Updated: Jan 12, 2021
Growing up, I wasn’t all that unaware of puff pastry. Like many of you might resonate with me, I grew up eating ‘vegetable puffs’ from local bakeries. These vegetable puffs were a super popular snack. I remember them being dry, flaky pastries that encased a spicy potato filling. I used to be terrified of eating them because they were a messy thing to eat. Moreover, the margarine and shortening based puff pastries were basically flavorless.
It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I genuinely experienced puff pastry in all its glory. I was on a solo trip. I was sitting by myself in the Versailles palace franchise of the famous Parisian tea house Angelina. Their hot chocolate is world-famous, but I chose to try out their mille-feuille. Mille-feuille in English means ’a thousand sheets’; it’s a delicate dessert made with puff pastry and vanilla pastry cream/custard. It was delicious, and let’s say that I was not terrified of puff pastry anymore.
Let’s go back to puff pastry, and what exactly is puff pastry? Puff pastry or pâte feuilletée is a delicate, flaky, and buttery pastry that consists of multiple layers of laminated dough.
We’ve seen it all around, in bakeries and restaurants but making your own puff pastry is a game-changer. This post contains my guide for the flakiest and the most straightforward way to make your own puff pastry at home. It’s a simple yet thorough guide, and it’ll work for you even if you’re new to baking! I’m not just gonna show you all how to make puff pastry, but I’m also going to share a recipe for some easy and delicious cream cheese and blueberry tarts. Keep reading to know more.
What’s in puff pastry?
Puff pastry comprises two main components — the dough or détrempé and the butter or beurrage. Puff pastry gets its flaky layers when we laminate the dough. Laminating is a process used in many pastries, croissants, viennoiseries, kouign-amann, and of course, puff pastry. It’s a process where alternating dough and butter layers are created by placing the butter inside the dough. When the pastry is placed in the oven, the dough layers are pushed by the water evaporating.
The traditional lamination process is done by encasing a block of butter inside the dough, which is then rolled out and folded repeatedly, which creates these beautiful layers. My recipe will follow the classic laminating method. It might look intimidating, but it just calls for patience and attention. It’s arguably more manageable than the ‘hacked’ versions of puff pastry that are all over the internet nowadays.
I have seen many recipes that call for working the butter into the flour instead of laminating the dough. Now, technically, this process could work. This process requires you to rub the butter into the flour to leave clumps of butter throughout the dough, which will eventually create flaky pockets in your puff pastry. I have tried this method, and it’s so easy to just dissolve the butter into the dough and end up with a dense puff pastry. This is why I prefer the laminating method, it’s foolproof, and you will get much better layers.
Another critical thing to keep in mind is the number of folds or turns you will need to achieve these flaky layers. I believe the minimum is 3-4 turns, and in this recipe, I have created 5 turns, and it’s yielded me a pretty flaky pastry. If you want to, you can take it further; it all depends on you.
How does the lamination of dough work?
Laminating the dough might sound a little complicated, and yes, I won't lie, it is kind of difficult. Keeping track of folds, refrigerating the dough, maintaining the temperature, keeping track of time can all be daunting. But, after a couple of tries, you will get the hang of it.
To begin the process of laminating, or virtually, to begin making puff pastry, you will need to make the dough. It’s a standard dough that we’ll use; it calls for all-purpose flour, some salt and sugar, water, and vinegar. Once the dough is kneaded and is resting, we move to the butter.
The block of butter is the key player in puff pastry. It needs to remain below a specific temperature. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a giant mess. I refrigerate my butter overnight, and I leave it outside while I make my dough. By the time the dough is ready, the butter reaches a pliable stage where it’s not rock hard but also not softened enough to go all over the place. This allows me to form my chunks of butter into a flat slab of butter.
I like wrapping the butter chunks in parchment paper and pounding them with a rolling pin until I have a somewhat flat and even slab of butter. Then I gently work it until I reach the desired size. Then, the butter is refrigerated until solid and cold.
Another essential variable is the temperature, which is why winters are ideal if you’re looking to make puff pastry. Even if it’s left out for longer than necessary, it’s not gonna fall apart. Keeping the butter cold is essential; if the butter gets too soft or warm, you could risk losing the layers.
The next step in the process of laminating is encasing the butter in the dough. Many consider this step as the first turn. We roll out the dough into a rough rectangle that’s about ¼ inch thick. The slab of butter is securely wrapped in the dough, and then it’s rolled out into a long rectangle.
