Puff pastry is the most challenging cooking technique discussed in this column thus far. Most of us simply purchase the prepared frozen dough. However, making it once (or just reading how it's done) will provide an understanding of how a few simple ingredients are combined to create this spectacular pastry.
The French name for puff pastry is pate feuilletee --roughly translated, leafy dough. The name refers to the leaf-thin layers of dough, separated by equally thin layers of butter, attained by rolling and folding. In the oven the butter melts and the moisture in the dough turns to steam, lifting the pastry to many times its original thickness.
Two factors--keeping the dough cool and allowing it to rest between rollings--are the keys to making puff pastry. If the dough becomes soft and limp, showing that the butter is melting, stop and refrigerate it 30 minutes before proceeding. Do the same any time it turns rubbery because the gluten has been overworked.
A marble slab, which is naturally cool, is the optimum material on which to make puff pastry, but any work surface will do. Chill the area by covering it with a jellyroll or roasting pan containing ice.
The dough, or detrempe, is made with a mixture of all-purpose and pastry or cake flour. The softer pastry and cake flours dilute the gluten in the all-purpose flour.
A combination of unbleached white pastry flour and unbleached all-purpose flour creates a dough that is easy and fast to handle because it needs shorter rest periods; a dough made of all-purpose flour and cake flour is slower to work but produces the lightest and puffiest pastry.
The flour is combined with salt, water and a small amount of butter or oil and mixed into a soft, slightly sticky dough. Chill the prepared dough for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, pound the unsalted butter with a rolling pin to soften it (Step 1). Sprinkle a small amount of flour over the butter (Step 2) and knead with the heel of your hand (Step 3) until pliable but still cold. Shape the butter into a 6-inch square (Step 4).
The temperature of the butter is very important. If it's too cold, it will break through the dough during rolling; if it's too soft, it will blend into the dough instead of forming a layer.
Pat the chilled dough into a 18x8-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Center the square of butter on the upper half (Step 5), then fold the lower portion of the dough over it. Gently press the edges to seal (Step 6). Roll it out again to a 18x8-inch rectangle (Step 7). This spreads the butter between the upper and lower layers of dough.
Now fold the new 18x8-inch rectangle into thirds (Step 8) like a business letter, turn 90 degrees (Step 9) and roll out again into another 18x8-inch rectangle. The rolling movement should be a firm, even push away from you. Aim for as even a rectangle as possible, straightening the sides with the rolling pin when necessary. Now fold the dough into thirds letter-fashion again, wrap in plastic and refrigerate 45 minutes to one hour.
Each time you roll the dough out and then fold it in thirds is called a "turn," so you have now done two turns. By the time you've done six turns, hundreds of layers will have been created.
If you plan to use the pastry immediately, repeat the process twice more with a 45-minute to one-hour rest in the refrigerator between work periods. If the pastry is not going to be shaped immediately, repeat the process once, making only the third and fourth turns, then store until needed. Complete the fifth and sixth turns an hour before shaping.
Either way, finished puff pastry dough should always be chilled at least an hour before shaping. It may be stored for up to two days in the refrigerator or--packaged carefully--frozen up to one month (defrost in the refrigerator six to eight hours before using).
To shape, roll the dough to 1/4-inch thickness or thinner. Turn it over before cutting so theunstretched side is down. Trim the edges with a sharp knife or cutter so the dough rises straight, then press it onto a damp baking sheet. Trimmings may be chilled, rerolled and used for recipes in which the richness of the dough is more important than lightness.
During baking, puff pastry should rise three to four times its original thickness. The oven needs to be very hot when the pastry is put in so the butter melts and moisture converts to steam, then the heat should be reduced as the pastry cooks through. Toasting will enhance the flavor and crispness, but if the pastry browns too quickly, cover loosely with foil.
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup unbleached white pastry flour
1 cup cold unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold water, about
Combine all-purpose flour and pastry flour in mixing bowl. Remove 1/2 cup and set aside, then make well in center of remaining flour mixture. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces, salt and 1/2 cup water in well.
Gradually draw in flour mixture, working ingredients together with fingertips to form dough, adding more water if necessary. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 15 minutes.
Pound remaining butter with rolling pin to soften. Sprinkle reserved flour over butter, then knead until smooth with heel of hand. Shape mixture into 6-inch square.
Pat chilled dough into 18x8-inch rectangle on lightly floured surface. Center butter on upper half, then encase by covering with lower portion of dough. Gently press edges to seal.
Roll again to 18x8-inch rectangle. Fold into thirds, turn 90 degrees, roll out, and fold again. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Repeat rolling and folding 2 more times, then chill again. Roll and fold 2 additional times, then chill 1 hour before shaping. Makes about 1 pound puff pastry.
Suggestions for column topics may be sent to Back to Basics, Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.