I’m just a girl, who loves (lives) to bake. If I had to answer that awful, age-old interview question of what would you say your biggest strengths and your greatest weaknesses are, my answer would be I am passionate. And yes, I see it as a strength and a weakness. A strength as it is my driver in life, it propels me forward and makes me want to learn more, experience more, do more. A weakness as it means I wear my passionate heart on my sleeve which gets me into trouble all the time, even though I never intend to do so!
Kind of like when I was a little girl at dance school and I fell head over feet for the ballet and I spent my every waking minute studying every aspect of it as I simply could just not get enough. I needed to learn the nitty gritty of the technique, to read the stories of how every great dancer was discovered and navigated their short but extraordinary careers, to know the origins of the art and how it developed through the years. I was hungry for all of it.
This coupled with an unstoppable desire to share my new found knowledge with anyone and everyone around me did not endear myself to a sizeable portion of my class, I can tell you. I think they thought I was showing off when really, I was simmering away with reams and reams of new found knowledge I simply could not keep to myself and needed to discuss with fellow students of dance. Sad times. And yet some of the most beautiful, powerful memories come from that time in my life.
Fast forward almost ten years and my pointe shoes may be hung up but my bannetons, rolling pin and measuring cups are within my grasp and once again, I am bubbling over with ideas and new found information I simply must share. Today, the share is all about puff. Perfect puff pastry you can make from scratch at home.
Last weekend, I went on a one-day French bread bakery course at a local artisan bakery. Now, I’m hardly new to the food scene – indeed, this little blog is going to be 4 years old this summer and my love of all things food began many years before that. But on this fabulous day, immersed in flour, yeast, salt and surrounded by peels, couches and dough scrapers I realised two things – one, I was truly happy; happy as a hippo in mud and two, I am just a home baker.
Everything I know has been learnt from books, websites, videos and discussions with friends. I hold no professional qualifications nor have I studied at the feet of eminent bakers, although I would argue I have studied their published works extensively. For all my willingness to have a go, experiment and try new things without fear in the kitchen, in that bakery I was acutely aware of how much I was missing out on by never having had any hands-on instruction before that day.
You see, I “knew” how to make a poolish and how to shape a baguette (although I hadn’t had the confidence to try a traditional French technique on a high hydration dough); I just needed to be shown how the dough reacts and behaves in my own hands to really understand it. One of my chemistry teachers at senior school told me humans find it very hard articulate a description of things like colours, tastes, smells but we are excellent at telling one colour apart from another. On this course, I found that to be so true – watching Martha knead the dough, shape it, move it around conveyed so much more information than a written or verbal description ever could.
I’m going to try and use my photographs to convey how easy if long-winded, puff pastry is.
There are many, many ways to make puff out there and actually, many variations on the actual ingredients that go into it. Some have simply plain flour and butter, some have a combination of flours to raise the protein content, some have eggs. The way in which you roll and fold alone, not to mention how many times you do so are well documented in classic texts and contemporary alike.
Rather than being put off by the sheer volume and apparent diversity out there, I’d encourage you to think of it as enabling as there is surely a method out there which will suit your skills, preferences, available ingredients and equipment. I love making pastry and have tried lots of methods over the years and this is the one I enjoy doing the most. Which is more than good enough reason to bake anything, in my book.
The method I use involves making a “butter paste” which is all the soft butter mixed with some of the flour that you then chill until solid and then you fold a flour, water and egg pastry around it. And so the lamination begins. Also, it uses a lower proportion of butter to flour than some traditional recipes which I feel better about making. The eggs give extra elasticity and a beautiful colour to the baked pastry.
It’s best to take your time and start at least a day if not two before you want the pastry so you have plenty of time to chill the butter and get it solid again before moving between stages. I like this method as you don’t need to bash rock hard butter out with a rolling pin – as my pin is marble and I am pathologically clumsy, you can see why I don’t want to do that!
None of those stages is hard but they do require a little patience and some upper body strength to do the rolling. Not such a bad thing, you will eat the pastry later. You use a blend of plain and strong flour to increase the protein content a little which helps with creating all those beautiful layers. I give detailed instructions on how to make my puff pastry but in essence, this is the basic schema you follow, if that helps clarify what you are doing and when:
- Make a detrempe or butter paste.
- Make a simple dough with eggs and water.
- Chill thoroughly both paste and dough.
- Begin the rolling and folding with chilling in between:
- Do one book fold
- Do two envelope folds
- Divide the dough into portions and chill until needed. Or freeze for another day.
I’ll leave you with the photos and printable recipe so you can get cracking on your own puff. The next blog post will be of a brand new recipe I am extremely pleased with and can’t wait to share! It’s savoury though so if you want to make something sweet with you new found laminated dough, why not try my pasteis de nata? As long as you have some time to potter in your kitchen, I promise this is an easy recipe and will yield you a beautiful dough to handle which piff, paff, puffs better than any I’ve ever bought! Just wait till you see how many layers it produces once baked.
- 350 g soft unsalted butter
- 375 g plain flour
- 375 g strong bread flour
- 1 tsp sea salt flakes crushed
- 2 large eggs
- 200-225 ml cold water
Sift the two flours together then measure out 175g of it. Place in the bowl of a stand mixer with the soft butter and beat together until smooth.
Dollop out onto a large rectangle of cling film then spread to a rough square shape about 6-7mm thick. Wrap in the cling film and smooth over with your hand then transfer to the fridge to chill – over night is best but an hour should do it.
Take the remaining flour and mix in the salt, eggs and enough water to bring it all together to a soft but not sticky dough. The mantra of “wetter is better” does not apply in pastry, only in bread making!
Knead for 10 minutes by hand or 5 in a stand mixer until it is smooth, elastic and cleans the sides of the bowl. It should be glossy and not at all sticky when finished. Cover in cling and pat out to a rectangle and refrigerate for the same amount of time as the butter and flour paste.
Now you are ready to start the rolling and folding process. Use a tiny amount of flour on your work top as you don’t want to reduce the ratio of flour:fat too much during the layering process. Refer to the photos in the blog post for help with the next stage.
Roll the dough out to a rectangle large enough that you can cover the square of butter and flour paste completed. Fold the dough up around it and pinch all the edges tightly so no butter can escape.
Now, you need to focus on keep the pastry edges as square as possible and not let butter squirt out the sides! Press down with your rolling pin to flatten the dough giving it a ribbed appearance at first then roll up and down so you have a very long rectangle in front of you. Now it’s time for the first fold which will be a “book” fold. Take the top of the pastry and fold over itself until it reaches the centre of the rectangle. Repeat with the lower half. Leave a little gap between the two free edges to make it easy to then fold in half along this gap.
Turn the dough 90 degrees then roll out to a large rectangle again, trying to only roll up and down, keeping the edges as square as you can (you may need to roll the corners side to side a little to keep them square). Repeat the book fold process then cover in cling and chill for at least another hour.
Now you will do two “envelope” folds and your pastry will be ready. Put the chilled pastry down with the short edge close to you and roll out to a large rectangle. Fold the top down a third then the bottom up a third over the first fold. Cover with cling film and chill for another hour.Repeat the envelope folding process one final time then your pastry is ready to be portioned and used as you choose. It should be used within 3 days if leaving it well wrapped in the fridge but you can freeze it for up to 3 months double wrapped tightly in cling film to remove any air pockets. This recipe makes approximately 1.4kg of puff pastry.