Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pâte Feuilletée Inversée / Inside-Out Puff Pastry

Puff pastry is a glorious thing, especially when it's homemade. Last week, I wanted to make king cake* (the one I filled with banana almond cream is pictured above). Initially I was going to buy ready-made puff pastry; the thought of homemade puff pastry was very intimidating. I remembered Kathleen Flinn's struggle with puff pastry at Le Cordon Bleu, where she'd go home after class and practice making puff pastry in her tiny Paris apartment. However, when the local grocery store only had the Pepperidge Farm variety made with hydrogenated vegetable oil, I gritted my teeth and decided to make my own (my beloved Trader Joe's reputedly carries all-butter puff pastry, but I could not find it).

Puff pastry works by composing multiple (we're talking hundreds, more on the exact number later) layers of high-butter dough alternating with high-flour dough. As the pastry bakes, the water from the butter layer evaporates and separates the flour layers, creating hundreds of fine layers of crisp brown dough. Traditional puff pastry starts with the high-flour dough on the outside, wrapping around a healthy block of butter. The package is then rolled out, folded upon each other tri-fold wallet fashion (think folding a piece of paper to fit an envelope), then chilled. This process is repeated six times to make 3^6 + 1 = 730 layers. Crazy, isn't it?

Pierre Hermé, on the other hand, publicized the inverse puff pastry method. Instead of wrapping the high-flour dough around butter, a high-butter dough is wrapped around the high-flour dough. Apparently this makes the pastry sturdier and allows you to do double turns (each double turn creates six layers instead of three), which minimizes the number of times you need to fold the dough. Dorie Greenspan's recipe suggests that you give the dough two double turns followed by a single turn. By my calculations this makes 6*6*3 = 108 layers. Not as many as the traditional version. Maybe the recipe should include three double turns followed by a single turn, to make 648 layers... When I made my dough, I added an extra fold at the end to make 216 layers, more to make the shape easier to roll out than to add extra layers, and it turned out just fine.

Lessons Learned:

Making puff pastry at home really isn't that difficult, and I felt super proud when my dough came out puffed up and delicious in its buttery crispy goodness. I was actually surprised it turned out so well, given my clumsy treatment of the dough. I did learn several tricks along the way that made the process easier. I'll be much more efficient the next time I make this.

Tip #1: Keep the dough cold when you roll it out. Warm dough = stickiness everywhere. To mitigate the risk, see tip # 2 and # 3.

Tip #2: Roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap. No flour on the counter, no butter pieces getting stuck on the rolling pin. It also helps to flip the dough over occasionally and roll on the other side. It prevents the bottom from warming up too much and keeps the dough even.

Tip #3: Chill the rolling pin with the dough. It helps to keep the dough manageable, especially when you've flipped the dough over and the bottom side is running a little warm.

The Details:

To make the butter dough, combine 400 grams of butter (3.5 sticks!) with 175 grams (1 1/4 cups) of flour and mix until incorporated (I just use my food processor). Turn/scrape the dough onto plastic wrap and shape into a 6 inch square, then chill for at least 2 hours. You want the butter to be cold before you can work with it, otherwise it melts all over the place.

To make the flour dough, first combine 185 grams (3/4 cup) of water with 2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon white vinegar. Add a stick of melted butter to 420 grams (3 cups) of flour, then slowly mix in a water/salt/vinegar mixture into the flour until it forms a soft dough that cleans the sides of the mixer/food processor bowl. Shape the dough into a square that's 1-2 inches smaller than the butter square. Chill for at least 2 hours.

Once both doughs have been chilled, take out the butter dough and roll it out into a 12x7 inch rectangle. Rolling out the butter dough is very difficult. Cold butter refuses to be flattened, and warm butter sticks to the flour on the rolling pin and makes a mess. It was only later that I discovered a secret to rolling butter dough - more on that later. Once the butter dough is rolled out (you can see how uneven mine was, it was a struggle), place the square of flour dough on the inside and wrap it up with the butter dough.

The wrapping was kind of a nightmare, because by then the butter dough was definitely starting to warm up, and little bits of flour-coated butter definitely does not want to stick to itself, which made repairing tears quite difficult. You can see how raggedy my dough packet was. But never fear, it all turns out well in the end.

Put your hard-earned dough packet in the fridge and chill for an hour.

When it's nice and cold, roll it out on a well-floured surface until it's about 7 inches long and three times as wide. Fed up with the butter-sticking-to-rolling-pin mess, I covered the dough with a long sheet of plastic wrap and rolled on top of the plastic wrap. NO FLOUR, NO MESS.

Give it a double fold (bottom quarter to center, top quarter to center, then fold in half). I learned that the pastry did not really like parting with the foil it was sitting on...

Put it back in the fridge for at least an hour, then repeat the same rolling/folding business. On the second roll, I got smart and decided to use plastic wrap on both TOP and BOTTOM. So much easier to roll, and a lot less messy.

The plastic wrap made folding much easier, too. The pastry also got much smoother and nicer to work with, I was getting emotionally attached.

Chill your folded dough again. This is what my chill tray looked like. I chilled the rolling pin too, I found it really helped to keep the butter cold.

When you're ready, roll out the pastry for a final turn, business-letter tri-fold this time.

By this point, the dough is supposed to look like a square since you're supposed to roll it out to be three times as long as it's wide. I could never get it to be so long, so my trifold ended up looking more like a rectangle. I felt daring, so I folded the dough one more time.

Chill the dough again for 30 minutes, then divide into portions and freeze the portions you don't plan on using right away. It should keep for up to a month. I used all of mine right away.

* By king cake, I mean the French galette des rois, two discs of puff pastry sandwiching an almond cream filling. Growing up in Texas, I associate king cake with the New Orleans style brioche cake filled with lots of cinnamon and covered in colored sugar. Both versions are delicious : )

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