block.  This helps distribute the butter and makes is easier to start rolling.  It should look like a piece of  corrugated cardboard.  Then, keeping the work surface and dough well floured, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square with which you started, say about 24 inches in length.

Especially with this first turn, check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along the entire length and width of the dough.  If it’s not adjust accordingly, by rolling with more or less pressure; more evenly or whatever is necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter “sandwich” or lamination.  (Another term for this pastry is “laminated dough“.  I just thought I’d throw that in, in case you see this definition somewhere.)  With a pastry brush, remove the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter.  Brush off any excess flour that was on the bottom as well prior to making the final “business letter” fold.  You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book.  Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24 inches and then folding in thirds.  This is the second turn.

 It might be time to chill, either you or the dough; or maybe not.  If the dough is still cool and no butter is seeping  out, you can give the dough another turn or even two turns.  If the condition of the dough is sketchy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.  Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you’ve completed. You will think you will remember, but you trust me you won’t.

The dough can also be to refrigerated 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns, say if you have laundry to finish.  However in the end, the total number of turns needed is six before it’s ready to be rolled out one last time to make your favorite tart shell, turnovers, palmiers, or pot pie crust.