Feuilletage = Puff Pastry = Magic!!!

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I finally found some time to make classic puff pastry dough. Been extremely curious about it for a while, well, after tasting the results, this dough has to be the best combination between engineering and food making. Ah… the french, they sure know what they’re doing.

I own Jacques Pepin’s “La Technique”, a beautiful book on french cooking, well, more like french cooking techniques, and it happens to have a fantastic section on pastry (which I had totally overlooked for a couple of years), and it happens to explain step by step how to make feuilletage or classic puff pastry. No yeast, the secret of this self rising dough resides in the layering of butter and wet flour, avoiding at all costs mixing them, they MUST retain their layer-ness. Once in the oven, at the right temperature, those layers will heat up, water in the butter and the hydrated flour will evaporate, the layers will spread apart forced by the increasing vapor pressure between them, the flour will cook, the starch will gel, and eventually, the structure will be strong enough to remain risen outside the oven. Magic. How did anybody figure this out? It’s brilliant.

There are plenty of sites and blogs (not to mention tons of books, James Peterson’s Baking book) that go over the process of making this dough, the best one I found was this beautiful spanish cooking site called Webos Fritos, incredibly helpful. The “hojaldre” dough post is full of pictures, and very detailed step by step info. Hope the english translator helps!

Important things I learned today while making this:

1. Keep everything COLD once the butter is introduced, melted butter, game over. I put my dough in the freezer between “turns”.
2. Be gentle when rolling, As more layers are created, the layers get thinner, and very easy to tear.
3. Dough goes in the oven very very cold to ensure rising…? I think the real reason is to keep the butter from melting and mixing with the flour for as long as possible. I wouldn’t recommend frozen dough though.
4. When making the détrempe, mix ingredients, do NOT overwork, I want as little developed gluten as possible.

Here are the ingredients I used:

500g AP flour
250g water at room temperature
60g melted butter (i used olive oil, this is used to slow down gluten formation, optional in my opinion)
12g kosher salt
350g cold butter

Depending on the weather, and the air-conditioning system, the one thing to keep in mind is that butter will eventually become soft and melt unless the temperature is 16 °C (60 °F), I was working at 72 °F and had to place the pastry in the freezer for about 10 minutes after every “turn” (3 folds). I worked as fast and gently as I could to keep the butter from melting. The whole deal can be achieved in less than 2 hours if the conditions allow it. Middle of summer, with temperatures in the upper 70’s or 80’s, the freezer/fridge time can easily quadruple.

fear is not an option here!

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