Delicate, buttery and flaky, puff pastries wrap themselves around sweet or savory fillings with ease. They're not that easy to make, but fortunately there are many frozen varieties on the market that meet the standards of even professional pastry chefs. All you have to do is get them to the right temperature before baking.
Read the label to determine whether your pastries are made with butter or shortening. Two of the major brands are butter-based and one is made with shortening. You may have dietary reasons for avoiding one or the other, so it's important to check the label. Alternately, while some like only the buttery taste, others feel that shortening pastries go better with savory dishes, such as Beef Wellington. Butter pastries are a little more sensitive and you must take care not to let the butter melt before they get to the oven.
Once your dough has thawed, work quickly and keep the dough cold. Chill a sheet pan and turn it upside down to use as a work surface.
The quickest and best way to defrost your puff pastries is on the counter top. This works best because if it's done right, the delicate dough won't toughen. Most puff pastries come in sheets that are folded like an envelope or in a roll with the sheet separated by paper. Do not attempt to unfold the dough while it's frozen. Take out as many sheets as you need for your dish, place each sheet on a flat dish, cover them with plastic wrap and leave them out at room temperature. Thawing time varies, so check after 20 minutes to see if your pastry sheets are ready. Gently press the ball of your finger in the middle of one of the sheets. If your finger leaves an indentation, the pastry is ready to be used. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, thawing may take up to 30 minutes.
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If moisture is seeping from the edge of the pastry, it means the butter or shortening is melting. Return the pastry to the fridge for 5 to 10 minutes if this occurs.
Most packages recommend thawing the unopened package in the refrigerator overnight. However, if you remove the dough from the package and wrap it snugly in plastic wrap, thawing it will only take about 4 hours. This means you can take it out in the afternoon, for example, and it will be ready by dinner time while you've already prepared your filling. Make sure you place the dough in the warmest place of your fridge, usually in the door toward the bottom, and always away from the freezer element.
Do not use the microwave to defrost the dough or it will become gummy.
Do not try to thaw the dough in warm water or it will not rise.
Do not try to use the dough while it's still frozen. Excess moisture from thawing will ruin the pastry.
Do not pinch the edges of the pastries; this will prevent them from puffing.