As I was learning to bake, there were a number of pastries that intimidated me. The ingredients were familiar, but the techniques in which they were combined left me with a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. I avoided these sweet treats, placing them at the bottom of the baking list for a day when I felt adventurous. Even now, there are a few pastries I still shy away from (I'm looking at you, macarons).
My first fear was scones. After a few batches, some failed and some successful, the routine grew comfortable, and they have remained trouble-free since. The second fear was pie crust. This one took quite a bit little longer to conquer. It wasn't until I realized my hands were a better mixing tool than any machine that the dough came together beautifully.
Puff pastry is another of the pastry basics that intimidated me for many years. It is less of the technique that discourages me, and more of the sheer amount of time it takes to make laminated dough (which can be days between the folding, rolling, and resting). I am impatient when it comes to pastry. Today, however, my impatience is a virtue because it resulted in this recipe for quick puff pastry. This flaky pastry can be mixed together in less than 30 minutes and has a puff that rivals that of the actual laminated dough.
To begin, all-purpose flour is mixed with salt and baking powder. Pastry purists may tell you that baking powder has no business in puff pastry, where the flaky layers should come from the butter alone. However, since this is a quick puff pastry, I figured anything that can give a little extra height on our pastry is welcome.
Cold, cubed butter is cut into the flour with a French technique known as fraisage. The butter is coated in flour and flattened with the heel of your hand, smearing it against the surface away from you. This process is repeated enough to flatten the butter cubes just once—perhaps a dozen times total. You don't want to overdo this step. The butter should still be quite large in size when finished (about the size of your thumbnail); large butter pieces helps provide those coveted flaky layers. If you overdo this step, the butter may melt and you will lose the flaky layers in the final product.
When you are finished cutting the butter into the flour, it should look similar to the image on the top left. Bring the dough together, form a well in the center, and pour in half of the ice cold water. Using a dough scraper, combine the water and flour. It may be a bit messy at first, but it will come together. Be careful not to over-mix the dough. Repeat with the remaining water. Then, form the dough into a square with floured hands.
The dough is rolled out into a 10 by 12-inch rectangle. If there is extra flour on the top, brush it off. Extra flour can make the flaky layers stick together, preventing them from reaching full height. Next, fold the dough into thirds, like you would do with a letter, continuing to brush off extra flour as you go. Then, flip the dough over and rotate it 90 degrees. The entire rolling and folding process is repeated another 4-5 times. Make sure to fold and rotate the dough in the same direction each time, to ensure a full rotation.
This folding and rolling process is what creates the flakiness of puff pastry. The butter is flattened into very thin layers so when the pastry hits the heat of the oven, the butter will melt, leaving space between the layers and creating the flaky appearance and texture. The dough should be wrapped and chilled for 30 minutes before using so the moisture in the dough can be distributed evenly and the butter can harden firmly.
The dough can be left in the refrigerator up to 3 days or frozen for several months before using. If frozen, thaw the dough in the refrigerator the night before for use the next day.
This recipe for Quick Puff Pastry creates a flaky pastry can be mixed together in less than 30 minutes and has a puff that rivals the standard recipe. Puff pastry is the base for many sweet and savory dishes, including rolls, turnovers, cookies, and elaborate desserts. Keep an eye out for puff pastry recipes over the next few months!
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Quick Puff Pastry
2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (10 oz or 280 grams) cold butter, cubed
2/3 cup (156 mL) cold water
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut the cold, cubed butter into the flour with your hands. The dough should be crumbled in appearance, with large pieces of butter. Make a well in the dough and add half of the cold water, stirring and folding the dough with a dough scraper until the water is just combined. Repeat with the remaining water.
On a floured surface, pat the dough into a square and roll out into a 10 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush off excess flour and fold into thirds (like a letter). Flip over the dough and rotate it 90 degrees. Repeat the rolling and folding process 4-5 more times.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes before using.