Classic Puff Pastry

After baking, this puff pastry rises three or four times its original thickness and becomes crisp and brittle.

Ingredients

Dough Package

  • 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (375 grams) sifted all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup (75 grams) sifted cake flour
  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chilled
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) ice water

Butter Block

  • 14 ounces (3 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons reserved flour

Egg Wash, optional

  • 1 egg

Method

Advance Preparation

At least 12 hours before making the puff pastry, prepare the dough package either by hand or machine as directed below.

Hand Method

Making the Dough Package

Pour the flours into a triple sifter and sift into a mound on work surface. Reserve 2 tablespoons for the butter package.

Cut the 2 ounces butter into ½-inch cubes and scatter them over the flour mixture. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it is the size of small peas. (Don’t take longer than 2 minutes so the butter stays cold and firm.)

Roll the rolling pin once or twice over the powdery mixture to flatten the particles of butter; then gather the mixture together in a mound again. Now cut in the butter with pastry blender just until mixture still appears powdery with some oatmeal-shaped flakes of fat throughout (about 1 minute).

With your hand, form an 11-inch well in the center of the flour mixture. Add the salt to center, pour in the ice water and with a fingertip, rub the salt until it is dissolved in the water. Slowly push the flour over the water, covering it. If a stream of water flows out, breaking through the flour moat, just keep gathering flour and water together until combined. (A pastry scraper is helpful here.) To disperse the moisture further, pick up large pieces of dough, and gently pull them apart with your fingertips for about 30 to 45 seconds. This disperses the moisture. Then gather the loose pieces into a mass.

Fold the dough on top of itself gently seven to eleven times with the aid of your hand. Shape into a 6-inch square. Don’t worry if the dough is cohesive but not smooth. Score its surface with the tip of a sharp knife in a grid pattern. Wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate it for at least 12 hours or overnight. (The dough mellows because the flour absorbs the moisture, blending the ingredients together, making it smoother and easier to roll.) You can freeze the dough for up to 1 week; cover the plastic-wrapped package with foil.

Making the Butter Block

Prepare the butter block just before it is to be enclosed into the dough package. Unwrap the butter and place it on a surface dusted with the reserved 2 tablespoons of flour. Pound the butter with the end of the rolling pin until it is one malleable unit, though still cold. Don’t hesitate to use your palms and fingertips to help shape the butter block. You may lightly flour your hands with some of the reserved flour. Work quickly to keep the butter cold. Place the butter on a piece of waxed paper, place another piece of waxed paper on top, and roll a rectangle close to 9 × 5½ inches and ½ inch thick. Refrigerate the waxed paper-covered butter block, remove any tiny particles of butter from your rolling pin and rolling surface, and proceed to roll the dough package to enclose the butter. (If you didn’t use all the reserved flour, that’s fine.)

Enclosing the Butter Block in the Dough Package

Dust the work surface lightly with unsifted all-purpose flour; then place the dough package on it. At this time, do not flour the dough’s surface so that it will seal well when it encloses the block of butter (dough sticks to dough firmly when it is not floured). Beginning in the center of the dough, roll it out, using firm, evenly pressured strokes and stopping short of the edges, until the dough is ½ inch thick and measures 11 inches square.

Place the butter block on half the dough, leaving a ½-inch border of uncovered dough. You may have to fit the butter onto the half. Lift other half of the dough over the butter package until the two edges of dough meet. Press edges together with fingers, enclosing the butter.

Creating the Layers

Rotate the dough package 90 degrees to the left, and lightly dust the work surface under the dough with flour. Beginning in the center, roll out, using the same firm, evenly pressured strokes and stopping short of the edge. Return the rolling pin to the center, and roll other section of dough similarly, again stopping short of the edge.

Roll the package into a rectangle 7 × 16 inches and less than ½ inch thick. Square the corners by rolling carefully over the thicker edges. Push the rolling pin up against its sides to keep the edges straight if necessary. Should the butter break through the dough at any time during the layering process, sprinkle the opening with flour, pat gently with fingers, brush away excess flour with pastry brush and continue to layer the dough.

