Pasta Sfogliata

Italian Puff Pastry

Sfogliata means “leaved” and refers to the alternating layers, or leaves, of dough and butter formed by repeatedly rolling and folding the package of dough and butter. Puff pastry is capable of rising to delicate, flaky heights as a result of the steam that forms between the layers in the dough during baking.

If you have never attempted this process before, choose a cool day to make the dough, turn off the telephone, and reread the instructions several times. Once you have the knack of preparing puff pastry, it is no more difficult than preparing any other dough, but it does take a little practice.

Ingredients

    Dough

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • cup white wine or white vermouth
  • ¼ cup cold water

    Butter Square

  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold

Method

For the dough, combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into 3 or 4 pieces and rub it thoroughly into the flour with your fingertips so that no pieces of butter remain visible. Make sure that the mixture remains cool and powdery and does not become pasty.

Combine the wine or vermouth with the water. Blend the liquid into the flour-and-butter mixture with a fork, working the fork, tines up, through the mixture from the bottom of the bowl upward, being careful not to stir, which would toughen the dough. Once all of the flour-and-butter mixture is evenly moistened it will look like a mass of rough curds; do not attempt to make the dough smooth. Cover the dough loosely and refrigerate it while preparing the butter square.

For the butter square, spread the remaining flour on a work surface and unwrap the chilled butter onto it. Turn the sticks of butter to coat them with the flour and pound them with a rolling pin to soften them to the point where you can easily make an indentation by pressing with a fingertip. With floured hands, press and squeeze the butter into a rough square, about 4 inches on a side. If the kitchen is warm, refrigerate the butter square while forming the dough that will envelop it.

Scrape off any bits of butter sticking to the work surface and flour the surface. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and scrape it out of the bowl onto the surface. Press the dough well with the palms of your hands once or twice to make all the bits of dough adhere. Flour the dough very lightly and roll it gently into a 5 × 10-inch rectangle. Place the square of butter at the narrow end of the rectangle closer to you and fold the other half of the dough over it.

Turn the package of dough so that the fold is on the left and roll it into a 6 × 12-inch rectangle. Fold the top third of the dough down over the middle third, and the bottom third up over the middle, as you would fold a letter, to make 3 layers of dough. Position the dough again so that the crease is on the left and roll again to a 6 × 12-inch rectangle. This time fold each narrow end of the dough toward the middle and fold again at the middle, to make 4 layers.

Wrap the dough loosely in plastic and refrigerate about 1 hour. When you remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and position it on a floured surface so that the fold is on the left. Flour the dough and roll it again into a 6 × 12-inch rectangle, repeating the 3-layer fold. Then turn so the crease is on the left, roll the dough once more into a 6 × 12-inch rectangle, and give another 4-layer fold. The dough is now finished and needs to rest again at least 3 or 4 hours before you use it to make a dessert.

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