Tag Archives: puff pastry

Puff pastry, three recipes compared

Dan Lepard puff pastry baked

The past week or so I’ve been playing around with puff pastry. The first recipe I made was from Ginette Mathiot’s The Art of French Baking. I used this for my galette des rois Epiphany tart, but wasn’t entirely satisfied with it, so I started reading up and decided to compare some different recipes.

I’ve made puff pastry in the past, but like most home cooks I’ll either do rough puff or just buy ready-made. It always just seemed a bit of a faff to do at home, especially after I’d done it at college on a pastry break, aka dough sheeter, aka laminating table – a kind of conveyor belt with adjustable rollers that makes it so much easier and quicker to make laminated dough or pastry.

That’s what puff pastry is – it’s laminated, it consists of layers, lots of layers. Although croissants or cornetti are also laminated, they use a yeasted dough. Puff pastry doesn’t contain any leaven or raising agent, and lift mostly relies on the lamination, with layers of butter trapped between layers of a simple dough. When it’s baked, the water in the mixture turns to steam, tries to expand and pushes upwards. The fat layers trap it, opening up the product.

In French, classic puff pastry is called pâte feuilletée*. The whole art of making it and using it is called feuilletage, which can also be translated as lamination. The basic technique involves creating a simple paste that’s predomiantly flour and water, called the détrempe, and laminating into it butter (or other fat), called the beurrage.

Puff pastry/Pâte feuilletée from The Art of French Baking by Ginette Mathiot

This book was originally published in 1932. If you look at older recipe books, there’s often quite a lot assumed on the part of the writer and the recipe can seem cursory to modern readers. Such is the case here, when you compare it to books – or indeed blogs – with lots of helpful pics.

200g plain flour
Pinch of salt
100g ice cold water
100g butter, diced and softened

GM1

1. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl and add most of the water to create “a smooth, elastic dough adding the rest of the water if necessary.”

GM3
2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll it out. She says 15mm thick, which seems a bit thick considering the quantities. She doesn’t give any guidelines for how big a sheet of pastry you’re aiming for.

GM4
3. Add the butter to middle of the sheet “and fold over the flour corners” to enclose.

GM6
4. Wrap and chill for 10 minutes in the fridge.
5. Roll out again, this time to a “long rectangle 5mm thick”.

GM7
GM8
GM9

6. “Fold the short ends to overlap in the centre, like a business letter, to make a smaller rectangle with 3 layers.”
7. Chill 15 minutes.
8. Roll out again and repeat.
9. Chill 15 minutes and “Do this six more times”, this is called six more turns.
10. “After the sixth turn the pastry is ready but the more turns you do, the more layers the pastry will have.”

This is the most basic recipe in terms of a straight détrempe and beurrage. I found it didn’t puff up that well but that may have been partly to do with my learning curve, as you can see from the pics this wasn’t the most refined batch. I did it again, more neatly but it still didn’t puff up that well, though it made for some delicious sausage rolls.

Sausage rolls

All-butter English puff pastry from Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard

Short & Sweet collects Dan Lepard’s essential recipes from his run in The Guardian. You can find a version of this recipe here, though I highly recommend the book, which includes a tweaked version containing egg.

Dan L writes “this recipe is based on an old English method from the late 1800s that varies from the French puff pastry recipes from that era, in that it adds more of the butter when mixing to the dough.” He says this makes it easier to roll, and “very delicate and tender” once baked. What interested me here was a Britain-based Australian baker doing an old English recipe from probably only a few decades before the French Mathiot recipe.

