Puff Pastry

Just watching puff pastry come together and handling the satiny smooth dough is one of the most satisfying cooking experiences I know. Watching it rise is sheer magic. And the flavor and texture make all the labor worthwhile. Although the actual working time is short, you will need to be present for a four-hour, period to complete the turns.

The finished pastry must be allowed to rest refrigerated for at least two hours. It is best if used by the next day, or it may be frozen for months.

I am very grateful to Bernard Clayton’s The Complete Book of Pastry (Simon & Schuster) for the most important breakthrough in making even puff pastry at home: establishing the ideal temperature for the butter. Over the years, I have spent countless hours devoted to perfecting puff pastry. I have found that seven turns is the ideal for flaky and tender pastry. Six turns, however, is fine for molding oyster shells.

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INGREDIENTS MEASURE WEIGHT
cold volume ounces grams
unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, chilled, divided 1 cup (2 sticks) 8 ounces 227 grams
unbleached all-purpose flour, divided 1⅔ cups (dip and sweep method) 8 ounces 227 grams
salt ½ teaspoon
cold water 6 to 8 tablespoons
lemon juice, freshly squeezed 1 teaspoon

Method

The Détrempe (Dough)

In a medium bowl, combine 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) of the chilled butter, a scant cups (7 ounces) of the flour and the salt. Rub this mixture between your fingers until it is very fine and grainy and no lumps of butter are discernible, about 5 minutes. Add 6 tablespoons of the cold water and the lemon juice and stir gently with a fork to incorporate it. The dough should be soft and clumpy. If necessary, add some or all of the remaining water by the tablespoon, adding only as much as necessary to form a soft dough.

Dump the dough out onto a floured surface and gently knead only until the dough holds together and looks fairly smooth. It should not become too elastic or it will be difficult to roll. Cover the dough and allow it to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature or up to 24 hours well wrapped in plastic wrap (preferably Saran brand) and refrigerated.

Butter Square

Place the remaining 14 tablespoons (7 ounces) of chilled butter on a sheet of plastic wrap and sprinkle with the remaining 3 tablespoons (1 ounce) of flour. Cover with a second sheet of plastic wrap and pound the butter lightly with a rolling pin to flatten and soften it. Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap and, using the bottom sheet of plastic wrap and your knuckles to avoid touching the butter directly, knead the butter and flour together. Work quickly and as soon as the flour is incorporated, shape it into a -inch square no thicker than ¾ inch. At this point the butter should be cool but workable (about 60°F.). Use it at once or keep it cool. The butter must not be colder than 60°F. when rolled into the pastry or it will break through the dough and not distribute evenly.

The Dough Package

See pages 8-9.

Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface to a 6-inch square. Place the butter square diagonally in the center of the dough square (Fig. 1) and lightly mark the dough along the edges of the butter with the dull side of a knife (Fig. 2). Remove the butter and roll each marked-off corner of the dough into a 3-inch triangular flap (Fig. 3). The dough will be slightly elastic. Moisten the flaps lightly with water. Replace the butter on the dough (Fig. 4) and wrap it securely, stretching the flaps slightly to reach across the dough package (Fig 5). On a well-floured surface, keeping the dough seam side up and lightly floured, gently roll the dough package into a 6-inch by 12-inch rectangle (Fig. 6). Brush off all flour from the surface of the dough and fold it into thirds as you would fold a business letter (Fig. 7). This is the first “turn.” Before each subsequent turn, move the dough so that the closed end is facing to your left (Fig. 8). Clean the surface, reflour it and roll and fold the dough a second time exactly the same way, but this time turn the dough over occasionally to keep the seams and edges even. Be sure to roll into all four corners of dough, and use a pastry scraper to even the edges.

Mark the dough with two fingertips (or knuckles if you have long nails) to indicate that two turns have been completed (Fig. 8). Wrap with plastic wrap and then foil, and refrigerate for 30 to 40 minutes. The dough must not chill for longer than 40 minutes or the butter will never distribute evenly.

Continue to roll and turn the dough, marking the turns with your fingertips and letting the dough rest for 30 minutes between turns. It is best to do only one turn at a time after the first two as the dough will become more elastic, and the best results are obtained when the dough is not forced and the layers not pressed together. (Do a total of six turns if molding on oyster shells; do seven if for another use.)

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