Look at how high this puff pastry dough rises up (it was rolled to 1/8" thickness). It contains 729 layers of pastry and butter. Even when it's rolled to 1/8" thickness there's still 729 layers...pretty crazy. I'm not going to say that making this puff pastry is so easy. It actually takes a lot of time and a good amount of patience to make something that is so easily store bought, but the end result tastes more buttery and flaky than anything at the store. You can attribute that to the fact that most store-bought puff pastry dough uses shortening. So, have I convinced you to make a batch of this yet? If not, consider this - with only about five dollars, a few hours, and a little patience you can make the best puff pastry you've ever tasted. You can then freeze the ample leftovers and take them out to make homemade danish, chicken pot pie, and turnovers whenever it strikes your fancy.
According to Julia Child this is a pâte feuilletée fine because it contains almost 730 layers - a plain pâte feuilletée has only about 73 layers. Each layer is comprised of a layer of butter and pastry dough. When the butter heats it releases its water as steam, "puffing" the pastry. Even though I said that this wasn't exactly easy to make, it wasn't particularly hard either. The basic prinicple is easy enough to understand - a block of butter is enveloped in dough. It is then rolled out and folded on top of itself, chilled, rolled out and folded on top of itslef, chilled, etc. The most important part of making puff pastry is to keep the dough chilled at all times. This means placing the dough back into the refrigerator after each rolling and folding. Using a bench scraper and ruler to keep the rolled dough in a 20x9" rectangle is also important to keeping the dough manageable.
This particular recipe comes straight from Martha Stewart. I found that watching the video of her making puff pastry helped me to understand the process more than reading any recipe. You'll see that the ratio of butter to flour is very high even for french pastry - 1 to 1. I chose this recipe because of the in depth instructions and video, but I'm still eager to try a recipe from "The Art of French Baking" which uses a ratio of 2 parts flour to 1 part butter. For now, I'm happy with the results of this puff pastry recipe, and I'll be enjoying the results for weeks to come!
Homemade Puff Pastry
16 ounces all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
2 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Weigh out the flour in a large bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attchment cream the butter for a few seconds to form a cohesive mass. Do not overbeat - you don't want to incorporate a lot of air into the butter. Measure out 1/2 cup flour from the 16 ounces and add it to the stand mixer. Beat the flour into the butter until it is completely incorporated, once again being sure not to incorporate a lot of air. Scrape the butter/flour mix out onto a piece of plastic wrap and form it into a 5x5x1" square. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
To make the dough add the kosher salt to the bowl with the weighed out flour and whisk to combine. Gradually add the heavy cream, mixing with a wooden spoon until a cohesive dough forms. You may need all of the heavy cream or you may only need to add the lesser amount. Either way the dough should form together without being sticky. Take the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it into 12x7" rectangle, squaring the edges with a bench scraper if necessary. Brush off any excess flour with a pastry brush, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
Now that the butter square and dough rectangle are at the same temperature you can begin the process of making the puff pastry dough. Take out the chilled dough, unwrap the butter square and place it at one end of the dough rectangle. Fold the dough rectangle over and pinch the sides shut to completely envelop the butter square - you don't want any of the butter to ooze out when you roll the dough. Wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for another 30 minutes to re-chill.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface and working in only one direction (lengthwise), gently roll the dough into a 20x9" rectangle, squaring corners with a bench scraper and your hands as you go. Sweep off any excess flour with a pastry brush. With a short side facing you, fold the rectangle in thirds like a business letter, aligning the edges carefully and keeping each edge square. This completes the first turn. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until well chilled, about 30 minutes.
Repeat the rolling, turning, and chilling process for a total of six turns. Always start each turn with the opening of the dough to the right, and always make your tri-fold in the same manner, that is, by starting from either the top of the dough or the bottom each time. After each turn, refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes and mark the edge of the dough with a small knife to keep track of how many turns you've completed. By the sixth and final turn, the dough should be very smooth, with no lumps of butter visible. Use as little flour as possible for the rolling, and brush off any excess before folding the dough. If the dough becomes too elastic or too warm to work with, return it to the refrigerator until firm.
Wrap the finished dough in plastic and refrigerate until ready to use, at least 2 hours after your final turn, or freeze for future use. Use in any recipe that calls for puff pastry being sure to keep the dough chilled when rolling it out. For instance, don't leave it out on the counter for an hour and then roll it. If baking up puff pastry by itself, roll the dough to about 1/8-1/4" and bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes.
Source: Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart.