Puff pastry has a reputation for being hard to make. It really isn’t. The recipe calls for flour, salt, water and fat (usually butter). Really, that’s all. I think the thing that gives puff pastry it’s reputation for being difficult is that it takes time. After living and breathing puff pastry for the past 2 weeks, I have come to the conclusion that if you start with a solid recipe and you follow the steps involved, you will end up with puff pastry that puffs. You just need patience.
Puff pastry consists of two things: a flour-water dough called the détrempe. This is a fancy-sounding French word for a decidedly non-fancy thing: “moistened dough.” Puff pastry also contains butter. Lots and lots of butter. You can also use margarine, lard, or shortening for your fat–but if you can use it, butter gives the best flavor. If you are a baking nerd like me and you’re into such things, the ratios are: the détrempe is 100 parts flour to about 50 parts water. If you weighed the détrempe, you would then use a butter amount that is 1/2 of the weight of the détrempe. (see Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio: Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking for more on this approach to cooking).
After you make the détrempe, you then wrap it around a packet of fat–usually butter–which is called your beurrage–”butter packet.” For all intents and purposes, you create an envelope of détrempe into which you put your beurrage. It’s a fascinating concept, really. Wait until you see the pictures–it really does look like an envelope.
After you enclose the beurrage in the détrempe, you then roll and fold the dough several times to create layers of dough separated by layers of butter. The classic number of times you do this is 6. Each roll and fold session is called a “turn.” So, you would do 6 turns for puff pastry dough.
Puff pastry is in the category of doughs called “laminated” doughs. This means it is made up of layers. Laminated doughs involve three steps: 1. Preparing a base dough (détrempe); 2. Enclosing fat (beurrage) inside the dough; 3. Rolling, folding, and layering the resulting dough. According to Harold McGee in his amazing book, On Food and Cooking:The Science and the Lore of the Kitchen (which I recommend to any serious cook/baker), the resulting dough, if you roll and fold it 6 times, will have 729 layers of moistened flour separated by 728 layers of fat. The term millefeuille, or “thousand leaves,” refers to a pastry that is made by stacking 2 layers of puff pastry with a layer of pastry cream in the middle.
When you bake puff pastry dough, the butter in each layer melts, creating a space. The water in the butter and the dough then turns to steam and rises–creating an air pocket in each layer. The resulting baked pastry rises to 2-4 or more times its uncooked thickness and contains many crispy layers. It’s light and delicate. With this type of dough it is very important that you treat the dough carefully to maintain the integrity of the layers. This is not a dough that you would gather and re-roll as you would a pie crust dough. Or, if you did re-roll it, you would not expect the layering and lightness of the first rolled dough.
What I’ve described above is the “classic” method of making puff pastry dough. There are other methods of making the dough–the most common is known as the “rough” (or “blitz”) methods. This method is more like a pie crust dough–the butter is incorporated into the initial dough and is then rolled out once or twice. Since I have found it to be fairly simple, I wanted to present to you the “classic” puff pastry method.
Gluten-free dough presents a bit of a challenge when you’re going through the process of rolling and folding the puff pastry dough. As you know, gluten-free dough is not as elastic as wheat dough. It is more crumbly and prone to breaking because there is no gluten to hold it together. I learned this when working on my pie crust recipe. As I worked on different recipes for the puff pastry dough, I found that gluten-free dough doesn’t fold as cleanly or as nicely as a wheat dough does. Also, all the recipes I’ve looked at for puff pastry dough made from wheat flour call for keeping the dough as cold as possible–the same type of instruction one would encounter with wheat pie crust dough. Using the knowledge and information I gained from my pie crust adventures, I found that gluten-free puff pastry dough doesn’t have to be kept as cold in the rolling process as one would keep wheat puff pastry dough. Therefore, I don’t use ice water or keep it in the fridge too long in between turns. It’s a bit tricky to learn the right consistency of the dough–but you learn to recognize it as you’re doing the turns.
The main thing with this dough is that you don’t want it to get so warm that the butter starts to melt and sticks to the rolling surface. And, you don’t want the dough to be so cold that you can’t roll it it out without cracking the edges of the dough too much. Don’t worry, though–in the following recipe, I have tried to include pictures and descriptions with each step so it’s easy to make your way through it.
A key step to making puff pastry is the fold. You roll and fold the dough several times to make layers. There are two types of classic folds used in puff pastry. One is the “single” fold in which you fold the dough as you would a letter:
Another type of fold is the “double” or “book” fold. This type of fold accomplishes twice the fold (hence the name) as the single fold:
Many pastry cooks use the double fold to save time. So, instead of doing 6 single folds, they would do 3 book folds. As I experimented with gluten-free puff pastry dough, I found that dough folded in book folds didn’t rise quite as much as that folded in single folds. So, in my recipe I recommend single folds–although you are welcome to try double folds to see how your results vary. (drawings from: Whisk).