Dan L puff 1

275g plain flour
275g strong white flour
1 tsp fine salt
550g butter, “cold but pliable”
2 tsp lemon juice
1 egg yolk
175g cold water

Dan L puff 2
Dan L puff 3

1. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl and add 125g of the butter, cut into small pieces and rub in fully.
2. Beat together the water, lemon juice and egg yolk then add this to the flour and “knead to form a consistent dough.”
3. Wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
4. Roll out to about 50x30cm.
5. Slice the butter and lay this over two-thirds of the dough. Fold down the unbuttered third, then fold up the buttered third at the opposite end. So you are doing a single book fold again, just adding the butter in a different fashion.
6. Roll the top slightly to press out any air bubbles.
7. “Seal the edges with a sharp thwack of the pin” then wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
8. Roll out again to 60x20cm and fold the thirds again, so the parcel is about 20x20cm
9. Cover and chill again.
10. Roll out again, repeat. Chill, repeat – giving four more “turns”, resting between each.

As with so many Dan Lepard recipes, this one just works. There’s enough detail to explain, but not so much you get boggled. I used some to make a pie (main pic, above) and it puffed wonderfully.

Feuilletage Jean Millet from The Roux Brothers on Patisserie

The essential text The Roux Brothers on Patisserie was published in 1986, reprinted in 1991 and given to me as a Christmas present by my parents in 1995. I’ve enjoyed a lot of challenges from it over the years, and plenty of delicious results. I’d not tried their puff before though. They credit it to “our friend Jean Millet, the president of the Confédération de la Pâtisserie, Confiserie, Glacerie de France and MOF in patisserie,” which isn’t intimidating at all.

500g flour
200g water
12g / 1.5 tsp salt
25g white wine vinegar
50g butter, melted
400g butter, well chilled

Roux 1

1. They combine the liquid into the flour working it on a work surface. I just used a bowl – flour, salt, then add the water, vinegar and the butter (which I allowed to cool a bit after melting). “When all the ingredients are well mixed, work the dough with the palm of your hand until it is completely homogenous, but not too firm.”

Roux 2
2. Form a ball and cut a cross in the top.
3. Wrap and chill for 2-3 hours.

Roux 3
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out – extending the quarters formed by the cut to create four ears, with a small mound in the middle.

Roux 5
5. Put the chilled butter between two sheets of parchment or plastic and hit with the pin, “so that it is supple but still firm and very cold.”

Roux 6
6. Place the flattened butter in the middle of the dough then fold over the ears to enclose it.Roux 8
7. Wrap and chill for 30 minutes “to bring the butter and dough to the same temperature.”

Roux 9
8. Roll out to about 70x40cm. “Fold over the ends to make 3 layers. This is the first turn.” Ie, you’re doing another single book fold.
9. Roll out and fold again. “This is the second turn.”
10. Wrap and chill 30 minutes.
12. “Make 2 more turns” then rest for 30 minutes to hour in the fridge.
13. “Make 2 more turns bring the total to 6.”

This worked well too. As with Dan L’s, you incorporate some of the fat into the détrempe, making it easier to handle. As with Dan L’s it also makes quite a lot – about 1.2kg. So you can cut it into portions and freeze them.

Roux 10

This is the batch I used to make my pithivier. I’ll include this pic again, as it show very clearly some great puffing action.

Baked, sugar, side

Observations and tips

Flour – Mathiot stipulates plain flour (equivalent to all-purpose in the US), while Dan L uses a mixture of plain and strong, and the Roux brothers don’t specify. My old teacher said to use all strong flour. Stron (higher protein) flour is more resilient to all the manhandling and manipulation involved and will also give more lift in the oven. Plain (lower protein) flour will give a shorter texture, so will aid the melt-in-the-mouth quality. Always one to try and find an amenable middle ground, I’d recommend Dan L’s half-half approach.

Fat – proper puff pastry needs butter. This can be problematic for people on certain diets, but personally I don’t want to eat “pastry fat” – which is made from hydrogenated vegetable oils. The body simply cannot metabolise hydrogenated fats. Plus, butter simply tastes better, and doesn’t leave the iffy dry mouth-feel of some more processed fats.

