20 January 2009

(mis)adventures and experiments in puff pastry

Puff pastry. Or in french: pâte feuilletée. Not to be confused with cream puff dough or phyllo dough, puff pastry is the flaky and buttery goodness you find in turnovers and napoleons/millefeuilles. I was first hooked on it when I made these pinwheels from Cherrypeno. They were so easy and tasty that it easily became a "go-to" recipe because it had a 100% chance of people liking them (seriously, every time I make them, everybody likes them. That's rare for a savory!). But, a part of me always felt bad because I was using something I had no idea how to make - the puff pastry. I'm okay with shortcuts if you already know the long way, but I had no idea how to make puff pastry that didn't require going to the grocery strore and swiping my credit card. So the more I was making pinwheels, the larger the urge to make my own puff pastry grew.

And I finally attempted! Emphasis on attempt. And, I didn't realize this at the time, but I chose to make a fussier method of puff pastry, the pâte feuilletée inversée. Puff pastry, in short, is made up alternating layers of dough and butter. The original method has the dough wrapping the butter, but this method has the butter wrapping the dough. Which is a very sticky mess because with the butter on the outside, it is even more sensitive to the warmth of our hands.

I definitely don't feel confident enough to write a tutorial about making puff pastry, but below are the notes and observations and things learned by a first time puff pastry maker. I find when I write things down, I remember them better for the next time. But you can always skip to the end to see how I ended up doing :)

I used this recipe from Cannelle et Vanille as well as a recipe from Pierre Hermé's gorgeous Mes desserts préférés to help guide me. This recipe had lots of helpful notes as well.

Cannelle et Vanille's recipe calls for (which is an adapted Hermé recipe):

Butter block
400g unsalted butter, room temperature
175g all purpose flour

Dough block
185g water
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white vinegar
420g all purpose flour
115g butter, melted and cooled

Pierre Herme's recipe calls for:
Butter block
400g unsalted butter, room temperature
175g flour

Dough block
185g water
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white vinegar
420g farine gruau (voire un peu plus suivant les qualités)
115g butter, melted and cooled

I decided I was going to use the book's recipe, but follow Cannelle et Vanille's instructions - this way, I got the best of both worlds! I wasn't sure what "gruau" meant, so I looked it up, and found out it meant "wheat." So I ended up using wheat flour for my first attempt, which is why my dough looks so dark and different.

Making the 2 parts was easy. For the butter block, I chopped up some butter, softened it in 5 second stints in the microwave, creamed it using the mixer and then added the flour. I patted it into a nice large square, wrapped it up in plastic wrap, and stuck it in the refrigerator to cool.

For the dough block, I first mixed the water, vinegar, and salt together. I then dumped my flour into the mixing bowl and added the melted butter as the paddle attachment spun around. It eventually became a lumpy mess, and so I added very slowly and gradually, the water mixture. I added it until the dough started coming up off the bowl and coming together. I patted this into a slightly smaller square, wrapped it up, and stuck it in the refrigerator as well.

Not bad - yet!

Here is where the fun begins. Keep in mind I'd never made puff pastry, nor seen it made before, so many things I did, I wasn't sure if it was right or wrong.

#1. I guess my fridge is colder than Cannelle et Vanille's, because my blocks came out HARD. However, I just used brute strength and rolled them out between sheets of parchment paper to avoid stickyness.- which led to cracked edges in my dough. Every time I folded the dough, the edges cracked and what was underneath peeked through. And although I felt that that shouldn't be happening, I kept going.

For my first batch of puff pastry, I ended up with a splotchy thing with thick layers as well as crazy height (about 3/4" tall!) because I hadn't rolled it thin enough.

So when my remaining dough, I decided to make more folds, and try to make pinwheels. Peanut butter, almond slices, and blueberry preserves where spread out on a puff pastry sheet, rolled up, and sliced.

I ended up getting layers galore as well as incredible width because I still hadn't rolled the my puff pastry thin enough. So there were layers, but no puff.

And another thing to note: none of these were coming out flaky. They were all rather soggy.

Then the genius in me (not) decides to poke holes in it and put an eggwash on it to see what would happen.

The holes made it rise even less. And I fail at coating things with eggs too, apparantly.

frozen store bought (left) vs. my poorly made version (right)

On a whim, I pulled out the frozen store brought puff pastry and baked it alongside my sad homemade one. And the differences galore! The store bought one was everything expected: puffy, crispy, melt in your mouth. Mine: too tall, too dense, no puff, chewy rather than melty,.. but at least pulling out the frozen one refreshed my memory on what puff pastry should taste like.

I finished my baking experimentation with the first batch. Result = edible, but not what I really wanted.

I made new batches of dough. But this time, it was late and I didn't want to deal with French, so I just used Cannelle et Vanille's ingredient list. So, my dough no longer had that wheaty look. I made the 2 blocks, stuck them in the fridge, and went off to do other things to clear my head for the night.

Day 2: Try again!

On the left is my second batch attempt, and the right is the store bought. On the top is raw, and on the bottom is baked. Much better results than the first time, I was happy!