One thing you really need when making puff pastry dough is a space that is at least 20 inches long that you can roll the puff pastry out onto. I have a tile counter top, so I needed to find an appropriate alternate surface. What I finally ended up doing was pulling the under-the-counter cutting board out of its socket, placing it on the counter, and using that for my rolling surface.
You also need a good, sturdy rolling pin. I have a French rolling pin–one of those wood ones that is the same size across the whole thing (with no handles). This is a good type of rolling pin to use because it is so versatile. I got mine years ago at a kitchen store that was selling some antique rolling pins (for $8/each), but it is basically like this rolling pin. You also need a ruler or measuring tape to measure your dough as you roll and turn it. I use a hardware tape measure (I got the idea from my friend, Kim). It’s simple, cheap, versatile, and works like a charm.
Puff Pastry, Gluten-Free
-1/2 recipe adapted from Baking With Julia, by Dorie Greenspan
-this takes about 2 1/2 hours from start to finish (not all of it is active time)
Special Equipment Needed
-rolling surface that is at least 20 inches long
-rolling pin (preferably a French-type, but any will do as long as it’s not a small one)
-measuring tape (to measure your dough)
For the Détrempe
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (255 g) Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water (plus more as needed)
For the Beurrage
1 cup (2 sticks, 230 g) unsalted butter, cold but not too hard
Additional tapioca flour for rolling the dough
The first 5 steps should be done as quickly as possible to maintain cool temperatures for the dough and for the butter.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour and salt. Add the water and stir the mixture until it comes together. You want a ball of dough that holds together well, but isn’t wet and sticky. I usually use about 1 TBL of additional water. Mix together well and form into a nice ball of dough. (You can also do this in a food processor but you will still need to take it out and do a final mix with your hands.) This is your détrempe (flour-water dough).
Wrap this completely in a damp kitchen towel and place in the refrigerator while you make your beurrage (butter packet).
Place the sticks of butter together, in a row, between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Using your rolling pin, beat the butter into an evenly-thick square. You may need to mess around with it a bit to get this into a uniform thickness. I usually beat the 2 sticks into rectangle that is 3″x 6″. I then cut it in half the short way and place the cut 3″ on top of the other 3″. Then I beat the butter into a 4″x4″x1″ thick square. This is your beurrage. Set this aside–it should be cold and firm but not hard (also, if it’s getting too soft, put in the refrigerator) while you roll out your dough.
Flour your rolling surface well with tapioca flour. Take your détrempe out of the refrigerator and unwrap from the damp towl. Place your détrempe on the rolling surface. Starting from each of the 4 sides, roll out flaps (or “ears”) from each side, leaving a roughly 4″x4″ square of thick dough in the center. The flaps should come out about 5″ from the sides of the square. Try to make sure that each flap is the same thickness as the other flaps. The flaps will be thinner than your middle dough. Your détrempe will now be in the shape of a cross.
Remove your beurrage from its plastic wrap and place it on top of the thick part of the détrempe. The beurrage and the détrempe should be roughly the same length and width.
Now you are going to carefully fold your flaps of dough over the butter, one at a time. When all four flaps are over the butter, it will look like an envelope.
Your dough may break at the folding points. If it does, press the break together carefully. Also, squeeze together the gaps at the corners.
You want to make sure that the butter is completely encased in the dough. You don’t want any of your butter to squeeze through any holes.
Take your rolling pin and press down across the dough 2 times in a criss-crossing diagonal. This will help stabilize the butter inside the dough.
Roll the top of the dough gently but firmly with the rolling pin once across the top.
This also stabilizes the butter in the dough. Turn the dough packet over, so the folded side is now on the bottom and the smooth side is on the top.
Now you are ready to do your first “turn.” Add some more flour to your rolling surface–you need to make sure it is well floured at all times. Also, make sure your rolling pin is floured, as well. Now carefully roll your dough out in a long rectangle. As you roll it out, the dough will probably tear along the sides (it doesn’t do this with wheat dough). I use my hands and the side of my rolling pin to repair and push in these tears as I roll the dough.
Eventually, you will have a rectangle of dough that is roughly 1/2 inch thick and 18 inches by about 8 inches. It will look mottled and “streaky”–meaning that you will see the flour and butter separately in the dough. This streaking will diminish as you make each turn. Make more repairs to your dough edges so it looks like a neat rectangle.
Now you do your first fold. I recommend doing the single fold method. For this, take one end of your dough and fold roughly a third of it onto the top of the dough.
Then take your other end and fold it on top of the already folded dough–as you would with a business letter.
Once you’ve folded your dough, repair your packet again. Press a corner-to-corner criss-cross into the dough will your rolling pin to stabilize it. And roll the dough gently and firmly across the top with your rolling pin. Press the sides in to repair any tears in the dough. When you’re done repairing the dough, place one indentation to the dough with your fingertip to indicate that you’ve done 1 turn.