Always make sure the fat you’re using is at a similar temperate to the paste, the détrempe. This means cold but pliable. As for the type of butter, Dan L says “You get the lightest pastry using a butter with a low moisture content, like Lurpak or Président” (ie Danish or French) but as I prefer to use local produce, I wanted to at least use English butter; Yeo Valley organic seemed to work well too. Oh, and generally unsalted makes most sense, as it’s more versatile for sweet or savoury products.

Combining – cutting the cross and making the ears is known as the French method. Slicing up the butter and laying it on two thirds of the rectangle is known as the English method. I found it easiest to handle the butter, and start the folding, when it was beaten with the rolling pin, as opposed to cubed or sliced, which seemed more likely to cause breaches. So when I tried Dan L’s I smeared the slices a bit to take off any sharp edges.

Acid – as these three recipes have shown, some call for lemon juice, others vinegar, while Mathiot’s contains neither. My online travels showed me that Richard Bertinet, Anna Olsen and Joe Pastry, among others, include lemon juice. Paul Hollywood doesn’t include any acid. The only explanation of the acid I can find is that helps prevent the pastry from oxidising and turning grey and helps tenderize it. In my case, I tend to use stoneground flours, rather than shiny bleached flours, so my doughs are always off-white anyway. Once baked, I don’t think it makes much difference with pastry, especially if you glaze it.

Resting and temperature – you have to rest the dough when you handle it a lot. This is for two reasons. Firstly, you don’t want to melt the butter or it’ll just blend with the paste, destroying the layers, so it’s always best to keep it below about 16C. Secondly, if you overwork the paste or dough, it’ll toughen up; resting it allows the gluten to relax and stay pliable. Resting times really seem to vary in these recipes, but I found Mathiot’s too short and more than 30 minutes potentially tricky, as if you fridge is at 4C, it’ll get too cold, reducing that pliability again, meaning you’ll probably need to let it warm up again before pinning it out. If it’s too cold, the butter can break through the layers of paste. That said, you may need to leave it in the fridge longer to fit in with your other commitments!

Folds and turns – when you roll it out and fold it up, that’s a turn. There are different techniques. I just stuck with the technique of folding the rectangle in thirds. You can also quarter the rectangle, folding both ends in towards the centre, then folding again in the centre, as if it’s the spine of a book. This immediately creates more layers. There seems to be some confusion over the names of these techqniques. Some call the former a half-turn or single book turn, while others called the latter a book turn or a double book turn. I’m not going to try and authoritatively name either.

Pinning out – when you pin it out, make sure you have the open ends of the parcel in the direction you’re rolling. Try to keep your piece of pastry in a rectangular shape, with straight-ish edges and square-ish corners. This takes a little practice, you can straighten up the edges with your rolling pin and stretch or pin out the corners. Also, when you fold it, take care with any air bubbles. You can press these out, or even jab then with the point of a knife, though this isn’t ideal. You’re trying to build up consistent layers.

Using it – it keeps well in the freezer, or for up to about 3 days in the fridge. When you’re using it for pastries, or pies, or tarts, it always benefits from being washed with whole egg or yolk, but when you do try to avoid any edges or it’ll seal them up and stop it rising and puffing nicely. Before baking, let it rest again, for more than 20 minutes and even overnight, as this will prevent it from  distorting when it’s put in the oven. Dan L even freezes his again before using, once it’s pinned out. Bake it at a hot temperature, 200C plus.

Conclusion
Unless you’re some kind of pastry purist, I’d recommend a recipe that incorporates a bit of the total fat into the détrempe. I’ve even seen recipes that incorporate a bit of the flour into the beurrage but I’m not sure that’s really necessary. I’d also recommend the recipes with a higher fat: flour ratio. The Mathiot recipe seems a bit meagre and modest with, in baker’s percentages 100% flour to 50% fat, when the Dan L is 100% fat and the Roux-Millet is 90% fat. Technically the Mathiot can be called a “half-puff” while Dan L’s is “full-puff”. As many chefs will tell you, fat is flavour, and good butter is delicious, never mind how it helps give that wonderful flaky, delicate, melty texture to the pastry.