Turns 1 and 2

At this point, a short end of the dough is closest to you. Brush away any excess flour with a brush so that the dough sticks to dough more firmly. Then fold the bottom third up over the center; next fold the top third down over the bottom until it resembles a business letter. This fold is called a single fold. You have just completed the first turn.

Rotate the dough 90 degrees counterclockwise (its position now on your surface resembles the pages in a book), and lightly dust the work surface and dough with flour. Roll out as before until dough is ½ inch thick and measures 7 × 16 inches. (You will notice the dough is not extending as easily as the preceding time. This is a clue that a rest period is needed to relax the dough’s protein network.) Brush off any excess flour and square the edges and straighten the sides with the rolling pin. Now make another single fold. This is the second turn. (To keep track of the turns, record the time of each one on a piece of paper as it is completed.) Wrap dough in foil and refrigerate for 45 minutes (ideal refrigerator temperature is 40 degrees).

Turn 3

Lightly dust the work surface with flour and place the refrigerated dough so that the last fold is perpendicular to you and the flap on top opens like a book.

Roll again until dough is ½ inch thick and measures 7 × 16 inches; then brush off any excess flour and make a single fold again, business-letter style. If at any time the dough along the sides cracks or threatens to open slightly, it will not affect the final puff pastry. Rewrap the dough in the foil and return it to the refrigerator for 45 minutes.

Turn 4

Position the dough so that the last fold is perpendicular to you and the top flap opens like a book. Repeat the rolling and folding as directed for Turn 3. Each turn makes the butter thinner and creates more layers. If after any 45-minute rest period, the dough resists rolling, coax it to extend. Most puff pastries don’t roll as easily or freely as pie or tart doughs. Rewrap the dough and refrigerate for 45 to 60 minutes before proceeding to the next step.

Turn 5

Position the dough so that the last fold is perpendicular to you and the top flap opens like a book. Repeat the rolling and folding as directed for Turn 3, but refrigerate the dough for 1 hour instead to give the butter longer to chill.

If at any time the butter breaks through the surface, merely dust the area with flour and brush off the excess before continuing.

Turn 6

Position the dough so that the last fold is perpendicular to you and the top flap opens like a book. Repeat the rolling and folding as directed for Turn 3. Rewrap in the foil, and return the dough to refrigerator to rest for 30 to 60 minutes before shaping for future use.

Rolling the Puff Pastry

After completing the turns and refrigerating the puff pastry for 30 to 60 minutes, roll it into a larger rectangle ½ inch thick (and about 8 × 11 inches). This is a more manageable shape for future convenience. Our goal is to reduce the puff pastry’s thickness gradually. This is best accomplished in two to three stages so that the process of rolling the pastry thinner is easier and maintains the layering without overworking the dough.

Now wrap the puff pastry in plastic, and refrigerate it for at least 4 to 6 hours before rolling and baking it. This is ideal for firming the layers and again relaxing the gluten. You may refrigerate it for up to 2 days. Or cover the plastic-wrapped package with foil, and freeze for up to 3 months; mark the contents and date.

Unlike the layering process, in which you alternate directions of rolling, once you have rolled the puff pastry package for future use, it may be rolled in any direction when you form sheets.

Rolling the Puff Pastry Sheets

If the puff pastry is frozen, remove it from the freezer to the refrigerator 24 hours before you attempt to roll it.

Cut off the amount you need for your recipe and return the remainder to the refrigerator. (Even if you plan to use the remainder shortly, it should be kept in the refrigerator until you are ready to roll it. Otherwise, the puff pastry will begin to get warm and soften so the layers crush together during rolling.)

When cutting off a portion from the puff pastry package, use a sharp knife, and press and lift the blade in a guillotine fashion (straight down) rather than pulling the knife across the dough. This gives a clean cut.

