Food & Drink

PUFF PASTRY: Discover the magic of this easy, buttery pastry

Every once in a while you stumble upon a culinary trick that changes your life in the kitchen. Learning how to peel ginger with a spoon. Finding out how to save a broken sauce. Figuring out how to convert a roasting pan into a stove-top smoker.

Recently I “discovered” the magic of quick puff pastry.

There is an elegant beauty to puff pastry. The way its paper-thin layers puff like magic, delicately crisp and golden. The way it shatters with each bite, shards of pastry flying about like bits of confetti. That deep buttery richness tucked inside lighter-than-air packaging.

I was taught in culinary school that classic puff pastry is one of those arts that separates the professional chef from the recreational cook. The method is laborious and unforgiving, even for professionals. Many bakeries prefer to buy their dough pre-made.

Classic puff pastry is made of a dough base, or detrempe, folded around a block of cold butter. The dough is repeatedly rolled out and folded around the butter until the dough and butter are stretched into paper-thin, almost translucent layers. Several folds can produce literally hundreds of layers. The challenge — and art — is keeping the butter at the right temperature. If the butter is too cold or is worked recklessly, it can crack and rupture the delicate layers of dough. Too warm and the softened butter will melt into the dough, dissolving the layers. The butter has to be just right — kind of like Goldilocks, but in the kitchen.

I’d heard about quick puff pastry — or “ruff puff,” as it’s sometimes called — but never took it seriously. Puff pastry in a fraction of the time (and with a fraction of the stress) of the original? Frankly, it sounded too good to be true. But when I ran across yet another quick puff variation a few weeks ago, I decided to give the technique a try.

The results amazed me. Layered, flaky and deliciously rich, this was puff pastry almost like the original but in far less time. I was sold.

I love the simplicity of it. Quick puff pastry is very similar to a cut-in dough recipe. Think pie crust. Combine cold ingredients — butter, flours, ice water — and work the ingredients just to form a crumbly mass. But instead of forming the dough into a disc and refrigerating, as you would with pie dough, gently press the dough to form a rectangle, then fold it as if you were closing a book. Gently roll it out, then fold again. The whole mass is crumbly and unwieldy at first, but after the first couple of folds, it starts to come together. Cover and refrigerate the dough to chill and give it a chance to relax, then roll again and fold as if you were folding a letter. One more letter fold and you’re set. Puff pastry dough in about an hour.

I found that, as with pie dough, the easiest method for combining quick puff dough is in a food processor. Carole Bloom uses the method for her quick puff recipe in “The Essential Baker,” and I swear by it. A few whirls in a processor makes quick work of the dough, the pulses bringing everything together before the ingredients can even think about warming.

And you can’t beat the flavor. Like classic puff pastry, quick puff has a higher ratio of butter to flour. Another trick I learned from Bloom is adding a little lemon juice to the dough.

You won’t taste the lemon juice itself, but baked into the pastry, the acid brings out the flavor of the other ingredients, intensifying the taste of the butter.

The dough is worked during the folds, giving it structure and strength. Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Pie and Pastry Bible” includes a great recipe for quick puff using a blend of all-purpose and cake flours. The addition of lower-protein cake flour gives the dough structure without making it too “elastic” to roll. The dough will still work using only all-purpose flour, though the final pastry is slightly less delicate.

While you won’t have the clean, distinct layers formed using the classic method, the final dough still forms amazingly light — and numerous — crisp and flaky layers. Because the butter is cut in before folding, the final layers are more random — like stacked puzzle pieces. You might notice the dough rising a little unevenly in places, though I found this to be minimal.

Like classic puff pastry, quick puff relies on cold ingredients for its characteristic puff. Here, the dough rises, or is “leavened,” by the steam created by the butter layers as the dough bakes, just as bread is leavened by yeast and cakes and quickbreads are chemically leavened with baking powder or soda.

If the butter softens and is absorbed into the dough, you will lose the layers, and the pastry will bake up as flat as a cracker. Keep everything cold.

A great tip I learned from Beranbaum is to keep all the ingredients chilled, not just the butter. Chilling the flours too will help to keep the overall dough cold as it is worked together.

If you find that the dough is softening as you fold or roll it, or you’re working in a warm kitchen, wrap the dough and refrigerate it as often as needed to keep it chilled and firm.

As easy as it is to make, quick puff stores just as easily, so it’s ready when you need it. The dough will keep, refrigerated, for a few days and if tightly wrapped and frozen, can keep for months. Homemade puff pastry, ready at a moment’s notice.

