Puff pastry

Puff pastry is a light, flaky and tender pastry made by mixing flour, water and salt into a dough and adding layers of fat. It is used to make pies, pasties, vol au vents, savouries and desserts.

There are many ways of making puff pastry. The aim is to produce a paste with many alternating layers of dough and fat which rise and form a layered pastry when baked. Specialist bakers and pastry cooks have their own way of making puff pastry. They use different proportions of butter and flour, and differ in the way they incorporate the butter and the number and type of folds they make to the pastry.

Ingredients

It is important to use the correct ingredients and the right pastry making techniques to make a good puff pastry. The main ingredients are flour, water, salt, dough fat and fat.

It is best to use a pastry flour because it is has no bran (which will cause the product to have dark specks) and a high protein content (a minimum of 10%). Some protein becomes gluten when wet and this makes the paste elastic and strong and capable of forming layers when cooked.

'Dough fat' is a small amount of fat that is rubbed into the flour during mixing, to 'shorten' the dough so it becomes more tender. Cool water must be used to prevent the fat from becoming oily. The water must also taste good, i.e. be free of any unusual flavours, so it does not taint the pastry. Salt is added to strengthen the gluten and improve the flavour.

Fat is the second most important ingredient when making a good pastry. Butter is tastiest, but there are some excellent pastry margarines specially produced for making pastry products. There are even better butter/margarine combinations available for use. Fat must be kept cool so that it does not become soft and oily and mix into the dough. Other ingredients are sometimes added to give the pastry a distinctive look and taste. Eggs improve the colour of the pastry, and a little raising agent such as baking powder strengthens the gluten and increases the height of the pastry.
When making puff pastry it is important to rest the pastry. During resting, gluten relaxes and become elastic again, making rolling easier and preventing the pastry from shrinking and becoming misshapen during baking. Correct rolling is essential. The edges of the pastry must be straight and the corners square. The terms full, three-quarter and half are used when describing the amount of fat in the pastry. Full has equal weight of fat and flour, three-quarter has three-quarters of the weight of fat to flour, and half has half the weight of fat to flour. More fat makes the pastry softer to eat but reduces its height.

Making the pastry

First a dough is made using a little dough fat and then more fat is added between the dough layers. The dough and fat are then laminated, which involves folding and rolling the dough and fat a few times to make many layers of dough and fat. The fat stays as separate layers and does not mix into the dough.

There are three different ways of adding the fat.

  1. The quickest way is the Scotch or Blitz method. It is suitable for making pastry for pies, sausage rolls and pasties. Flour, salt, cold water and dough fat are mixed together in a mixing bowl. Walnut-sized lumps of fat are then added to the bowl and are mixed in a little, to ensure large lumps of fat are left whole in the dough. The fat is distributed throughout the dough in flat discs, rather than a continuous sheet as with the other methods. As a result this pastry does not always rise evenly and so is not suitable for products that must look exceptionally good.
  2. diagIn the English method the flour, salt, water and dough fat are mixed together. This dough is rolled into a long rectangular shape, three times as long as wide. Two-thirds of the dough is covered by dabs of butter. The third without butter is folded into the middle first then the other end is folded on top.
  3. The French method - The main feature of the French method is that a square layer of fat is wrapped in the basic dough. This dough is made by rubbing about 10% of the soft fat into the flour, then adding cold water and mixing well to make a clear dough. After testing it is rolled into a square, making each side half the distance between opposite corners of the dough. The fat is placed in the centre of the doughs in the diagram below and the corners folded into the centre so they meet and cover the join. The paste is then folded again. env

 

Once the fat is placed on the dough during lamination, the layers are folded and rolled a number of times until you have the number of layers you want. This can range from 100 to about 700. If there are more than 700 layers the dough layers are too thin and break during baking, so the pastry does not rise evenly.

Dough is rolled into a rectangle three times as long as wide to a thickness of about 12 mm. When rolling the paste keep the unfolded edges closest to you and parallel to the rolling pin before you begin rolling. The dough is then folded as described below.

There are two different ways of doing this and any combination of the two ways can be used when making puff pastry:

  • The half-turn method
  • The book-fold methodWhen there are enough layers the paste is rolled out to a final thickness of about 5 mm thick and left to rest so it will not shrink or become misshapen when baked. The paste is then used to cover tins or is cut into the shape needed. To line baking tins roll the paste carefully around a rolling pin and unroll it over the tin. Then trim off excess paste that is overhanging by cutting around the top of a tin with a knife. Finally, add fillings or toppings. Puff pastry is best baked at 220°C.

Height of pastry

Bakers using the English or French method calculate the number of layers they want. About 130 layers often give the greatest height of pastry, but sometimes they want less height and more layers. Bakers may use different types of folds to get the number of layers they want. The number of dough layers is calculated using different formula for different folding methods. The three-fold method gives two layers of fat after the first half turn. Each subsequent turn triples the total number of fat layers. However, there is always one more layer of dough than fat. The formula for the number of dough layers is 2(3n-1)+ 1 where n is the number of half-turns. The four-fold method quadruples the number of fat layers each time the dough is folded. Like the half-turn method there is one more layer of dough than fat after each 'half turn'. The number of dough layers is calculated as (4n)+ 1 where n is the number of book-folds. If the English method is used to add the fat then the number of dough layers is 2(4n)+ 1.

 Unbaked puff pastry (paste) has many alternating layers of fat and dough to make it puff. As the pastry bakes water boils off as steam from the gluten in the dough layers and goes into the fat layers. As water turns into steam it expands, making large bubbles between the layers of dough. This inflates the pastry and it becomes about eight times higher.