This time when I rolled out the dough, I let it soften after taking it out from my fridge. This way, the dough would stretch as I rolled it instead of cracking. However, it still cracked - but I made sure to go slow, and everytime I saw one, I would rub the edges together to heal it. I wasn't going to have splotchy layers - they were going to be right, this time! I also did the correct amount of folds this time. No extra folds for me. Another thing I deviated on: I didn't let the dough rest for the full 2 hours in between folds, 40-60 min was enough for me. But by being gentle with the dough and not allowing the cracks to become too large, I got results!

But... not happy enough. Because, although it flaked, had puff, and looked right, it didn't taste right. So I reread the instructions and discovered an important part I'd subconsciously ignored: the cooking time. I'm always afraid of overcooking things, and so many cake recipes that I'd done before always make you take the cake out of the oven before it looks done because it will still cook a little more once out of the oven. I had been sticking my puff pastry in there for maybe 15-18 minutes, and taking it out the moment I saw puff. Which, as I discovered later, is not the thing to do.

I did something different: I coated the top of the puff pastry with sugar. Then I stuck it in the preheated 450F oven that was immediately lowered to 375F as I slid the baking sheet in for exactly ten minutes along with an empty pizza pan. After the 10 minutes were up, I then placed a sheet of parchment paper on top along with the hot empty pizza pan. I waited another ten minutes, so at this point had been twenty minutes, took off the pizza pan, and flipped my puff pastries. Then I let it sit in the oven for another five minutes. So a total of twenty five minutes. And it hit the spot. It was everything I was hoping for and had looked for!

Flaky. Crispy. Crunchy. Melty. Perfect Height. Perfect layers.

Here is a comparison of my attempts - 2 attempts in making dough, and 2 attempts in baking methods.

Left: First batch, where it was the folding that made this dough not puff up. And possibly my underbaking times as well.
Middle: Second batch, but I had stuck it in the oven with no sugar, flipping, no pizza pan on top, and with a too short oven baking time.
Right: Second batch baked correctly, with caramelized sugar on top. The end result! Everything I'd learned resulted in this one.

I was happy making rectangles, but then I decided it was too much work to cut and measure them the same size. So I instead made ovals using a cookie cutter.

And voila! My little ovals came out perfectly. However, I did not slice off the edges to reveal the layers because it would make my puff pastry tiny - and I didn't feel like sacrificing size. So I think the key is to either bake a large sheet of puff pastry and cut it to size after baking, or cut out your shapes larger than normal before you bake, and trim the edges after it's been baked. Or, if you prefer to not show off the layers and want less mess and fuss, it still looks good without any trimming! But it's just one of many options that I've thought about.

(The filling is crème pâtisserie and blueberries)

For my next napoleon/millefeuille, I made rectangles and trimmed them after baking, which resulted in a large mess but very tasty snacks.

And construction wise, 2 subtle differences. I added another cream, a chantilly cream, and decided not to pipe it on top of the fruit. But I realized that was a mistake because the puff pastry layers just slid off since there was nothing to stick to.

Just another view because I love looking at the layers.

I had some scrap dough, so I decided to try making palmiers. I got a bowl full of sugar and cinnamon, and coated both sides of the dough.

Rolled it into shape, and then kept rolling it in the sugar and cinnamon mix.
If you want to make a lot, it is easier to do this in a sheet, roll it up, and slice. I only had enough dough for 3 so I just made mine from strips. But it's nice because I don't get perfect uniform palmiers, they are all subtly different!

Stuck it in the oven, and 10 minutes later, bam! Lovely palmiers.

Conclusion: What fun...! I can't wait to do it again. I know that shouldn't be my reaction, but it really was worth it - and I just love layers. And I loved how once you got the dough down, the things and shapes you make afterwards are endless. Aside from the forms, the taste can also change since the dough itself as no sugar, it is perfect for savory things. So maybe next time I will play with the savory side of puff pastry.


Carolyn Jung said...

You are brave! I have always been too skittish to attempt making homemade puff pastry. So was it truly worth all the work?

nicisme said...

I haven't made my own puff pastry in years. I really should after reading this!
Well done for persevering, your final photos are beautiful and I would love to eat the millefeuilles and palmiers. Mmm, all those buttery layers.
PS. Glad you liked the pinwheels!

Miki said...

farine gruau usually refers to bread flour but you're better off using all purpose flour. As you roll out puff pastry dough (in forming layers or just shaping) gluten activates and as a result you pastry will shrink. The more gluten - ie. bread flour- the more shrinkage. I like feuilletee inverse because the butter layer protects alot of the dough from shrinking and also produces a flakier pastry. But if you're making inverse you should ice your surface (cookie sheet + ice or gelpacks) before trying to roll out your dough. Inverse is very different than a normal feuilletage. Have you checked out fanny from foodbeam's tutorial on feuilletage? http://www.foodbeam.com/index.php?s=feuilletee

chriskobler@msn.com said...

Well done! I recommend that you go to Foodbeam, my favorite pastry blog and search Fanny's archive for her puff lesson; it is very, very clear and she is the sweetest of them all.

Keep it up, I will check in from time to time.

csquad said...

Carolyn: for me it is always worth it to make something by scratch just to understand the process :)

nicisme: i love the pinwheels, easy to make, easy to change up, and always delicious!

miki: i feel dumb now... thanks for all the technical notes! i've seen the foodbeam one before, but I will re-read it in depth.

chriskobler: i will for sure! thank you :)