Then, we perform a series of turns or folds and refrigerate the puff pastry after each fold to maintain the cold temperature. After the fifth turn, the puff pastry is ready to use.
You can wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight, and use it the next day. You can also freeze it for up to 6 months.
What can I make with puff pastry?
The delicacies you can make with puff pastry are endless! And, once you have your flakiest, homemade puff pastry on hand, the following steps to make any dessert or snack are straightforward.
Some of my favorite things made with puff pastry are palmiers, danish pastries, mille-feuilles, and fruit turnovers. You can also try making hand pies (with a sweet or savory filling). Again, you could try out rugelach cookies or make a leavened-free version of croissants; puff pastry also works beautifully over some chicken pot pie. The possibilities are endless!
I have also included a recipe for some cream cheese and blueberry tarts below, so keep reading to get there.
What equipment do I need?
There is minimal equipment required to make puff pastry. The most important ones are a rolling pin and a refrigerator. Apart from these two, you will need some plastic wrap and some parchment paper, mixing bowls, and measuring tools.
The technique to make the flakiest homemade puff pastry
Time: 1 ½ hour
Yields: 500 grams puff pastry
250 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
4 grams (1 teaspoon) salt
10 grams (2 ½ teaspoons) granulated sugar
130 grams (½ cup) water, plus more if required
5 grams (1 teaspoon) white vinegar
200 grams (1 cup) refrigerated butter
Remove the butter from the fridge and leave it out while you make the dough.
Making the dough:
Whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl. In a different bowl, mix together the water and vinegar.
Combine the water and vinegar with the dry ingredients and form the dough.
You should have a stiff, relatively dry dough. If it looks too dry, add a splash of water, and continue kneading until you have a smooth dough.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature.
Making the beurrage:
The butter should be still cold but a little more pliable by now. Place it on a large sheet of parchment paper and divide the butter into nearly equal-sized cubes.
Wrap the butter with the parchment from all sides and use a rolling pin to beat it into a level slab of butter.
Work the butter until you have a 6x4 inch slab, which is ½ an inch thick.
Re-wrap the butter securely with the parchment and place it in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.
Forming the layers:
Place the dough on a floured surface and roll it into a 9x10 inch rectangle.
Place the chilled block of butter diagonally, with the butter block’s corner facing a side of the dough.
Wrap in envelope style and pinch together seams.
Flour both sides of the dough and flip the seam side down. Let it sit for a minute.
Gently roll the dough lengthwise into an 11x6 inch rectangle.
For the second fold, turn the dough so that the seam side faces up, fold the top part of the rectangle ⅓ of the way down, and fold the bottom part of the dough over to overlap the rest of the dough.
Wrap the puff pastry dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 20-30 minutes.
Rotate the chilled rectangle 90°, roll it out into a long 11x6 inch rectangle, and repeat the same folding methods.
Wrap it in plastic, refrigerate and repeat the folds two more times.
Flatten out the dough lightly and wrap it securely in plastic wrap. Refrigerate/freeze it until you need it.
Recipe for cream cheese and blueberry tarts
Time: 45 minutes
Yields: 6-7 tarts
500 grams puff pastry
90 grams (½ cup) room temperature cream cheese
45 grams (¼ cup) blueberry jam, or a handful of fresh blueberries
1 egg, beaten (optional)
Roll out the cold puff pastry into a ½ inch thick sheet.
Cut out 3-inch circles from the sheet of puff pastry.
Dollop a tablespoon of cream cheese on the puff pastry circles, followed by the jam or a couple of fresh blueberries.
Pinch together the edges of the puff pastry circles to form a barrier around the filling.
Place the tarts on a greased baking tray that’s been lined with parchment paper, and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Brush the sides of the tarts with a beaten egg; this is optional.
Bake the tarts at 190°C for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
There is a good chance that some of the butter might burst out of the dough while you're rolling out the dough. Do not panic, flour the surface of the pastry liberally, continue rolling, and then fold over the ripped area.
You can use any other fruit preserve or different berries for the tarts, you can also substitute fruits for savory toppings. You can also swap the cream cheese for ricotta.
While making the tarts, do not try and bring the dough scraps together as you will be losing the layers by doing so. You could cut the scraps into thin strips, toss them in cinnamon sugar or parmesan, and bake them alongisde the tarts for a delicious snack.