Puff pastry is undoubtedly one of the most versatile doughs. It easily adapts to sweet pastries (such as Italian cannoncini), salty preparations (vol-au-vent), and, of course, to make traditional desserts such as Millefoglie or Saint Honoré.
In this dough, the product’s leavening occurs thanks to a fat barrier to the steam generated during cooking because of the fat’s particular stratification. In fact, when the steam expands during cooking, it tries to get out. Still, it meets the stratifications of fat, which prevent it from escaping.
Puff Pastry’s preparation is often perceived as quite challenging. In reality, we will see that the procedure is pretty simple. Still, it requires a lot of time because the dough needs long rest periods in the fridge throughout the whole process.
The necessary ingredients for the preparation of puff pastry are mainly 4:
- Flour: I recommend using strong flour (in Europe, you can refer to W 300-330) with 14% – 15% of proteins. This is very important to make the classic folds and allow “puffing” during cooking. Generally, people use plain flour, but you can achieve excellent results with stone-ground type 1 flour, added with 50% white flour.
- Liquids: Generally, we use Water for the preparation of the dough. However, in some recipes, you can add 10gr of white vinegar on 1kg of flour to reinforce gluten. Sometimes, a small quantity of alcohol (like dry Vodka) is often used with the same purpose.
- Butter: Butter is undoubtedly the primary ingredient to make an excellent puff pastry. Generally, butter represents the dough’s main fat component; however, to make the process a bit easier, we can use a fat dough made of butter and flour. As an alternative to butter, Margarine is also used, either pure or enriched with butter. The use of Margarine certainly makes the puff pastry easier; however, once cooked, it will be much less aromatic.
- Salt: it accentuates the aromatic note of the puff pastry. Together with butter is one of the factors responsible for the coloration during cooking. In general, we can use about 15gr of salt per Kg of flour.
HOW TO MAKE PUFF PASTRY
1. LET’S PREPARE THE PASTRY AND THE DOUGH
The first step of the Puff Pastry’s preparation is the dough: We can easily do that by mixing flour, water, and salt. The final dough needs to have good elasticity without being overworked to avoid a too stiff structure that will be difficult to roll out. In this case, the chilling period in the fridge will be longer.
For the FAT DOUGH preparation, mix the butter at about 10°C (50°F) and the flour in a stand mixer. The secret to facilitate the next step of puffing is to use butter with a “plastic” consistency. For this reason, I suggest you put the butter while still cold between 2 sheets of greaseproof paper and hit it with the rolling pin until it softens… We will make a bit of noise, but the method is proved!
Once the flour is absorbed into the butter, place the mixture between 2 sheets of greaseproof paper, shape a rectangular and let it chill in the fridge at +4°C (39°F) for at least 1 hour.
After this time, take back the FAT dough and soften it slightly by hitting it with a rolling pin, as we did before.
Before moving ahead, it’s crucial to verify that both doughs’ consistency is as similar as possible!
2.HOW TO ROLL THE PUFF PASTRY
Let’s now see how to deal with the most feared step in the preparation of puff pastry. In reality, you will realize that it is not complicated at all!
First of all, we roll out the dough, giving it a rectangular shape with a height double that of the width and 1/2cm thick.
We do the same with the fat dough, trying to roll it out with the exact proportions and dimensions.
At this point, we place the fat dough on top of the dough, and we close the 2 top and bottom edges in the center, sealing them carefully. Now we turn the dough of 90 degrees (so that the lateral sides are closed). The first step is done. Now we can finally roll the puff pastry.
It is essential to roll the dough to avoid the fat escapes gently. For that, I recommend you roll out the dough gradually, starting by pressing the surface of the dough with the rolling pin without rolling it. Only when it will be lowered and the butter will begin to adhere to the dough will we begin to roll out the dough in a vertical direction until it is 1cm thick.
FOLD #1: THE SINGLE FOLD
Once the dough is rolled, we can start to give to make the first SINGLE fold (or 3-Fold). Let’s see how to do it!
With the dough rolled out in front of us (in a vertical direction), fold the dough’s top edge to about 2/3 of the dough’s height and then overlap it with the lower edge. In this way, we will obtain a rectangle of dough composed of 3 layers.
Now rotate the dough of 90 degrees (always keeping the sides closed), cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge at +4 °C (39°F) for 1 hour. This rest stabilizes the butter and relaxes the gluten, making the next folds easier.
FOLD #2: THE DOUBLE FOLD
After making 1 Single Fold and letting the dough rest, we are ready for the second fold of puff pastry.
With the dough in front of you and the lateral sides closed, we can start to roll it to form again a rectangle about 1cm thick whose height will be twice the width.
At this point, we make the Double Fold (or 4-Fold). To do this, bring the upper and lower flaps towards the center and fold them in half, thus obtaining a rectangle with 4 layers of dough. As before, turn 90 degrees, wrap everything in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge at +4 °C (39°F) for 1 hour.
After this time, roll the dough out again and repeat the 2 folds seen above. Give the dough 2 single fold (3-fold) and 2 double fold (4-fold), always letting chill in the fridge for 1 hour between one step and the next.
Once the puff pastry is done, I recommend that you let it rest 1 night in the fridge before rolling it out and cutting out the shapes to be baked. Also, to prevent the dough from shrinking during cooking, I suggest letting the puff pastry rest in the fridge for 1-2 hours once it has been cut.
When the puff pastry is ready, it is crucial NOT to knead it (as we would do with other doughs) because we would mess up the butter layering. Suppose, after having cut out the puff pastry shapes, you have some scraps. In that case, the best way to re-use them is to overlap them and roll them out to 1/2cm thick and use them to prepare small savories. The scraps of puff pastry won’t have notable development in cooking. However, they will still be a good accompaniment for an appetizer.
COOKING AND PRESERVATION
The best way to bake puff pastry is in an oven at 180°C (356°F) with the oven’s port closed for the first 10 minutes to create steam inside the oven and favor the raising of the puff pastry in the dough.
When the development is complete and the surface begins to color, we can gently dust the puff pastry with powdered sugar and cocoa butter in powder. This step accentuates the coloring and makes the cake impermeable to the humidity of the fillings. Once dusted, we can bake it again until the surface is well caramelized.
I advise you not to sprinkle sugar on the raw puff pastry. Indeed the steam that it develops during cooking would give an irregular color to the product, making it not so beautiful to see!
Puff pastry can be stored in the fridge at +4° C (39° F) well wrapped in plastic wrap for a maximum of 3/5 days. After this time, humidity (and so the volume) during cooking will be significantly reduced.
Alternatively, you can freeze the Puff Pastry at -18°C (0°F) well wrapped in a plastic bag. Take care to store the dough in the refrigerator for 24 hours before freezing it. Once frozen, you can keep the puff pastry for 30 days. When you decide to thaw it, place it in the refrigerator at +4°C for 24 hours before using it in your recipe!