Puff pastry is basically magic! IT starts off looking like a regular plain old pastry, that is until it goes into the oven. There it transforms into a tower of thousands of crispy, buttery shards of flaky pastry. It does all this without the aid of any help from rising agents such as yeast, bicarbonate of soda or baking powder.
So what is it that makes this pastry rise? Voodoo? Witchcraft? A Strong Belief?
Actually as awesome as that would be the real secret is steam creating hundreds of paper thin layers of dough and butter in a process called lamination. That is where the real magic takes place, it’s all in the technique of creating those glorious layers.
By making a dough (détrempe) and rolling and folding with butter over and over again until all the layers are formed. These layers are often so thin they aren’t even visible but once baked, the butter melts and the water in those layers turns to steam; puffing up each thing layer of dough, eventually evaporating and leaving behind those crisp, buttery, flaky layers.
Making puff pastry might seem like quite a commitment, but don’t be intimidated by the amount of time you have to invest in it. Most of that time is actually resting the dough between rolls so it’s not as labour intensive as you might think. While you’re creating your layers it will demand your full attention but while it is resting in the fridge you’ll get a rest at the same time.
So even though the allure of shop-bought puff pastry may seem to much to resist when you need a quick pastry fix. Making your own puff pastry can be extremely satisfying and will always surpass any shop bought pastry, in term of it’s flakiness, butteriness and also in flavour.
My puff pastry recipe differs slightly by using salted butter giving a far more flavourful and satisfying pastry, and once you have completed all the rolls and folds you will have 6561 delicious buttery layers to work with. So grab your rolling pin and get ready to reach a kitchen milestone, making your very own puff pastry.
— Al Brady
250g strong white flour
155g cold water
250g salted butter
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and add the water. Using a palette knife cut through the flour and water to gently bring the mixture together without over working it. Form the mixture into a ball and knead lightly until the dough has smoothed out – this process is known as making a ‘détrempe’. Wrap the dough and chill for 20 minutes.
Place the détrempe on a lightly floured board and roll to a circle 25cm in diameter. Place the butter between 2 pieces of paper and soften it by tapping with a rolling pin. Cut the butter in half, put the two pieces of butter together and repeat until the butter is pliable, but still cold. Place the butter in the middle of the dough and fold over the dough from the right, left, top and bottom to cover the butter. This is known as a ‘pâton’.
Press the dough with a rolling pin to elongate it a little and mark lightly into three. Fold the bottom third up to cover the middle third and the top third down. Seal the edges gently with the rolling pin and give the dough a quarter turn.
Roll the pastry to a rectangle approximately 18x45cm – it is important that the ends are kept square and the sides straight. Mark the dough lightly into thirds, fold the bottom third up to cover the middle third and the top third down. Seal the edges gently and give the pastry a quarter turn. Repeat the rolling and folding once more, then chill the pastry for 1 hour or until it is firm and cold – the pastry has now had 3 rolls and folds.
Once the pastry has chilled, repeat the process of rolling and folding the pastry two more times. Chill for 1 hour to rest the pastry. Then after and hour repeat the rolling and folding process twice more, giving you 7 rolls and folds in total. Chill for at least an hour to rest the pastry, or overnight before using. The baking temperature for this pastry is 220ºC, gas mark 7, depending on specific recipes.
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When it comes to puff pastry, don’t expect to be a master overnight!
Practice makes perfect!
But I do have a few tips to help you on your way to ultimate puff pastry proficiency!
KEEP YOUR INGREDIENTS COLD
When making your puff pastry make sure to use cold water and to keep the butter as cold as possible. If the butter gets too soft, you run the risk of the fat melting and coming out of the pastry while your creating your layers, resulting in a pastry without much puffing power!
Avoid over-working the dough. Mixing the detrempe more than necessary will cause gluten to develop, making it difficult to roll out the dough, to create the super thin layers you need. Remember as you roll and fold, you are going to be developing that gluten network, so don’t over do it at the beginning.
Roll the dough gently and gradually, ensuring to roll it to the same size and thickness each time and folding it symmetrically and accurately. This will create even layers of butter and dough so the pastry cooks and rises evenly.
BE CAREFUL WITH THE FLOUR
It’s tempting to use flour each time you turn your pastry, but you should really only be using flour to roll it out. Between folds make sure you brush the flour off, otherwise if you’re storing your pastry in the fridge, the flour can absorb the moisture inside and turn black and all your hard work will be wasted.
Chill and rest the pastry thoroughly after each couple of rolls and folds. Not only will it firm up the butter in the puff pastry it will also give the gluten in the strong flour a chance to rest and relax. This will help combat the shrinking effect that occurs when the pastry is cooked. It will also set the butter in the dough properly preventing it from melting out when being put in the oven.
If you try to roll and fold the pastry too many times without resting and chilling it, you will find the gluten will get too tight to roll out to the pastry to the right length and the butter will become too soft and start coming out of the pastry. No butter = No puff!
PRE-HEAT YOUR OVEN
Often the most common mistake of all! Cooking pastry at the right temperature is vitally important; too cool and the butter will melt out of the pastry before steam is created, causing a flat and disappointed finish to all your hard work! Most recipes call for the pastry to be cooked between 200ºC and 220ºC so make sure you triple check your oven is up to temperature before you stick it in!