How to Make Puff Pastry Dough From Scratch
What puts the puff into puff pastry? It's not yeast or any other leavening agent, so it must be magic. Okay, so it's not magic, it's chemistry. Read on to learn how to make an easy version of puff pastry in your own kitchen — no magic tricks necessary.
About Puff Pastry
Puff pastry puffs up when water in the layers of butter and dough evaporate in a hot oven, causing the layers to separate. Classic puff pastry has close to a thousand separate layers of butter and dough: the "thousand leaves" of millefeuille.
For a traditional variant of classic puff pastry that's a little easier to make at home, give blitz puff pastry (demi-feuillete) a try. Rather than having a block of butter that you envelop in a square of dough, you make a kind of glorified pie crust. Note: Although the technique of "blitz" (lightning!) puff pastry is easier than the classic method, it isn't especially fast (and it doesn't puff quite as high). Plan to spend much of a weekend afternoon rolling and folding dough — a perfect candidate for project baking.
Before You Start
Unlike making pie pastry, you don't want the butter to be stone cold. It should be at a cool room temperature, almost waxy, but not too soft. I recommend using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer or using a food processor's "pulse" function to make the dough. You can also make this dough by hand, using a kitchen knife or a baker's bench knife.
Basically, you want big, big chunks of butter: Cut the sticks horizontally, so you've got pieces about a quarter inch thick and as long as your butter stick.
They'll break up a bit in the mixer, but you're really trying to keep long flakes of butter that will be distributed throughout the dough (mimicking the effect of a solid sheet of butter in classic puff pastry).
How to Make Blitz Puff Pastry
Use my Blitz Puff Pastry recipe.
- 1¼ cups cake flour
- 3¾ cups bread flour
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ¼ cup white sugar
- 1¼ cups cold butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
- 1¼ cups cold water
- 1½ lemon juice
- In a large bowl, stir together the cake flour, bread flour, salt and white sugar. Stir in the chunks of butter so that each one is completely coated in flour. Combine the cold water and lemon juice. Make a well and add the liquid (the tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar helps tenderize the dough and keep it from oxidizing or turning gray). Stir into the bowl while lightly tossing the ingredients to moisten them evenly, keeping the butter pieces large. Gather the dough into a ball.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Keep the edges as square as possible. The dough will look terrible, but don't worry, it will shape up. Fold the dough into thirds like a business letter, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. This will allow the flour to fully absorb the liquid and will let it relax after the first roll-out.
- Place the dough on the floured work surface and turn at a 90 degree angle from the last time you rolled it out. Roll again into a rectangle again and fold into thirds so that the short edges are in the fold. Basically, you've done a quarter turn of the dough. If the dough is still cold and manageable, rotate and roll again, then fold into thirds, or refrigerate and continue in 30 minutes. Finish by rolling the dough out to the size of a baking sheet. Place on a lightly floured baking sheet and wrap in plastic. refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.
- To use, roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into shapes with a sharp knife. Wrap and chill again after cutting the dough into shapes (to keep the edges sharp) or before baking (this prevents shrinkage). Use as directed in recipes calling for puff pastry, or alternatively, enclose desired fillings and bake in a preheated 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) oven until puffed and golden brown.
What to Make With Homemade Puff Pastry?
Puff pastry is a wonderful component in desserts, but it's also spectacular for breakfast. For a special occasion brunch or tea, make almond-filled Bear Claws. You can make the components or the filled and shaped pastries ahead of time, and bake them in the morning. The recipe doesn't call for it, but you could add a simple glaze of milk, confectioners' sugar, and a drop of almond extract if you feel the need to gild the lily.
VIDEO: How to Make Almond Bear Claws