Quick Puff Pastryq 1¼ cups (2½ sticks) cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes q 1½ cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour q 3/4 cup (3 ounces) cake flour q 3/4 teaspoon salt q 1/3 cup ice water q 1 tablespoon cold lemon juice1. Cover and freeze the butter and flours for 30 minutes to chill thoroughly.2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the all-purpose and cake flours, along with the salt. Pulse to combine.3. Add half of the frozen butter pieces and pulse until the butter is reduced to the size of peas. Add the remaining half of the pieces, and continue to pulse until the size of peas.4. Slowly add the water and lemon juice, and continue to pulse just until the dough begins to clump together.5. Remove the dough to a floured board (using all-purpose flour), and form into a rectangle about 12 by 8 inches.6. Fold the dough in half (the dough will be very crumbly at this point), then roll out again until the dough measures a 12-by-8-inch rectangle.7. Fold the dough in half again, then cover and place in the freezer for 20 minutes.8. Remove the dough and roll out into a rectangle. This time, fold the dough into thirds, as with a letter. Roll the dough out once more and fold again into thirds. Roll out and fold once more.9. Cover and chill until ready to use.Total time: 25 minutes, plus chilling timeServings: This makes 22½ ounces of dough (enough for 1 tart, 8 turnovers or 4 vol-au-vents) Each of 8 servings: 376 calories; 4 grams protein; 26 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 29 grams fat; 18 grams saturated fat; 76 mg cholesterol; 0 sugar; 223 mg sodium. Fresh Berry Tart TART BASEq 1 recipe quick puff pastryq 1 egg, beaten1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry out to a rectangle about 10 by 20 inches; the dough will be just over one-eighth-inch thick.2. To make the base of the tart, cut a rectangle out of the rolled dough measuring 6 by 16 inches and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. To make the borders, cut 2 strips each measuring 1 by 16 inches, then cut 2 more strips, each measuring 1 by 4 inches.3. Prick the base of the tart with a fork, and brush with the beaten egg. Place the borders on top of the base, lining them up with the edges of the base. Prick the borders with a fork, and brush with the beaten egg. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to chill the dough before baking.4. Remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place in the oven. Bake the shell until it is puffed and golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Remove and cool the baking sheet on a cooling rack. Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes, plus chilling and cooling time Servings: 8-10Note: The dimensions given for the tart are just a suggestion; feel free to make the tart in whatever shape you desire. PASTRY CREAM q 1½ tablespoons butter q 1/4 cup plus, 1 tablespoon sugar q 2 tablespoons plus, 1 teaspoon cornstarch q 3 egg yolks q 3/4 cup cream q 3/4 cup milk q 1 vanilla pod, seeded q Zest of 1/2 orange1. Place the butter in a medium bowl; place a strainer in the bowl over the butter.2. In a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch. Whisk in the egg yolks, then the cream and milk. Whisk in the vanilla seeds and orange zest.3. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the custard begins to bubble and thicken, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat.4. Immediately strain the custard into the bowl with the butter, stirring until the butter is melted and incorporated. Cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from forming) and set the custard aside to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until needed. This makes a generous 1½ cups pastry cream. The custard will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 5 days. Tart Assembly q 1/4 cup jelly, such as apricot or raspberry q 1 tablespoon water q Pastry Cream q 1 baked tart shell q 2-3 cups berries (small whole berries, or sliced or halved berries) q 2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds1. Make the glaze: In a small saucepan, combine the jelly and water over low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the jam warms and thins to a glaze-like consistency. Remove from heat and set aside.2. Spread the pastry cream in the base of the tart shell in a smooth layer. (You might not use all of the cream. Any remainder will keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 5 days.) Arrange the berries over the top of the cream.3. Brush the glaze over the berries, then sprinkle over the toasted almonds.4. The tart can be served immediately, or chilled (uncovered) for up to 4 hours before serving.Each of 10 servings: 495 calories; 6 grams protein; 42 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 35 grams fat; 21 grams saturated fat; 166 mg cholesterol; 15 grams sugar; 206 mg sodium. Vol-Au-Vents With Pea Shoots And Herbed Goat Cheese q 1 recipe quick puff pastry q 1 egg, beaten q 1 tablespoon canola oil q 2 slices prosciutto, chopped q 4 ounces fresh goat cheese q Salt q Freshly ground black pepper q 1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives, more if desired q 1/4 cup olive oil q 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar q 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard, preferably whole-grain q 1 tablespoon minced shallots q 3 cups pea shoots (or baby arugula), cut or torn into 2-inch pieces1. On a lightly floured board, roll the puff pastry out into a rectangle measuring about 8 by 16 inches; the dough will be just under one-fourth-inch thick.2. Using a 4-inch round pastry cutter, cut 8 rounds out of the dough (if you don’t have a round cutter that size, use a bowl as a guide, or adjust the size of the vol-au-vents using what you have on hand). Using a 2½-inch round pastry cutter, cut a circle out of the center of each of 4 rounds.3. Assemble the vol-au-vents: Place the 4 whole rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between each round. Lightly brush the rounds with the beaten egg, then place a ring of dough (one of the rounds with the circle removed from the center) directly on top of each whole round. Brush on top with the egg wash. Prick the center of the vol-au-vents with a fork to keep them from puffing too much. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator to chill for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425 degrees.4. Bake the vol-au-vents until well puffed and golden-brown, 25-30 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. The vol-au-vents can be made up to 5 hours in advance.5. In a medium saute pan, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the prosciutto and cook until crisp, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and drain the prosciutto on paper towels.6. In a medium bowl, season the goat cheese with a pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper. Stir in the chives, and adjust the seasoning and flavoring as desired.7. In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar and Dijon mustard. Whisk in the shallots and season to taste with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Taste and adjust the dressing as desired. This makes a scant 1/2 cup vinaigrette, more than is needed for the rest of the recipe. The rest of the dressing will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 5 days.8. Assemble the salads. In a large bowl, toss the shoots with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette to lightly coat. Divide the goat cheese between the vol-au-vents, spreading the cheese over the base of each. Top the cheese with salad, and sprinkle over the crisp prosciutto crumbles. Serve immediately.Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes Servings: 4Note: This recipe can be adjusted to make smaller vol-au-vents to use as hors d’oeuvres, if desired. Each serving: 1,127 calories; 24 grams protein; 77 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams fiber; 84 grams fat; 44 grams saturated fat; 219 mg cholesterol; 1 gram sugar; 745 mg sodium.