- Skill Level: Challenging
- Cost: Inexpensive
- Favorited: 6 Times
Can be made ahead of time.
Before we tried our hand at it, puff pastry was one of those mysteries that intimidated us. But, like other areas of baking, it soon generously yielded its secrets.
We make the simplified version of puff pastry often called rough puff. In traditional puff pastry, a strong dough is folded over layers of butter, then folded and rolled out six times. This results in hundreds of fine layers of dough, separated by the thinnest of layers of butter. In the oven’s heat, the steam given off as the butter melts makes the layers separate and the dough puff up. The result is a light, airy, flaky pastry.
In rough puff, we start with a richer basic dough and make fewer folds. The resulting pastry is flaky and puffed, but not as high. Rough puff is great for simple tarts, both sweet and savory. It’s lush to bite into and airy in the mouth and it’s a very useful and practical item to have in the freezer.
By hand: Place the flour and salt in a bowl and mix well. Coarsely grate half the butter, then add to the flour with a pastry cutter or two knives and cut in to blend. Add the lemon juice, then add ¼ cup ice water. Mix gently with your hands, then try to pull the dough together. If the dough is still dry and will not come together into a mass, add a little more water as needed.
Using a food processor: Coarsely chop half the butter. Place the flour and salt in the bowl of the processor, add the chopped butter, and process briefly to the texture of coarse meal. Add the lemon juice and ¼ cup ice water and process briefly. If the dough is still dry and will not come together into a kneadable mass, add more water as necessary.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly, until evenly moist and smooth. Place in a plastic bag, flatten to a disk, and seal well. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. (This basic dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
When ready to proceed, place the dough on a lightly floured surface. You want to flatten it out to a rectangle about 16 inches long and 10 inches wide. (Ater being chilled, the dough will be a little moist; lightly dust any sticky places with flour and keep surfaces lightly dusted.) First use a lightly floured rolling pin to flatten the dough, then roll it out, rolling from the center outward. Use a dough scraper as necessary to unstick it from your work surface. Set aside, lightly covered.
Use a sharp knife to cut the remaining ¼ pound frozen butter into thin slices. Put it in a food processor and process until the butter stops making banging noises against the sides (about 30 seconds). Stop and feel the texture of the butter: There will probably still be small lumps. Process for another 30 seconds and test again. The butter should be a smooth paste still quite stiff with cold, just spreadable, like a thick cream cheese. Pulse and test again if necessary until you get the right texture (up to 2 minutes total).
Place the dough with a short end facing you. Use a long metal spatula to spread half the butter onto the bottom two-thirds of the dough rectangle, leaving a 1-inch margin at the bottom and sides. Fold the top third over, toward the center, then, like folding a letter, fold the bottom third over that. Dust very lightly with flour and rotate 90 degrees, so that once more a short end is facing you. Roll out, rolling from the center outward, until once again the rectangle measures about 16 inches long and 8 to 10 inches wide. Spread the remaining butter evenly over the bottom two-thirds of the rectangle, leaving a margin as before, and again fold over first the top third and then the bottom third.
Lightly dust the dough with flour, rotate it 90 degrees, and roll out to the same-sized rectangle. You need to do two more foldings (known as “turns”), not to enclose any more butter, but just to create more layers. Fold the top third of the dough over the center, then fold the bottom third over that. If the dough is starting to get springy and to resist, you may want to let it rest for 5 minutes; cover and refrigerate it any time you let it rest. Rotate and then roll out and fold the dough for the fourth time. Chill for at least 30 minutes before using. You can refrigerate the dough for up to 3 days, or freeze, well sealed in plastic, for up to a month (make sure that the dough lies flat and that the edges do not get bent over). To thaw, place frozen pastry in the refrigerator.
To use the dough, dust the work surface with a little flour, because the dough will be a little moist. Use a lightly floured rolling pin to flatten the dough, then roll it out, rolling just to the edges, not over them.
Just before baking, trim each edge with a sharp knife to create a clean edge so the pastry can puff as it should. Save the trimmings: Assemble side by side to make a patchwork of dough, or dust the trimmings with sugar and bake on a baking sheet for 5 to 7 minutes at 425°F to make a delicious snack.
Nutritional information is based on 16 servings.
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