Puff pastry dough makes crisp, flaky crusts for quiche, turnovers and tarts, and serves as the base for cheese straws and other savory appetizers. The trick to crisp, high-rising puff pastry is incorporating the butter carefully without letting it soften, and without tearing the delicate pastry layers. Keeping the dough and the butter at the same stiff but pliable consistency takes care, but is relatively straightforward.
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Mix up a stiff dough of flour and water, with a small quantity of butter and a pinch of salt. Knead the dough — the “detrempe” in classical terminology — until it just comes together, then form it into a ball and wrap it in plastic film. Place the dough in your refrigerator to rest for 30 minutes.
Measure or weigh the butter you’ll need to roll into the dough. Typically it’s equal to your flour by weight, or slightly more. Place the cold butter between sheets of plastic or parchment and beat it into a thin sheet with the side of your rolling pin. Sprinkle it lightly with flour, and knead the butter a few times until it has the consistency of stiff modelling clay. Shape it into a rough square.
Remove your dough from the refrigerator and roll it into a square, slightly larger than your square of butter. They should be equally firm. Place your butter on the square of dough, diagonally, then fold the corners of the dough to encase the butter completely. Pinch the seams together with a thumb and forefinger, sealing in the butter.
Roll the dough into the neatest rectangle you can manage, in a 3:2 ratio. In other words, if it’s 20 inches high it should be 30 inches wide. Fold each narrow end into the middle, so they meet at the center of your rectangle of dough. Make a second fold, so the entire mass of dough resembles a closed book. This is called a “double” or “bookfold” turn. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and return it to your fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Retrieve your dough from the refrigerator after it’s had time to chill, and return it to your counter. The dough will have its original proportions, but what once was the long side is now the short side. Roll it out to its original dimensions, and give it a second double fold. Return it to the fridge for another 30 minutes’ rest, then repeat twice more for a total of four double folds.
Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes before using it, or portion and wrap it for refrigeration or freezing.
Roll the dough gently and evenly, rather than pressing down hard in the middle and then rolling outwards. This minimizes the risk of tearing the fine layers of dough, and forming a spot that won’t rise. Take care not to roll your rolling pin over the edges of the dough, either, which will compress the layers and have a similar effect.
To keep track of how many turns you’ve done, push a fingertip into the dough after each turn. Make one dimple in the dough after the first turn, two after the second, and so on.
Many recipes call for a small amount of lemon juice to be added to the dough, which helps make it more pliable.
Prepared puff pastry can be refrigerated for upwards of five days, but will begin to darken and lose its fine appearance.
To freeze the puff pastry for later use, triple-wrap it in plastic, then keep it in the freezer for up to two months. Allow it to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using it.
References and ResourcesKing Arthur Flour: Classic Puff Pastry (Pate Feuilletee)
The Professional Pastry Chef; Bo Friberg