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Cook Without a Recipe: Quick Puff Pastry

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Yes, you read that correctly: puff pastry that doesn’t take the better part of a day to make, and you can do it without a recipe. With classic puff pastry, you first encase a substantial block of butter in a pastry dough, then roll it out and fold it a couple of times, refrigerate for a few hours, and repeat. Here, we take the basic ratio of flour, butter, and water that you would find in that kind of pastry and flip it on its head, pie crust style. Instead of encasing the butter in dough, you cut the butter into flour, just as you would for pie crust, add enough water to make everything cohesive, then roll it out and fold it a few times before refrigerating for an hour. That’s it, and it’s every bit as good as the classic stuff. It’s a skill worth learning, and once you get it right, you’ll find yourself approaching other culinary challenges with much more confidence than before because, hey, if you can make your own puff pastry, you can make pretty much anything. It’s a total game changer in the kitchen, as it can be used in breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizers, and dessert. And really, imagine the reactions people will give when they find out you make your own puff pastry. You don’t have to tell them how easy it is.

Ratio and Method

2 parts flour

2 parts chilled or frozen unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1 part cold water, iced

Kosher salt (about 1/4 teaspoon per 4.5 oz/ 1 cup flour)

(Make it easy: Scant 2 cups flour/2 sticks butter/half cup water/ half teaspoon salt for the equivalent of 2 sheets puff pastry)

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Place the flour into a large bowl, then toss the butter into the bowl and use a pastry blender, fork, or your fingers to cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is crumbly, fairly even, with most of the butter in chunks ranging from large pea sized to lima bean sized. Pour about 3/4 of the water into the mixture and, using a fork, mix the water into the flour. You may use your fingers too, but if you have hot hands, be careful not to warm the butter. Add the rest of the water in small drizzles, only as needed. Use a light hand when mixing and only add as much water as necessary to hold the dough together- excess water and excess mixing encourages gluten production, which translates to tough pastry. I generally stop when there is still a small amount of dry flour around the edges (see above).

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Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gather the dough and any stray loose crumbles of flour and butter into a ball and flatten it into a disc. You will have visible chunks of butter and some flour that looks like it could use a bit more mixing, but things will look better as you roll the dough out. Lightly flour the top of the disc, then use a rolling pin to roll it into a long rectangle (rounded corners are ok here), about 15-18″ long if you are using the “make it easy” measurements I gave above . Use a pastry brush to remove the excess flour from the dough, then fold this rectangle in thirds so that the top and bottom folds overlap, forming an envelope. If you don’t have a pastry brush, no worries- just go very light on the flouring so you don’t have extra flour worked into the dough with each fold. Give the dough a quarter turn so that the short sides of the envelope are facing you.

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 Repeat the rolling and folding steps three more times. Once you finish the last round, pat the dough into a squarish shape, wrap it in parchment or wax paper, then slip it into a food grade resealable plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour and for up to two days before using. If you’d like to freeze it, wrap in in wax paper, then plastic wrap, then the resealable bag and freeze for up to a month (and probably longer, but mine has never made it that far before being used).

Troubleshooting

I said this above, but it is worth repeating: making pastry takes a light, practiced hand, but don’t let that scare you off. It doesn’t take long to get it right, but the first time you make it, expect a bit of a learning curve.

The two biggest enemies of this kind of pasty are heat and gluten formation. The first is easy to avoid with a bit of common sense- use cold ingredients and, if you are new to this and a bit unsure of what you are doing, don’t do this in a hot kitchen (or, as I found out early on in my pastry making days, on the counterspace over your dishwasher while it is running).  If you work a bit too slowly, you may need to stop what you are doing and refrigerate the dough for an hour before continuing. It may seem inconvenient, but it’s a lot more convenient to wait for the butter to firm up again before finishing than it is to try to roll out a greasy mess of melted butter. For extra insurance, you can chill your flour, pastry cutter, and bowl ahead of time in the freezer.

Gluten formation is a bit trickier to combat, because it’s hard to tell if it has happened until it is too late. If, as you are rolling your dough, it keeps shrinking back substantially, you’ve likely encouraged too much gluten formation by either using too much water or by mixing a wee bit too vigorously. Either way, you can help correct this by letting the dough rest in the refrigerator, wrapped in parchment/wax paper/plastic wrap, for an hour or so to let it relax a bit, then continuing from where you left off.

How to Use It

Puff pastry is quite versatile, and while many people think of it as a dessert or breakfast item, it shines in savory preparations, too. I prefer using puff pastry to the usual pie crust on my pot pies, and it makes a fantastic alternate base for savory tarts like this onion tart (I just do it as a flat tart and don’t fold the sides up around the filling). You can also make samosa-like meat-filled hand pies, cheese pastries, various appetizers, or as the crust for quiche.

On the dessert side of things, palmiers and sweet tarts are usual choices, but my absolute favorite is a tarte tatin made with either apples, pears, or quince. Other uses include turnovers and several other fruit pastries and sweetened cheese pastries.

However you choose to use it, puff pastry is an extraordinary thing to know how to make and use. Don’t let it scare you out of the kitchen. Give it a shot and surprise yourself!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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