This cue will help you keep track of how many turns you’ve done. Once your packet is neat, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap (make sure it’s completely wrapped so no air gets to it) and place into the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Re-flour your rolling surface and your rolling pin. After 15 minutes, take out your dough, unwrap it, and place on your rolling surface. Be sure to turn your dough 90 degrees from the way it was after you folded it the last time. This means that the folded edge will be facing the side instead of being in front of you.
You will turn your dough this way each time you roll it out. Now roll out the dough the same way you did the first time, taking care to repair the edges as you roll. Do a single fold, repair your sides, press a criss-cross with your rolling pin, roll across the top and mark your dough with 2 indentations to indicate that you have now made 2 turns.
I recommend that you brush the flour off of the bottom of the dough each time you fold it. This way, you reduce the amount of extra flour that you incorporate into your dough. I do this with a pastry brush.
Repeat the entire process four more times for a total of 6 turns. After your first two turns, you might find that your dough is cold enough for you to do 2 turns per session before placing the dough in the refrigerator to rest. This will save time. I usually do 2 turns in one sitting for the 3 and 4th turns, and then again for the 5th and 6th turns. But you need to gauge your dough to see if it’s cold enough to do this. Make sure the butter isn’t getting too soft–if it is, it will stick to the rolling surface.
After your 6th and final turn, you dough should look pretty good.
You will now have a nice packet of puff pastry dough that is a little over 1 lb (about 1 lb 5 oz). This is roughly the amount you get in package of frozen commercial (wheat) puff pastry. Once you’ve repaired your dough and have made it look as neat as possible, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. It should be about 8″x5″x1″. Your dough is now ready to roll out and use in recipes. If you want to use your dough right away, place it in the refrigerator for another 1 hour before rolling it out for use. When you roll it out for use, you may need to rest it on the counter for awhile to bring it to rolling temperature. It shouldn’t break or crack too much while you’re rolling it–breaking and cracking indicates that the dough is too cold.
The dough will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 days. I have found that keeping the dough in the refrigerator for more than 2 days diminishes the puff action of the pastry. The pastry will still be flaky, but won’t be as puffed.
If you don’t use your dough within a couple of days, roll it out to about 1/4″ thick, wrap it in plastic wrap, and freeze it. Puff pastry dough freezes beautifully. And it’s so nice to have on hand when you find a recipe that calls for it.
To prepare your dough for freezing, set the amount of dough you want to freeze on the counter to warm up (I usually cut the dough in half and roll and freeze each half separately). If the dough has been in the refrigerator for longer than about 2 hours, set it out on the counter for about 45 minutes-1 hour to warm up. Then roll it out on a well-floured surface until it is about 1/4 inch thick. You want to roll out as nice of a rectangle as possible. Using a very sharp knife, cut off the raggedy edges. You can stack these these edge pieces, wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze them separately and use to make cheese puffs. Now, place your neat rectangle on a cookie sheet and freeze for 10 minutes. Once it its frozen, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for later use. When you’re ready to use it, you can remove it from the freezer, unwrap and let it warm on the counter for a few minutes, and then cut out. Do not cut it if it’s frozen–it will crimp the edges and limit the rising.
Tips for using puff pastry
1. Use a very sharp knife or shape cutter to cut it and don’t use a back and forth motion or a twisting motion. Push straight down with the knife. The more you “squish” or crimp the edges, the less it will puff because the layers will be glued together at the cut point.
2. Do not re-roll your pastry. Once it’s cut, it’s cut. If you re-roll it, you will nullify the layering effect. It will still be flaky, but not as flaky as before.
3. After cutting out your shapes for use, freeze on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes before baking. Transfer to a different baking sheet for baking.
4. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet that has been sprinkled with cold water. This will help prevent the pastry from burning.
5. If you are using flat shapes (like rectangles or strips), place the pieces of dough on the cookie sheet upside down. This will help the pastry puff.
6. When sealing together 2 pieces of puff pastry dough (as for vol-au-vents), use a bit of water brushed on the pastry–do not use an egg wash because it will ooze out and drip down the sides, limiting the rise.
7. When using an egg wash, be sure that it doesn’t drip down the sides–this will prevent rising
8. When baking puff pastry dough, start with a high temperature to encourage the most rise. I usually start with well-preheated oven at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. If the pastry needs a longer baking time, reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake further to completely cook the dough.
9. Let your baked puff pastry cool before eating for full flaky effect.
10. Keep in mind that gluten-free puff pastry puffs up to about double its initial size. It doesn’t puff quite as dramatically as wheat puffed pastry. But, it will be flaky and taste delicious!
Enjoy! And let me know how your puff pastry experiments go!
I plan to provide some recipes that use puff pastry over the next few weeks.