When the dough is ready to roll, it should be cold, firm and pliable, not stiff or rigid. Therefore, some puff pastries may need to sit at room temperature until they are more pliable (about 10 minutes). If you roll the pastry before it’s ready to cooperate, you run the risk of overworking it.

When rolling puff pastry, use as little flour as possible to keep the rolling pin from sticking and the pastry freely sliding along the work surface. If the pastry sticks to the rolling surface, the layers could be crushed. To avoid flouring the pastry sheet too much, never flip it over while rolling.

No matter which direction you roll it, always begin in the center and stop short of the edges. This ensures that even pressure will be applied over the entire surface of the puff pastry sheet (even pressure yields uniform thickness). If the original shape of the puff pastry is rectangular, roll for width first; it is easier to widen the pastry in the beginning than later.

Roll it equally in each direction, alternating between length and width to enlarge the dough and to ensure it will bake evenly. As the piece of puff pastry increases in size, lift it when you want to change rolling directions with the aid of your pin. If the edges become uneven as you roll, you are applying uneven pressure on the rolling pin. This is not serious; they may be trimmed straight later with a ruler and pastry wheel.

Resting the Sheets

After the dough has been rolled to the desired dimension, transfer it to a bare baking sheet and cover its surface with plastic wrap. (Don’t line the baking sheet with parchment paper because it will absorb some of the pastry’s moisture, which provides the steam that lifts the pastry.)

The longer puff pastry sheets rest, the better. A minimum of 30 minutes is acceptable, but a rest of up to 24 hours provides a firm, relaxed pastry sheet. The firmer the pastry, the easier it is to make clean cuts when shaping it and the less shrinkage there is during baking.

Shaping the Puff Pastry

After the puff pastry sheet has rested, you are ready to shape it as the recipe directs. If your time is limited and you can rest the puff pastry sheet for only 30 to 45 minutes, freezing it before cutting just until it is firm, not frozen, is helpful.

When cutting the puff pastry sheet, use a sharp knife, such as a chef’s knife, a Chinese cleaver or a sharpened pizza cutting wheel. Cut straight down without drawing the blade across the dough, which pulls the cut edges and the puff pastry out of shape. Clean edges ensure an even rise in the oven.

Even when the puff pastry is cut carefully, the pressure from the knife blade rounds the cut edge slightly. When it is possible, turn the puff pastry over where the edge is not pinched.

After the puff pastry has been shaped into a form or individual forms, rest it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to refirm the layers and give the gluten time to relax.

Baking the Puff Pastry

Position rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper to insulate the bottom of the puff pastry from frying onto the pan while baking.

If desired, make the egg wash by beating the egg in a small bowl with a fork and brush it on the pastry. Two applications are best, one after shaping and the second just before baking. Don’t let the egg wash touch the edges; it might inhibit the pastry’s lift.

To control puff pastry’s lift when flakiness, not volume, is desired, you must prick the dough. Pricking allows steam to escape instead of remaining in the pastry. How much you prick it depends upon how much you want to control its lift. (The more prick marks the less lift.)

Place the pastry in the hot oven. The major lift occurs in the first 15 minutes in the oven. Watch it carefully between the first 7 and 20 minutes of baking, especially if its shape is important, such as in Free-Form Puff Pastry Strip and Round Puff Pastry Tart Shell. During this time, if it is rising too much, additional pricking maybe required to maintain the desired shape.

The hot oven is usually necessary for only the first 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes to sustain the steam but allow the interior to bake through. After the initial 20 minutes, reduce the temperature to 300 or 325 degrees and bake the pastry until a skewer or toothpick inserted into it meets with no resistance and the dough feels and sounds crisp; this last baking time can be anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes more. (Smaller puff pastry shapes expand and are done sooner.)

Using Leftover Puff Pastry

Don’t throw away scraps, no matter the size. Match leftover scraps of puff pastry together like pieces in a puzzle, wrap them and refrigerate them to rest before rolling for another use.