image383Who doesn’t love puff pastry? Home cooks who effectively use it are offering their guests a gesture of sophistication and generosity. As a finished product puff pastry is outrageously flaky and full of flavor. It’s versatile: it’s perfect it in both savory and sweet applications, it can be simple and elegant or sophisticated and arty.

What gives puff pastry its incredible texture is a complex process. This process starts with a simple, unyeasted dough of flour and butter which is then “laminated” by interleaving cold dough with cold butter. It requires a deft hand, a smooth surface and a good rolling pin. All the ingredients need to be kept cold because it’s essential not to let the laminating butter actually combine with the dough. The end result must be a sheet of dough that consists of alternating micro-layers of dough and butter. Remember that this is an unleavened dough. The reason that puff pastry puffs is that those “micro-layers” of butter cause the “micro-layers” of flour to literally blast apart into ultra-fine, delicious sheets of baked, flaky crust. Any pastry cook will tell you this job is arduous and time-consuming. Probably the hardest job a baker does.

Fortunately, home cooks have frozen puff pastry dough sheets at their disposal. We carry two kinds at PFI:

1. all-butter puff pastry has that the stunning taste that only lots and lots of butter can instill and

2. half-butter puff pastry which contains vegetable shortening as well as butter which actually makes for a slightly taller puff.

Which you use is up to you obviously.

Caring for frozen puff pastry:

  • It’s important to keep it frozen until you use it. When you purchase puff pastry from PFI, it’s okay to ask for a separate paper bag for your puff pastry. That helps insulate it.
  • When you do buy it at PFI, make sure it’s the last thing you pick up before you get to the checkout stand. This stuff thaws out very quickly!
  • Keep your puff pastry flat on your car seat on the way home. Again, puff pastry thaws quickly. If it’s on end there’s a decent chance that by the time you get home you’ll have wrinkles in your puff pastry or, worse, have an undifferentiated mass of dough.
  • Don’t stack anything on your puff pastry. If the dough gets dimpled in any way that will impede its puffing. You don’t want that.
  • Get it into the freezer the moment you get home.image375

Cooking with frozen puff pastry:

  • Get it out about 15 minutes before you’re going to use it. Set it frozen on a sheet of wax paper on the counter.
  • You can actually start working with your sheet of dough while it’s still a bit frozen. It won’t be as prone to stick to itself when you do that.
  • Make sure that whatever you cut puff pastry with is sharp! Dull knives or cutters will simply press into the dough creating compressed edges that won’t puff. That’s no good. Plastic dough cutters are no good for this job.
  • If your dough is getting soft and sticky while you work with it, put it on a wax paper-lined sheet pan and put it into the refrigerator for a while. Cold is your friend here.
  • When you’re done working with your dough and your pieces are arranged on whatever cooking dish you intend to use, put dough and dish into the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to chill down before you put them into the oven.
  • Bake at 400 degrees, generally. Sometimes, when you must bake a filled puff pastry creation (such as the apple, sweet onion and gorgonzola rustic torta shown at the top of the article) you might want to turn the oven down a bit (375 degrees is fine).
  • Generally, it’s better to fill puff pastry after it’s baked. Occasionally (as in the case of quiche-like pies) you’ll need to bake the filling with the crust. If that’s the case, it’s better to partially “blind bake” the shell, remove it from the oven, add the filling and then return it to the oven to finish baking. You may need to protect the edges from getting over–dark when you do this. Apply strips of dull-side-down aluminum foil around the crust edges if the pie isn’t done but the edges are sufficiently brown.
  • In fact, it’s better to fill your puff pastry creations just before serving. That way any moisture from the filling won’t make the pastry soggy. There’s nothing more demoralizing than soggy puff pastry. 
  • You can bake your puff pastry shells, in most cases, the day before. Cool them thoroughly on a wire rack. If you must cover them wait until they are absolutely cool before doing so and only do so very loosely.
  • Do not refridgerate baked puff pastry! Doing so will destroy the texture.
  • Save your scraps of puff pastry dough for this snack (shown in the photo above): Grease a cookie sheet and scatter it with your puff pastry scraps. Freshly grate Parmigiano-Reggiano over the scraps and then freshly grind black pepper over that. Place in a hot oven (preheated to 400 degrees). Back until puffy and golden brown. Remove from the pan and serve IMMEDIATELY. You can also do sweet versions of this, using sugar and cinnamon.

image350Playing with Puff Pastry:

The shells in the accompanying photos are actually pretty simple to make with frozen puff pastry.

The photo to the left is a savory “mini-quiche” with Comte cheese, fresh thyme and sautéed shallot. The egg batter is roughly two tablespoons of cream for every large egg. Add some freshly ground white pepper and a bit of salt if needed.

For each shell, use a metal cutter cut out two shapes (circles, squares, whatever). Lay the first one on your cookie sheet. Using a smaller cutter, cut a circle out of the second one so that you have a ring, basically. Moisten one side of the ring with water and set it, moistened side down on top of the first shape. Press lightly. Lightly.

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The shells to the right are filled with pastry cream and fresh raspberries. The effect is wonderful and addictive. Just make sure to fill them only just before serving and your friends will think you’re a magician.

Again, feel free to make the shells the day before but do not at any time refrigerate them.

At last, remember that there’s virtually no crusty, flaky purpose that puff pastry can’t be put to. It figures in classic dishes such as Beef Wellington. You can wrap brie in it, baking pastry and cheese together for a gooey marvel. You can make little, tasty sculptural plate decorations. Create sweet and savory napoleons. There’s no end to what you can do with frozen puff pastry.

And it’s right here in PFI’s freezer case. What could be easier?