I realise this is probably the longest post on this blog, but I hope a few get to the end and find it useful. I haven’t got into any maths [l = (f + 1)n] or mentioned the “Dutch or Scottish method”, but maybe I’ll talk about that in another post on rough puffs at some stage.

Baked crumbly puff pastry

 

 

 

 

 

* The French word pâte is related to the English words paste and pastry and the Italian words pasta, impasto, pastella etc, and they all come from the Greek for stewed barley, via the Latin. Feuille means leaf or sheet, and like the English folio or Italian foglia and foglio comes from the Latin.

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A Pithivier

Baked, sugar, side

In my last post about galette des rois, I mentioned that this French Epiphany pie is basically a form of Pithivier. These are puff pastry pies that may well originate in the town of Pithiviers in central France. Indeed, in French the pies are known as Pithiviers, but us foreigners lop off the final s. Don’t ask me why.

Unlike the galette des rois with its sweet frangipane filling, Pithiviers can be sweet or savoury. As I had some more frangipane, and have been making a lot of puff pastry lately, I thought I’d make a Pithivier – a sweet one that was basically a mini galette des rois without the requirement for it to be eaten on a feast day.

I also wasn’t happy with how I’d bodged the edge of my galettes des rois, crimping it like a pasty rather than leaving it free to expand. So I was determined to finish this one more neatly.

Traditionally both the galette des rois and Pithiviers have a kind of scalloped edge, like the petals of flower petals. This can be achieved by using a semi-circular cutting edge, for larger scallops, or by simply cutting into the edge slightly with the blade of a knife, or indeed the back of the blade of a knife, which is what I did.

So, as with the galettes des rois, I rolled out some puff pastry (about 300g in this case), and cut two discs (in this case I used a 16cm diameter side plate). I then put the frangipane in the middle of the bottom disc, leaving a rim of about 25mm, which I brushed with egg wash. I then put the top disc on, and pushed it down firmly to seal.

Pithivier, unbakedPithivier, baked

I then egg-washed the whole thing, scalloped the edge as described above and cut curved lines in the top, radiating out from the centre. I baked it at 200C for about 25 minutes. After baking, I dusted it with icing sugar and put it under a hot grill to caramelise slightly (top pic, above).

In this case, the edge puffed up very satisfactorily.

Baked, side

My next post will be all about my puff pastry experiments. I’ve been obsessing slightly as you may be able to tell if you follow my Instagram

 

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Ricotta rough puff pastry and sbriciolata di millefoglie

Butter and ricotta

It’s probably fair to say that Italian cuisine isn’t most famous for its desserts and puddings. Sure, tiramisu has an internation reputation, but generally the desserts aren’t really up there with Italy’s other great, world-dominating culinary exports (you know, pizza, pasta, that kind of thing).

Italian pastries, biscuits and cakes are great, but they’re not typically desserts. Pastries like cornetti (the sweet Italian equivalent of a croissant) and maritozzi con la panna (sweet cream buns) are typically eaten for breakfast. Cakes and enriched breads are often used to celebrate feast days (like panettone at Christmas, colomba or pizza cresciuta at Easter). And biscuits, such as the famed hard biscotti di Prato / cantuccini (and similar) and ciambelline al vino, are generally eaten with a glass of strong digestivo liquor after dinner.

The Roman pasticcerie we frequented would sell small pastries and cakes – described with the French name mignon (dainty). These could be bought by weight on trays, neatly wrapped and used as gifts when visiting friends or family. I never quite got my head around what time of day they’d be consumed, but the one time we did an English afternoon tea party for friends in Rome, many of the Italians were very confused to be faced by sweet baked goods, dolci, mid-afternoon.

Deconstructured mille-feuille
Having said all that, one Italian dessert, very much offered by restaurants in Rome after you’d eaten your primo and/or secondo piatto (pasta and meat/fish courses), was sbriciolata di millefoglie. I have very affectionate memories of eating it at Trattoria da Bucatino in Testaccio.

