This week's Last week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection, Parisian Apple Tartlets, calls called for puff pastry dough, apples, brown sugar, and butter. The sensible thing to do, when confronted with such an easy recipe (no mixing, grating, whisking, double boilering, or anything like that) would be to rejoice, pour a cup of coffee, and go catch up on your blog reading. I, however, do not always do the sensible thing, and so I decided to make my own puff pastry dough instead of using the frozen Pepperidge Farm dough (which I do have in my freezer, you know, for those puff pastry emergencies.)
I figured "Hey! It would make for a great step-by-step blog post!" Plus, I don't know, I LIKE making things from scratch. Best of all, I had everything I needed. Flour, butter, salt, water, lemon juice.
I've made puff pastry dough before – it's not really as difficult as it may seem. I think the daunting part of it is the time involved. Like bread, puff pastry dough takes a while from start to finish, but it's not like you're slaving over a bowl of ingredients for that whole time. You mix stuff together, get it situated, and then leave it alone for a while. Then you go back to it, mess with it a bit, and then leave it alone. You mess with the puff pastry dough more frequently than you do with the bread dough, but there's still time in between to do other things. And the "messing with" part takes but a couple of minutes.
For the recipe, I turned, this time around, to Rose Levy Berenbaum's fabulous The Pie and Pastry Bible. She offers an ingredient list for both a small and a large batch, and I figured I might as well make the large batch. I could always freeze whatever I didn't use for the tartlets. Then I'd have some homemade puff pastry dough in addition to Pepperidge Farm's version. You know, in case I had a LOT of puff pastry emergencies.
But then I was thinking (oddly enough) about health and nutrition, and I thought – "What about making puff pastry dough with some whole wheat flour instead of just the all-purpose? How would that be?"
So I shifted gears and decided to make two small batches: one with just AP flour, and one with a blend of AP and whole wheat.
And that's where we begin.
On the left side we have a cup and a half of AP flour, 1 cup of unsalted butter (Ms. Berenbaum recommends Plugra or some other French butter – I'm assuming because the water content is lower than our American butter, but I used the watery American butter anyway. I had a lot of it and didn't feel good about rushing out and spending a lot more money for the other stuff. Now…if I didn't have unsalted butter on hand, things might have been different.), half a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of lemon juice, and half a cup of water (in the blue mug). On the right side we have basically the same set-up except I used one cup of AP flour and half a cup of whole wheat. (Yesterday I thought I should have maybe made a third batch with all whole wheat…perhaps I'll try that another time.)
The butter should be cold, but you don't have to freeze it.
What's the lemon juice for? You could also use white vinegar. They both provide a bit of acidity that helps break down the proteins a little and make it easier to roll out the dough.
Oh, and keep in mind that the directions I'm giving apply to either version. I don't see the need to say "do this with the AP version and then do it with the whole wheat version." I'm long-winded enough as it is.
Okay, first thing you do is cut off 2 tablespoons (or one ounce) of the butter and put the rest back in the fridge. You'll get to that larger amount later.
Next, you're going to combine most of the flour with all the salt and your 2 tablespoons of butter.
I left the remaining bit of flour in the original bowl and placed the larger amount (a cup and a third) in a new bowl along with the salt and the butter. I also cut the butter into smaller bits.
Okay, next I poured the salt out of that little dish into the flour, and then, with my hands, worked the butter into the flour like you would when making a pie crust except that you want the butter completely worked in. You don't want little lumps of fat in this part of the dough; you'll be making a great BIG lump of fat with the rest of that butter.
Once the butter is worked in nicely, and the whole mixture is like sand…like slightly damp, slightly buttery sand…you pour in the lemon juice and 6 tablespoons of the water into the flour mixture and stir it all together just enough to get all the flour wet and form a shaggy little mess of dough. If your dough is still on the dry side, you can add a bit more water. Now turn the dough out onto the counter and knead just enough to form a smooth little ball.
You don't want to work it hard like you would with bread dough.
Now wrap the dough in plastic and set it aside to rest for about twenty minutes.
While the dough is resting, get your butter out of the fridge. It's time to create your layers of fat.
Oh, and at this point, you can get rid of any remaining water. You won't be needing it for this part of the process.
Okay. For this part, you are going to combine your remaining ingredients – the large amount of butter and the small remaining amount of flour. When I first learned to make puff pastry dough, I was taught to use a stand mixer to paddle the butter and flour together, and then to shape it into a square on some plastic wrap, and then chill in the fridge until it was firm but not rock hard.
