What Is Puff Pastry, How It Is Made?

What Is Puff Pastry, How It Is Made?

Puff pastry is a light, buttery, flaky dough that is useful for making both sweet and savory dishes, from appetizers to main courses to desserts.

It’s made from only three ingredients, flour, butter, and salt, yet it can rise up to eight times the thickness of the dough, with no added leavening agent.

How Puff Pastry Is Made

Puff pastry is made by mixing up a simple dough of flour and water, then placing a slab of butter on top, and folding the dough over the butter and rolling it flat. By repeating the rolling and folding, using one of two basic techniques, the finished dough will contain upward of 1,000 layers.

When you bake it, the water in the dough and in the butter produces a burst of steam that puffs up the layers. It’s the separation of these hundreds of layers that gives the pastry its light, flaky texture.

What Is Puff Pastry, How It Is Made?
What Is Puff Pastry, How It Is Made?

Do You Need to Make Your Own Puff Pastry?

Making puff pastry is not difficult, but before you reach for your rolling pin, remember that it is a painstaking process.

The rolling technique required to form those 1,000-plus layers is fairly elaborate: The layers need to be folded in a particular way, usually in either a three-fold or a four-fold technique, which is repeated several times.

Because the butter must be cool, it takes considerable pressure to roll it flat. Also, the dough needs to chill in between each round of rolling and folding. The effort is physically demanding and time-consuming.

The machine is able to roll out perfectly even sheets, with the butter distributed uniformly throughout. Store-bought, frozen pastry is just fine.

Using Frozen One

Frozen puff pastry comes in sheets, which you’ll have to defrost before using. The most important thing to remember is to thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. Defrosting at room temperature is inadvisable: Frozen pastry sheets come folded (usually in thirds or in half) and if you try to thaw them at room temperature, you’ll either unfold the sheets too soon and they’ll break, or, once they’re fully thawed, they will be too sticky to work with.

Working With Puff Pastry

Beyond thawing overnight in the fridge, the two most important tips for puff pastry are:

  • Keep the dough cool.
  • Dust your work surface with flour.

Keeping the dough cool ensures that it won’t stick together, and is easy to cut. To this end, keep your puff pastry dough in the fridge until you’re ready to use it; take out only what you’re planning to work with right then, and return it to the fridge until you’re ready to bake it.

Dusting your work surface with flour is to prevent the dough from sticking. Remember to dust your rolling pin as well.

It’s fine to roll out the sheets a little bit, depending on what you’re making. Each recipe should specify how thin the dough needs to be rolled out. However, don’t roll it thinner than 1/8 inch as you’ll end up squashing the layers together and your pastry won’t rise properly.

Note that even if you manage to unfold it without breaking, there will be some folding lines. You can try to roll these out, especially when preparing something big like beef Wellington or baked brie. With smaller items, like pastry puffs, palmiers, or miniature hors d’oeuvre shells, you can use the seams as cutting guides.

What Is Puff Pastry, How It Is Made?
What Is Puff Pastry, How It Is Made?

Docking Puff Pastry

In some instances, you might not want your pastry to rise, such as with a pastry tart: you might want the edges to puff up. Do not the center region underneath the toppings.

In this case, use a fork to prick the surface of the dough in the area. The tiny holes will allow steam to escape rather than puffing up the layers of pastry. A good recipe will guide you on whether and where to dock the pastry.

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