By Vanessa Greaves

Puff pastry magic.

Ready-made frozen puff pastry helps you look like a baking pro. What appears to be a thin flat sheet of dough magically bakes up into a million delicate, buttery layers that make everything from breakfast treats to desserts look and taste like they came from a fancy French patisserie. The best part? Working with it is a whole lot easier than you might think. Here's how to use this ingenious convenience so your recipes turn out just the way you want them to.

Puff pastry appetizers and desserts. | Photo by Meredith

How to Use Frozen Puff Pastry Sheets

The first thing you want to do is read the ingredients on the box: Some frozen puff pastry sheets are made with butter and some with shortening. While they both bake up beautifully, butter-lovers might prefer the flavor of the all-butter pastry. Take a minute to read through the manufacturer's handling suggestions on the box, too.

Frozen puff pastry sheets. | Photo by Meredith

1. Thaw with Care

Defrost only what you'll use. A box of frozen puff pastry usually contains individually folded and wrapped sheets of dough. If you don't plan to use all of the sheets, just take out what you need and return the rest to the freezer. Thaw the dough in the fridge for 3 to 4 hours, or follow the instructions on the box. If you're in a hurry, you can thaw it at room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes, again following the guidelines on the box. You should use thawed dough within 24 hours.

Puff Pastry | Photo by Meredith

Don't unfold the sheet until the dough is thawed, otherwise you'll crack or tear the pastry. But don't panic if it happens; you can repair it by dampening your fingers and lightly pressing the dough together.

2. Keep It Chilled

Puff pastry dough should be cold to the touch but a bit bendy when you're working with it. If you're going to use several sheets, work with one at a time and keep the rest in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, to prevent the pastry from drying out.

3. Roll It Right

To keep the pastry from sticking to your work surface, lightly dust it with flour, cinnamon sugar, or finely grated cheese, depending on whether your recipe is sweet or savory. Use a light touch when you're rolling it out so you don't flatten or thin the dough too much. You want all those flaky layers to be able to rise up tall.

Rolling out puff pastry. | Photo by Meredith

If you don't plan to roll out the pastry sheet, you can still flatten out creases in the dough by pressing them lightly with dampened fingers.

4. Dock It

If your recipe says to bake the pastry before adding fillings, you'll want to prick the surface lightly with a fork. This technique is called docking, and it keeps the pastry from puffing up by releasing steam as it bakes.

To create a raised pastry edge around your filling, use a ruler and a sharp knife to mark a 1-inch border around the inside of the pastry sheet. Be careful not to cut all the way through the sheet. Then dock everything but the border. When it bakes, the border will rise up higher than the docked portion of the pastry.

Sometimes you want your whole pastry sheet to bake flat but flaky, for example, if you're making Napoleons. Bake the pastry on a baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then lay a second sheet over the pastry and finish baking.

5. Avoid Overload

Less is more when it comes to adding very moist fillings to puff pastry, as the results can get soggy rather than crispy.

6. Pretty It Up

Give your pastry extra visual oomph by brushing it with an egg wash (beat an egg with 1 tablespoon water) before baking. If you're baking a sweet pastry, add sparkle with a sprinkle of coarse sugar over the egg wash. You can also use the egg wash to seal the edges of a stuffed pastry pocket.

Raspberry Pain au Chocolat (Raspberry Chocolate Croissants) | Photo by LatinaCook

Puff Pastry FAQ

Q: Can I freeze unbaked puff pastry treats?
A: Yes! Freeze them in a single layer on a baking sheet, then wrap well and store in the freezer for up to two weeks. You don't have to thaw them before baking, but you might have to add a couple of minutes to the baking time.

Q: How do I keep puff pastry from sticking to my baking pan?
A: Line the pan with parchment paper or use a silicone baking sheet. This will also prevent sticky fillings from baking onto your pan.

Q: How long will baked puff pastry stay crisp and flaky?
A: It's always at its best fresh from the oven. But if you need to bake it ahead of time, let it cool completely before storing it in an airtight container until you serve it. It might not be quite as crispy, but it will still taste great. You can even pop it back into the oven for a few minutes before serving.


• Need a quick and impressive dessert: Here are 13 easy fruit-filled puff pastries even first-time bakers can make.
• Try these quick and easy puff pastry party snacks.
Get more recipes and ideas for using frozen puff pastry.
• Feeling adventurous? Try your hand at making puff pastry dough from scratch.