Ms. Berenbaum's method is faster and, when you're working with a small amount like we are right now, it makes more sense than using a mixer. Your hands really are the best tools, you know.
So here's what you do, according to Ms. Berenbaum, with my commentary, of course, thrown in for good measure or for entertainment purposes.
You need a sheet of plastic wrap – say around a foot long. There are no measurements for that part – you just have to go with your gut on it. Now, take the rest of your flour and dump that on the plastic.
Now put your remaining butter on the flour, and take some of the flour and sprinkle it on top of the butter.
Next, wrap the butter and flour loosely in the wrap,
and, with a rolling pin (or your fists, if it's been that kind of a day) pound the &*(%^! out of the butter.
(Okay, not THAT hard. Just enough to soften and flatten the butter.)
By the way – because I was making two batches of dough, and because violence was involved, Julia asked to do the second one.
What you're doing is softening the butter enough so you'll be able to work the flour into it, but not enough so soft that it's mushy or melty. The plastic keeps things neat, and it also keeps your hands from coming in direct contact with the butter. This is good for two reasons. Number one – using your hands to manipulate the butter with no barrier would be messy. Number two – the heat from your hands would soften the butter too much and you'd end up with that undesirable mushiness I just mentioned.
After you've pounded the butter down some, Ms. Berenbaum tells you to "knead the butter and flour together, using the plastic wrap and your knuckles." It took me a little practice to get the hang of it, but eventually I got a kind of rhythm going, folding and turning the butter within the plastic, so that eventually all the loose flour was worked into the butter.
The butter was softer, certainly, than when I took it out of the fridge, but not melty and mushy. More like modeling clay, or playdough. At this point you shape the butter into a square about 4 to 4.5 inches on a side and about 3/4 of an inch thick.
Right now you can either go on to the next step, or, if you have errands to run or something, wrap the butter and put it in the fridge so it doesn't soften further.
Ms. Berenbaum credits Bernard Clayton – he of bread baking/cookbook writing fame – with "coming up with the most significant secret to making successful puff pastry: that is, the ideal temperature, 60 degrees F., for the butter." If the butter is too cold, and, therefore, too hard, it will tear the dough. If the butter is too warm, and too soft, it will ooze out of the dough and won't form the nice fat layers that give puff pastry its puff.
Anyway, if you refrigerate your butter, let it warm up a bit so it's pliable before you start folding it into the dough. If you want to stick a thermometer into it just to be sure, that's okay, too, but you don't have to. The butter should feel just a bit more firm than the dough. You want it to be able to bend and roll out at the same pace, so to speak, as the dough itself.
Time to laminate.
Yes. Puff pastry, croissant and Danish doughs are all laminated doughs. "What does this mean?" you might ask. To laminate is basically to make something out of two or more layers of stuff. It could mean flooring, it could mean encasing a sheet of paper in a plastic coating, like when you laminate pages or pictures…or, in this case, it means encasing butter in dough. So laminated doughs are doughs made up of layers of dough and fat. See? No? Here – I'll show you.
First you take your ball of dough. The one that's been waiting off to the side for about 20 minutes while you beat up the butter.
Flatten the dough on a floured surface and roll it out into a 6 inch square.
Now take your smaller square of butter and place it inside the dough stuare on the diagonal. It will look like a quilt block.
Okay, well, kind of. My dough corners aren't as sharp as they could be. And, of course, there's no seam allowance. But you get the idea, right?
Next, you mark the outline of the butter on the dough, like so –
Now set the butter aside for a moment while you get your rolling pin and roll out those corners of dough. You need to elongate them so you can wrap them over the butter. I found that starting the rolling-out process further in than the line on the dough gives you better (i.e. longer) results.
As you can see, on the left is the first one I made, the AP flour dough. The rolled-out areas aren't all that rolled out, and when I stretched the dough over the butter, either the end didn't reach all the way, or the dough ripped. When I did it a second time, with the 1/3 whole wheat dough, I made sure to roll more of the dough at each corner. It may look freakishly big by comparison, but it worked a whole lot easier with that batch.
Okay. Once you've got your corners rolled out like in the pictures above, and your square of butter is in the center, brush the stretched out corners lightly with water to help them stick, and, one at a time, fold the corners up, over, and across the square of butter.
As you can see, the corners didn't stretch far enough on this one, but you get the idea, right?
Here it is, completely wrapped up like a gift. This shot is of the 1/3 WW dough, where I'd rolled out the corners better and, as a result, the wrapping was better.
