Finally had some time this weekend to get back in the kitchen. I kept thinking about heirloom tomatoes all saturday thinking about how great they could photograph. I also felt like I needed to practice some pastry dough making, always a good skill to work on and get better at. Pastries and party treats, feuillette rapide or quick puff pastry is the perfect vehicle for yummy fillings. I have to say though, making this dough in the middle of summer can be difficult. Several trips to the freezer to chill the butter and prevent it from melting which has to be avoided at all cost. In this opportunity I feel like my pastry dough was lacking something, it didn’t puff as much as I would have liked, but the taste was still great! 🙂
Ingredients (makes 2 servings):
for the quick puff pastry:
1 butter stick (110g)
110g AP flour
2 tsp kosher salt
40 ml of water (perhaps less)
for the topping:
1 or 2 heirloom tomatoes
1 or 2 basil leaves (chiffonade)
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Chill the butter in the freezer, the colder the better. The most important thing to do while making this pastry dough is to keep the butter cold. If you have an AC that helps too. The water also needs to be chilled. And a few trips to the freezer will be required. I use a bowl to contain the mess but as you can see, there is no containing it, flour will find the way. It doesn’t really matter, one of the fun parts of baking is the mess until it is time to clean up, then as fun. Cut the butter into small cubes about half an inch, and dust and mix in the flour. Add the salt. Return to the freezer and allow them cubes and flour to get cold again.
I like using my fingers. There are tools design for this purpose, but nothing beats your hands. Squeeze the butter cubes into the flour, compressing them against your thumbs and index fingers. This is a bit of a workout but don’t give up. Make sure that all the cubs are squeezed and well incorporated into the mix. I would suggest returning the bowl to the freezer for another 5 minutes.
Add the water little by little and try to gather all the floury-buttery chunks into a ball. If the ball doesn’t hold its shape, you need to add more water and keep working it. At some point, the dough will come together. I don’t need to tell you exactly when… you will know when it happens.
Form the dough into a ball, and dust with plenty of flour. Work the dough as little as possible. We don’t want to develop gluten keeping the end result flaky and crumbly. Once you have a nice ball of dough, you can place it in the fridge now and allow to rest for a good 20 minutes. I used this time to clean my counters and tools. Clean as you go! I emphasize this always, not just when making pastry dough, but when working the kitchen in general. You’ll save an incredible amount of time in the end.
Ok, get ready to roll out the dough. Dust your work surface with plenty of flour and get to work! Actually, this isn’t hard work at all. The dough should be so malleable and cooperative. With your rolling pin get to about an 1/8 of an inch thick in the shape of a long rectangle. You should be able to see flattened chunks of butter right under the surface of the dough. The idea behind puff pastry is simple but extremely clever. This layers of butter trapped under the flour will puff when heat is applied. The water in the butter evaporates and the butter fat prevents the layers of dough from sticking together, the whole system is meant for extreme puffy action. But it gets better. Now if we fold the rolled out dough onto itself we can increase the number of layers also increasing the puff power. Too many folds and the layers will be too thin to stay apart (they will literally blend together) hence killing the effect. There are a few methods and techniques documented all over the web, here are some wonderful posts from bloggers I often visit when I need help that you’ll probably want to check out that show you in detail the making of this dough:
Once the dough has been folded and turned and rolled out 3 times and after a few more trips to the freezer, you can store it back in the fridge. At this point we are ready to prepare the topping which isn’t at all difficult. Just slice some heirloom tomatoes. I love these tomatoes, they have a very characteristic flavor profile, with rich umami notes. Definitely a summer treat like few others. I will also use some nice mozzarella cheese. Some have more water than others, I like mozzarella cheese that has a good level of water content. It is a preference thing though.
Once you’re happy with your topping, set it aside. It is time to get your dough out of the fridge and cut it to the desired shape. I used 2 bowls. One to cut the round shape, and the other one with a smaller diameter to press down and imprint a circle. Don’t press down too hard. We don’t want to cut the dough, we just want to delimit the are that we will use to place the toppings. Eventually once the tart is partially baked, we will scrap off the center are to allow space for the tomatoes and cheese. At this point your oven should have been preheated at 450F and allowed an extra 15 minutes to get hot hot. This is important for maximizing the amount of rise you get from your dough. Some call it oven spring 🙂 Bake the tart for 15 minutes or so. After 10 minutes I always check, don’t check too often or too early, the oven temperature will drop, we don’t want that.
Once the tart has puffed and there is some light golden browning on the surface, remove from the oven and give it a couple of minutes before you tinker with it. Then simply scrape away the inner area designated by the circular indentation you made earlier and now you can place your topping of choice and get the tart back in the oven for the grand finale.
Return the tart to the oven and bake for another 12 minutes at 450F. I used the broiler to get some nice golden accents on the cheese and the tomatoes. The broilers in most ovens don’t cook evenly, and some attention is needed. Make sure you are using the middle tray of your oven, and keep an eye on the tart. At this point you can leave the oven door partially oven. You aren’t baking anymore, just broiling. I can’t see through my oven window, it is ancient and it has fought many many battles 🙂
Once the tarts come out of the oven, you can finish them with some cracked pepper and the basil chiffonade, maybe some thyme, a drizzle of olive oil… splash of lemon juice, it really is up to you. But here it is, a basic pastry tart great for summer parties. The number of appetizers that use puff pastry as you know is incredible and yes, I know, it can be bought at the store, and there are some good quality products out there, but understanding the process of making it is worth it if you really want to get into baking and pastry. You can also control the quality, salt level, butter amount if you make it yourself. I like having that degree of control when I bake. Hope you enjoyed todays post! Please share with me your pastry making adventures and suggestions! Until the next time!