The name sbriciolata di millefoglie means something like “crumbled up mille-feuille” – that is, a kind of rough, deconstructed take on the Italian version (millefoglie) or the French mille-feuille, that pastry whose name means “thousand leaves” in both languages and refers to the layering of puff pastry with a filling of cream or custard, specifically thick pastry custard, crema pasticcera in Italian, or crème pâtissière1 in French. (Note, in Italian, custard is just called crema, while cream is panna.) So a sbriciolata di millefoglie could simply be described as a bowl of custard with broken puff pastry on top.

And yet it’s so good. I made a weird onme a while back after I’d made frappe. Italians would say non si fa (it’s just not done), but I had some broken frappe, and fancied some custard, and the result was good. I then thought I should try it again with a proper, non-deep-fried pastry, puff,  or at least a rough puff, pastry.

So I did. Then Fran’s camera broke and I didn’t get any photos of the finished desert. Plus, well, we had lots of guests over the bank holiday weekend so scrabbling around with cameras and crude attempts at food styling might have been a bit antisocial and broken the flow of the very important business of eating. (And boy did we eat a lot.)

For the custard just find yourself a recipe for crème pâtissière or similar thick custard. Dan Lepard has a good one called Extra thick vanilla cream custard in ‘Short and Sweet’, or you could use something like this. (I may revisit this at some point and find a more specifically Italian custard recipe.)

For the pastry, I used a lovely Italian pasta sfoglia2 veloce – quick rough puff pastry – made with butter and ricotta.

Butter and ricotta 2

250g plain (all-purpose) flour
250g ricotta
125g butter, coarsely grated
1/2 t salt

Mash together

1. In a bowl, mash together the ricotta and grated butter with a fork. You could also do this with a zizzer – aka hand blende. But don’t overdo it, as you don’t want to heat up the mixture too much.

Add flour
2. Add the flour and salt and keep mashing together, hen bring together a dough with your hands.

Form dough
3. Wrap the dough in plastic and leave to rest for a few hours, or even overnight.

Roll out
4. Roll out the dough to form a rectangle about 20 by 35cm (or 8 by 14 inches for you 19th century types) and give it a letter fold, that is folding up one third, then folding the other third down over the top.

Fold
5. Roll out and repeat the folding process. Repeat this once more. Try to strech the corners a bit to neaten up the rectangles if you like, but it’s not essential – this is rough form of pastry lamination after all.

Fold again
6. Wrap in plastic and rest again, for at least half an hour.

Cut out and prick
7. Roll out the dough to few milimetres thick and cut into required shapes. I just wanted crumbled scraps for my sbriciolata so didn’t do them very reguarly, but if you were doing, say, Italian-style millefoglie, cut them into regular rectangles about 4 by 10cm.

Baked
8. Prick with a form then bake in an oven preheated to 200C for about 15 minutes, until nicely browned. You want the pastry crisp

To assemble a sbriciolata di millefoglie, fill individual bowls with the thick custard, or do one large family bowl. Break up your pieces of pastry roughly, and sprinkle the pieces onto the custard. Before serving, dust with icing (powdered) sugar.

 

 

 

 

1 Can I just say, it’s pronounced “crem pa-teess-i-air” ([patisjɛːʁ]), not “crem pa-teess-er-ree” ([pɑtisʁi]) as so many people seem to say on Great British Bake Off etc. A “pa-teess-er-ree” is a pâtisserie, the shop where you buy the sweet pastries and cakes that may or may not be made with crème pâtissière.
2 So while millefoglia means “thousand leaves”, with foglia the Italian for leaf (feuille in French), sfoglia is the Italian for a leaf or layer of filo or puff pastry. Foglio, meanwhile, means sheet or leaf of paper, or indeed the English folio. It all relates to or is derived from from the Latin folium (plural folia), leaf.

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