Thursday 15 May 2014

Puff Pastry - the acme!

Years ago, I blogged the method I used at that time to make Puff Pastry.

Well, now I have a better - much better !- one. From the ever-reliable late Gaston Le Notre's technically splendid volume on pastries and desserts, this version produces pastry which puffs stratospherically every time, with a lightness and a buttery richness which is completely incomparable. There are a few tricks to getting it right:

1. Work very quickly, when rolling and folding the pastry. The longer you take, the longer the warmth from your hands is causing the butter inside the pastry to start to melt, which causes holes, which leads to disaster.

2. Use plenty of flour when rolling. And I mean plenty. This means that if any butter does start to poke through, the sprinkled flour reduces the risk of the whole process descending into a chaotic sticky mess.

3. When rolling the pastry before folding it, roll almost to each end of the strip, but never completely over the end - I'm not entirely sure why this works (TD has explained it to me, but...) but  by not closing off the ends of the rolled pastry, it seems ultimately to allow the pastry to puff much more majestically.

4. Make a large amount of pastry in one go, rather than faff around with making a smaller quantity. The quantities given here might seem improbably generous, but you can either put some into the freezer for a later date (something I generally avoid, as the freezer for me represents a gaping pit into which things have a tendency to disappear, only to emerge once more several aeons later as intriguing packages from another age - I now try to work on the basis that if something isn't going to come out of the freezer again and actually be consumed within a week or so, then it shouldn't go in at all), or else plan your menus to use the pastry up over three or four days. The last time I made a batch f pastry this size, within the course of a week, it was used for Sea Bass & Fennel en croute (main course), carrot tourte (starter), Feuillete of Leek and Chicken Livers (starter), Tarte of Sun-dried tomatoes and Chevre (starter), Apple croustade( dessert), and Tarte Tatin (Dessert). 

Ok. The process:

Ingredients: 500g flour; 75g butter; 1 cup water; 2 tsp salt; 500g chilled butter.


1. Process everything apart from the chilled butter into one homogenous lump. Wrap in clingfilm, and leave in the fridge for two hours.

2. Take the chilled butter and between two sheets of clingfilm, press it roughly into a square approximately 7" x 7". (I do this manually, by pressing down with my hands; some people talk of needing to use a rolling pin or a heavy weight to do it, which I don't find necessary. You might want to cut the butter into bits and reassamble them, to facilitate manipulating the butter more readily into the right size and shape that you want to up with).

3. Take the base pastry from the fridge, and on heavily floured surface, roll it out into a square about 14" x 14 " - you need to be able to put the square of butter onto the square of pastry, and to fold the pastry such that the butter is completely enclosed.

4. As stated, put the square of butter onto the centre of the square of pastry, and fold the pastry over the butter entirely to encase it. Immediately turn the pastry package over, so the join is underneath, sprinkle it  generously with flour, and roll it into a strip about 24" long x 6". Fold the strip legal-letter-style into three, then turn it over, with the join underneath; sprinkle with flour and roll again into 24" x 6"; and then repeat this a third time, before wrapping the folded pastry in clingfilm, and placing in the fridge for an hour. (Hint: when rolling the folded pastry into a strip, I find it helps to start by pressing down half a dozen times or so with the rolling pin  to flatten the pastry, before then quickly rolling the flattened pastry into the requisite strip. Doing this reduces the amount that the pastry is worked, and is therefore a good thing.)

5. After an hour,   take the pastry from the fridge, and repeat three times the rolling and folding process, remembering to flour generously at every stage. Then, back into the fridge for a further hour, before repeating a further three rolls and turns. The pastry can then be used - although, should you be so minded, a further hour's rest and three more rolls and folds can't possibly hurt.

After that, the world is your oyster!