Classic Puff Pastry
I always assumed puff pastry was invented in France. It is so dominant throughout French food culture, evident in the windows of every pâtisserie, that this is an easy assumption to make. However, Spanish recipes for puff pastry precede the French with the first documented appearance right at the beginning of the seventeenth century, while the first French recipe appears mid-century.
A classic butter puff pastry is a laminated dough that rises due to the power of steam. When making the dough, many thin, alternating layers of fat and dough are created so that, when cooked at a high enough heat, the fat melts to leave a pocket of air in the dough. The moisture in the dough and fat then boils to create steam, which causes these pockets to expand. Before you cook puff pastry, it is important to make sure the oven is at the correct temperature so that this transformative process occurs quickly, allowing the structure to form and be locked in.
This recipe creates a puff pastry that rises evenly and is neater than rough puff, so it is better suited to dishes like vol au vents where a little refinement is needed. Honestly, it is a myth that puff pastry is difficult to make. All that is required for success is planning, patience, and following the instructions closely. This recipe creates a large batch of dough – if you’re going to spend an afternoon making puff pastry, you may as well make plenty – so divide it into smaller amounts based on the recipes you plan to make before wrapping and freezing for later use.
For the dough
350g strong flour
200g plain flour
15g table salt
115g butter, softened and diced
250ml ice-cold water
For the lock-in butter
500g chilled butter, diced
50g strong flour
First prepare the dough. If making the pastry by hand, sift the flour into a large bowl and add the salt, butter and water. Using your fingers, gently mix to an even dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead it for 5 minutes or until smooth.
If making the pastry using a mixer, sift the flour into the mixer bowl and add the salt, butter and water. Using a dough hook, work at a medium speed for a few minutes to incorporate the butter into the flour until it forms a smooth dough.
Flatten the dough into a neat rectangle, wrap it tightly in clingfilm and rest in the refrigerator for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the lock-in butter. Thoroughly clean and dry the bowl and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Place the butter and flour in the bowl and either work the flour into the butter using a wooden spoon for 5–10 minutes, or use the mixer working at a low speed for 2 minutes or until everything is well incorporated. Scrape the butter mixture onto the lined tray and, using floured hands, shape it into a square about 1cm thick. Place the butter mixture in the refrigerator until just chilled but not completely hard. (It is important that the chilled dough and lock-in butter are similarly firm, otherwise they will not roll together evenly and this may cause rips and holes in the dough.)
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a large square that is twice the size of the lock-in butter. Place the butter in the centre of the dough but at an angle so that the corners point towards the edges of the dough. Making sure you do not trap any air, fold the corners of the dough over the butter, bringing them into the middle like an envelope. Lightly pinch together all the joins to seal and completely encase the butter.
Roll out the dough and butter into a rectangle roughly three times as long as it is wide, using the sides of your hands to make sure the edges are neat and square. Dust any excess flour from the surface of the dough. With the shortest side closest to you, visually divide the dough horizontally into thirds and very lightly dampen the centre third with a little water, then fold the bottom one third of the dough over the centre third. Repeat by folding the remaining top third over the double layer of dough, then tightly wrap the dough in clingfilm. Lightly press your finger into the bottom right-hand corner of the dough to make an indentation which signifies the first turn and how the dough was positioned on the board before you put it into the refrigerator.
Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. (Chilling the pastry between each roll out and fold allow the butter to harden so that clean, even layers of dough and butter are built up.)
Unwrap the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface with the indent in the same position as before at the bottom right-hand corner. Next, turn the dough 90 degrees clockwise. Roll out the dough into an 18cm by 25cm rectangle and repeat the folding process. Make sure all corners and sides are straight. Wrap the dough in clingfilm again and this time make two indents on the dough in the bottom right corner. Chill in the refrigerator for a further 30 minutes.
Repeat the turning and folding processes two more times, each time chilling the dough for 30 minutes and marking with indents in the bottom right-hand corner to make sure the dough is turned in the correct direction. After the final turn, chill the dough in the refrigerator for 45 minutes and then it is ready to use.
This classic puff pastry dough can be kept for up to three days in the refrigerator or one month in the freezer. If freezing, weigh out the dough into the quantities needed for individual recipes – it will take less time to thaw and you won’t be potentially wasting any dough. To use the dough from the freezer, allow it to come back to refrigerator temperature overnight.
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