For those who feel pastry-challenged, I offer this illustrated step-by-step guide to the puff pastry pictured in my previous post (alliteration not planned, but plentiful!). This is technically not puff pastry, because I am not incorporating a large block of butter into dough via a time-consuming process that is punctuated with potential pitfalls (there I go again!). Instead, this method utilizes a combination of pie crust and puff pastry techniques that results in a pastry with a lot of puff for its relative ease of preparation. (To view a step by step description of traditional puff pastry, see my post from 2008: Puff Pastry.)
First, we begin by cutting butter into flour. In this illustration, I'm using the Heavy Cream Flaky Pastry found in Flo Braker's Sweet Miniatures (amazon link is somewhere on this page). In the photo below, I have cut chilled (40 degrees F) butter into approximately 1/2 inch cubes. The cubes are probably between 3/8 and 1/2 inch; no need to get out the micrometer. I toss the cubes into the flour until they are well coated (in my grandmother's cherished Texas ware bowl). Cutting in the butter instead of using a block of butter is the technique borrowed from pie crust making.
Then the butter is cut into the flour. Normally I would use a pastry cutter, but since I couldn't find mine I used two table (aka butter) knives, and that works just as well. No fancy equipment is needed for this process. The method I use with two knives is to cross my arms so the blades of the knives are opposite each other, and then I uncross my arms, bringing the blades together and then apart again on the opposite side but keeping them parallel to each other. I try to keep the blades about 1/4 inch apart but a lot of the times I'm sloppy and they clack together as they are crossing. You can also just use a chopping motion with the knives parallel to each other, which I often do to break up the monotony. Periodically I will scrape the knives to draw off any butter sticking to them. If you use a pastry cutter, stop every so often and carefully scrape the wires/blades clean as well.
Most recipes instruct you to do this until the butter pieces are "no larger than peas." Well, that leaves a lot of room for interpretation depending on the size of the peas that you are using for reference! Here is a shot of the butter partially cut in, but not yet complete:
Note that the pieces are irregular in size. Keep cutting until you get something that resembles this:
I'd say the largest pieces are between 1/4 and 3/16 of an inch in diameter; certainly no larger than that. The pieces are fairly uniform in size as well.
Now it's time to add the liquid. I drizzle over the smallest amount of liquid called for in the recipe (if there is a range for the liquid), then take a fork or spoon and stir to distribute the liquid:
Once the mixture starts clumping together, I switch to a rubber spoonula/spatula and repeatedly press the dough together against the side of the bowl:
I do this for a minute or two until the dough really comes together and there are only a few dry bits remaining. If after a couple of minutes the dough refuses to come together I'll add more liquid and try again. Once about 75 to 85 percent of the dough is in one big, ragged clump, I'll turn the dough out onto a piece of parchment or plastic wrap and use the parchment or wrap to incorporate the remaining dry bits. I press the edges toward the center with the parchment or plastic wrap, making sure I don't warm up the dough, until I have a single lump of dough. This is shown after I put the lump on a lightly floured board and sprinkled it with flour:
And just what constitutes "lightly floured," you may ask? In my opinion, this:
You can still see the board through the flour in many places. Now that I have my dough complete, I begin rolling it out. This particular recipe does not call for a rest in the fridge like many others do because this is a shortcut recipe. If, however, you feel that the dough has become too warm and is getting sticky, don't hesitate to throw in the fridge for a few minutes to keep the butter from melting. Since butter melts at a relatively low temperature, you'll want to chill the dough if its temperature rises higher than about 70 degrees F. If you are making this in a warm kitchen, you may even have to chill the flour mixture in the middle of cutting in the butter. Luckily (?) for me my kitchen stays a chilly 63-65 degrees most of the year so I don't have to worry about that very much.
Now that the dough is lightly floured, it's time to make the first roll. This recipe gives a finished size for rolling out the dough before folding it. If not, I usually roll it about 3/8 inch thick.
If it starts to stick to the roller I'll sprinkle on a little more flour. Also, I move it around on the board, adding a little flour if it sticks on the underside. I try to roll from the middle outward, but I admit that sometimes I roll straight across the dough. May the pastry gods forgive me!
Now it's time to fold the dough to begin the process of creating many thin layers. Flo Braker instructs you to just fold the dough in half, but I use the puff pastry technique of folding it in thirds, like a business letter:
This is then again rolled out into a 3/8 inch rectangle. The resulting rectangle is again folded in thirds. If necessary, during this process I will put the dough in the fridge for a brief rest to keep the dough from getting too warm (above 70 degrees F).
To recap, we went from 1 layer to 3 layers by rolling out the dough and folding in thirds. (This is called one "turn" by pastry pros. It is named such because you roll the
dough into a long rectangle, fold it up like a business letter, then
turn the dough 90 degrees, because you always want to be rolling along
the longer side of the folded edges. ) This was rolled out and folded again, resulting in 9 layers (3 layers folded in thirds: 3x3=9). One more time gets you 27 layers, which is where I stopped (I think - maybe I did one more but I can't remember).
In a traditional puff pastry, the process is repeated 6 times, resulting in 729 layers (I've seen some websites that use different numbers - more on that in a minute). Of course, in that case refrigeration is a requirement because the friction of rolling the dough creates heat, and you can't do that many turns without putting the dough in the fridge for a cooling off period.
Once the desired number of layers is created, the dough is rolled out quite thin (1/8 inch thick), like so:
I lightly flour both the board and the pastry to do this rolling, adding flour only if the dough starts to stick. The edges of the dough must be trimmed to facilitate the maximum amount of rise (because the edges of the dough get squished more as a result of the rolling pin going over the edge and the edge just isn't clean and smooth.)
Since I was making square tarts I used a pizza cutter to cut the dough into squares. To form a raised border around the filling of the tarts, I used the back of a thin paring knife to cut halfway through the dough around the edge, in about 1/2 an inch:
Only go halfway through the dough on the inside edge or else the edge will just separate from the rest of the dough as it rises and your filling will leak out all over. Not pretty. Of course, you can make circles or ovals or use (very sharp) cookie cutters to make other shapes, but if you want a raised edge around the filling, you'll have to do the halfway cutting about 1/2 inch or so from the outside edge of whatever shape (the larger the tart, the bigger edge you can use, although I never go more than 1 inch). I like squares because they are easier, there is no waste and you don't have to try to re-roll the dough, which is always a crapshoot because it tends to toughen if rolled too many times.
Once you have your shapes cut, you can add your desired filling (or bake them plain and add a filling later):
Then the only step that's left is to stick those puppies in a preheated oven (400 degrees F) and bake until puffed and golden brown (see previous post).
Any questions? Post them here and I'll answer them if I can.
One last note on the number of layers for traditional puff pastry: I've seen some websites that provide different numbers than 729 for how many layers are created. Some people use what is called a book fold - both edges are folded in to the middle, then the whole thing is folded in half creating 4 layers (also called a double turn). When you repeat that process you'll come up with a different number of layers. The reason I didn't do that here is because you end up with a smaller piece of dough to roll back out, and it is slightly more difficult to roll out the smaller piece to the same thickness. I don't know if it's that much of a difference, so feel free to use a book fold it you'd like.
One website really made me scratch my head, though. The author said that her traditional puff pastry had 944 layers. I've done the math using several combinations of letter and book folds, and can't come up with 944. If anyone knows how that number could be reached using letter and book folds, please let me know. I'm standing behind 729 as the more traditional number using letter folds. If you use only book folds and do 5 turns you would end up with 1024 layers. (Maybe I need to do those side-by-side to see if there is a noticeable difference). I have also seen a few recipes that use a letter fold to start and