Next, you roll this package into a rectangle that measures 12" x 6". When you do this you want to really keep the edges straight and corners nice so that you distribute the butter evenly throughout the dough.
Then you fold the dough into thirds, like you'd fold a letter. Dust the excess flour off as you go along.
Now turn this rectangle so the open edge side is to the right and the "spine" is to the left, and carefully roll this into another 12 x 6 inch rectangle and repeat the fold process.
At this point you've done two "turns." You can mark the dough itself by pressing two knuckles or fingertips into the dough and then wrapping it in plastic wrap and then foil OR
and this is what I ended up doing - just keep track of the turns on the foil with a sharpie.
Now put the dough in the fridge for 30-40 minutes to chill. You don't want to leave it in for longer than 40 minutes or the butter will be too firm to roll out evenly with the rest of the dough.
After the dough has chilled, unwrap it, place it on the floured counter with the spine to the left and the open edge to the right, as before, and roll it out again into your 12 x 6 inch rectangle and fold as before.
I found that rather than just rolling from center to edges in one fell swoop, it worked better if I pressed down with the rolling pin to flatten the rectangle more evenly before rolling it into the rectangle.
Complete this – the third – turn, put the dough back in the fridge for 30-40 minutes again, and keep repeating this process until you have completed 6 or 7 turns. The tradition is 6 turns, which gives you 729 layers; 7 turns will give you 2,187 layers. The choice is yours.
Regardless of your final layer tally, you need to keep the dough chilled when you're not working with it, and when you bake with it, it should be cold when it goes into the oven.
Because of the butter. Butter will melt at around 90-95 degrees F. Shortening, in contrast, has a higher melt point of about ten degrees higher. The special "thing" about a laminated dough is the flaky layering that results from alternating layers of fat and dough. The layers are created when the fat is hit with high (around 400 – 425 degrees F) heat, which not only causes the fat to melt; more importantly, the heat/fat interaction also creates steam, and that's what separates the layers of dough and gives you the desired flaky layers.
So. If the fat is nice and cold, the sudden exposure to heat will create the melt/steam reaction very quickly. If the fat is, say room temperature and already soft, then the exposure to the high heat won't be AS big a shock and the fat will just melt. The layers won't be as pronounced, and some of the fat will run off, and the resulting pastry will be kind of greasy. (By the same token, if your oven temperature isn't hot enough, you'll also end up with greasy pastry because the contrast of cold dough to hot air won't be extreme enough.
I hope I've explained that in a way that makes sense.
And now, back to our program.
Here are the two doughs. The 1/3 WW is on the left, and the AP is on the right. Both puffed up equally well. The WW had a stronger flavor, I noticed, but other than that there wasn't a huge difference between the two. I thought the WW looked more interesting, with the little wheat speckles in it, but that's just aesthetics.
I'm definely considering making a batch with a higher whole wheat percentage, just because I'm curious. I'll let you know when I do, of course.
Now, you can use puff pastry dough for all sorts of things – assorted tarts and tartlets (such as the recent TwD Parisian Apple Tartlets), Napoleons, and other sweet items, or you can use them to make savory tarts as well.
I used about half of the dough (some of each version) to make those tartlets, and then I made savory tarts with the rest of it.
Here's the first one just after it came out of the oven:
It's hard to tell from the photo, but it puffed up really high.
Which leads me to another little bit of info for you – if you don't want your pastry to puff way up, you need to dock it, or poke little holes in the dough either with a fork or a pastry docker. The holes made by the fork or docker also compress the layers of dough, and this prevents the dough from getting a good puff going. It's similar to dimpling focaccia dough with your fingertips.
Anyway, I didn't think of docking the dough when I made the tarts, and this one was the only one that puffed up so high. I think it was because the toppings weighed less than on the other tarts.
(Here it is after it deflated.)
This first tart is covered with arugula, pepperoni, and cheddar cheese. I made it for Alex, because he doesn't like mushrooms.
Which leads us to the next tart:
I sauteed big sliced mushrooms and a sliced onion in some butter until the moisture had cooked out and the smell was making me weak with hunger. I spread this on the tarts (two of them) and then dotted the top with bits of ricotta and some salt and pepper. Y.U.M.
I had one little piece of dough left, and I topped that with some ricotta and some grated romano cheese.
Here are the three different versions, all ready to go to the table:
And that, at long last, is my neverending (it seems) post about making puff pastry dough.
See how NOT hard it really is? It just takes a little time and a little patience.
So GO! GO NOW! And make a batch. It's extremely versatile, it rolls out beautifully, and it freezes well.
And think how impressed your family and friends will be!