Puff Pastry — yummy layers of dough and butter!

After writing about Pastry Doughs in general, I wanted to get a bit more detailed about a few types. I already wrote about Phyllo Dough and in this Cooking Tip, I will expand on Puff Pastry.

The French call Puff Pastry by the name Pâte Feuilletée roughly translated to “pastry leaves”. It is a type of laminated dough, which means layers that are bonded together. In the pastry world, it is layers of dough and butter.

You can certainly buy puff pastry in the market. The most commonly-found and very highly rated is from Pepperidge Farm. They sell it not only in sheets but also in what they call cups and shells.

Making your own is not difficult in a technical manner but does take some time. You start by making something called a detrempe, which is the dough component. It is composed of flour, a small amount of butter, water and salt. The second component is the butter layer – the beurrage.

The detrempe is rolled into a large square and the butter layer is pounded into a slightly smaller square. There are different ways of incorporating the beurrage into the detrempe but most commonly, the beurrage is placed on top of the detrempe in a diamond pattern. Then, each corner of the detrempe is folded up to the center so that the butter layer is totally enclosed within the dough. This results in what is termed a paton. This paton is then rolled out to a rectangle and a process of rolling and folding commences. This process also involves chilling/resting the dough in between a number of these steps.

After the paton is rolled out, there are different types of folds you can do. One is called a “Book Fold” or “Double Fold”. This is where you fold both ends of the rectangular package into the center and then you fold one side over the other. This is termed “locking” the beurrage into the detrempe. This cycle of rolling out the dough and folding it again, turning the orientation by 90 degrees each time is repeated for at least 4 times.

Another type of fold is called a “Letter Fold”, which means just what it sounds like. You fold the dough like a letter. This has less layers than the book fold and so, it is recommended to repeat the rolling/folding 6 times.

How many layers do you end up obtaining? Many sources will quote all sorts of numbers from 500 to over 4000! Any mathematicians out there?

You might ask why a person would ever want to make their own puff pastry rather than buying it. Pros for store-bought are the convenience and consistency. The arguments for homemade are taste and the satisfaction of producing your own. You might also consider the ingredient list.

  • Pepperidge Farm ingredients – enriched wheat flour (flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, vegetable oils (palm, soybean, hydrogenated cottonseed), contains 2% or less of: high fructose corn syrup, salt, mono and diglycerides, soy lecithin, malted barley flour, turmeric and annatto extracts for color.
  • Homemade puff pastry – flour, butter, water, salt.

That being said, there are ones you can purchase with an ingredient list much closer to homemade but probably not in your local supermarket. Whole Foods Market does carry some although they are twice the price of Pepperidge Farm and, of course, there is always online.

Working with puff pastry

  • Use care when rolling out so you do not damage the structure. Do not roll over the edge as that will compress the edges.
  • Try to use even pressure as you roll so the butter is evenly distributed.
  • Try to let the pastry rest 5-10 minutes between rolling and cutting. After cutting, another rest period of 15 minutes helps to minimize shrinkage.
  • When you cut the rolled out dough, try to cut at a 90 degree angle so it will rise straight up in the oven.
  • Try to keep everything cold as you do not want the butter to melt before it goes into the oven.
  • Use a hot oven as you want maximal steam to puff it up.

Freezing puff pastry

This pastry freezes well either as a raw dough or when made up into the shape of your choice. It will be fine in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Any longer than that could result in fermentation and the dough turning gray.

Uses for puff pastry– both sweet and savory

  • It is often used to wrap items such as with a Beef Wellington or a sausage roll.
  • A sweet or savory tart or pie.
  • Palmiers (elephant ears) are an item that can be either sweet or savory depending on the filling/topping.
  • Cheese straws
  • Mille-feuille – French for a “thousand leaves”, it is very similar to what is known as a Napoleon. Both are composed of layers of puff pastry alternating with a sweet filling (often pastry cream) although a savory version can be made with a cheese filling.
  • Vol-au-vent – a creation where the puff pastry is baked into a sort of shell with a pastry lid and a filling.

Have you ever made your own Puff Pastry? Would you ever want to give it a try?

Let me know and I would be happy to show you how.