Thursday, January 24, 2013

French puff pastry - Pâte feuilletée

I was in the mood to make something with my hands. To create something out of nothing, not unlike a painter working on a blank canvas. I needed something to be proud of, something to show off and say “look, I made this myself, from scratch”.

Flour, water, butter. Lots of butter. Whole lots of butter. So much butter that no one person should consume on a regular basis. And yet, I needed even more. For to make puff pastry, you need to feel like butter is your friend and treat it as such. It will try to escape, to soften, to ooze out, but you need to contain it, know how and when to handle it.

Puff pastry is the queen of doughs. It’s not a difficult one to make, not when you can be patient, when you know some tricks and tips and when you understand the idiosyncrasies of her majesty, the pâte feuilletée.

This dough requires time—time to rest. It requires cold—cold hands, cold working area. It requires a good rolling pin and a little elbow grease. It will consume you for half a day, you need to pay attention to it, but while it is resting in the fridge, you’ll get a rest too and have the chance to tend to other things. And then, you can enjoy the glory of its hundreds of layers, the puff, the rise, the buttery goodness.

Puff pastry is not for the faint-hearted. If you love making doughs, then you’re going to love making this one too. If not, you can certainly find ready-made puff pastry that is good, when it’s made with actual butter that is. If you’re not one to shy away from a pastry challenge, this one’s for you.

Pâte feuilletée, the French word for puff pastry which translates to layered dough, is made with flour, water and butter and it does not contain any kind of leavening agent.
It is made up of three parts: the détrempe, the beurrage and the pâton. The détrempe is a basic dough, the beurrage is a block of butter and the pâton is a package of dough formed by combining the first two parts. The beurrage is incorporated into and dispersed throughout the détrempe through a number of rolls and folds, named tours (turns), and the result is a laminated dough, a dough that has alternating layers of dough and butter pressed together.
The layers of butter are those that make the dough rise in the oven. Butter is made of milk/fat solids and water. During baking, the water content from the butter turns to steam and pushes up the successive layers of dough, creating an airy, lightened structure. The fat from the butter is then absorbed into the layers of dough and cooks them, leading to the crisp texture and an increased stability of the light structure. The cooking of the butter’s milk/fat solids is what causes the puff pastry to take on a golden-brown color and also gives it its delicious buttery flavor.

French Puff Pastry (Pâte Feuilletée)

Below you’ll find useful tips for making puff pastry that will make your life easier. Take care to read through carefully and comprehend them before making the pastry and make sure to refer back to them while making it. The various notes throughout the recipe are terribly important as well.

Puff pastry needs cold—cold kitchen, cold work surface, cold hands—and it’s easier and quicker to make puff pastry during the winter rather than in the summer when the temperatures are high. For example, when I make puff pastry in the winter, the dough only needs to stay in the fridge for 30 minutes between each tour but during the summer it needs at least 1 hour.
You need to rest the dough in the fridge for two reasons. The first is for the gluten in the flour to relax, and the second for the butter to chill and set. Both make rolling out the dough easier and you also minimize the risk of tearing the layers and of the butter escaping through them.

The resting times in the recipe apply to winter temperatures. Adjust resting times if you’re making it during the summer or in a warm environment. Also, use your common sense. If you realize your dough is not as cold as it should be and the butter starts to ooze out or break through the layers, then return it to the fridge.

Don’t forget to flour your work surface and dough before rolling it out and don’t neglect brushing off the excess flour when you fold it.

The best way to keep your hands cold while handling or rolling out the dough is by washing them under cold water.

I always use a marble slab to roll out my puff pastry on. I don’t know if it’s a myth or not, that marble is colder than other surfaces and thus better for rolling out pastry, but I have found that it works for me. So, whatever works. (Oops, Woody alert!)

Puff pastry doesn’t require a lot of hands-on time but because of the resting periods, you need to be available to go in and out of the kitchen at regular intervals. So arrange to make puff pastry when you know you have that time.

beurrage - butter block
détrempe - basic dough
pâton – the combined détrempe and beurrage
tour – each rolling out and folding action

Yield: about 1.2 kg of pastry


For the détrempe
500 g strong white bread flour
200 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
10 g sea salt
15 ml (1 Tbsp) lemon juice, freshly squeezed
200 ml cold tap water

For the beurrage
250 g unsalted butter, cold

Extra flour (either bread or all-purpose) for sprinkling over work surface and dough

Special equipment: stand mixer (optional yet preferable), rolling pin (it needs to be long, don’t use a short rolling pin), pastry brush, dough scraper, plastic wrap


For the détrempe
In a stand mixer
In the bowl of your stand mixer, add the flour, butter, salt, lemon juice and water and using the dough hook attachment, mix on medium-low speed for a couple of minutes until you have a rough dough. Do not over-knead the dough. You’re not looking to develop the gluten in the flour, we’re not making bread dough.

Empty it onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for a few seconds in order to smooth it. You should have a dough that’s pliable and that it’s not sticking to your hands; if it’s ever-so-slightly sticky though, don’t alarm yourself, it’s okay. Shape it into a ball and then press to create a 15-16 cm flattened square (see photos). Using a dough scraper, cut a cross halfway through the dough. Wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in your refrigerator for 1 hour.

By hand
Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl and add the butter. Mix either with your hands, a pastry cutter or a fork, until the mixture resembles coarse meal and add the water and lemon juice. Mix with your hands until you have a rough dough. Empty it onto a floured surface and knead for a couple of minutes until you have a pliable and smooth dough. Don’t over-work the dough. Continue as instructed above.

For the beurrage
Take the cold butter and place it between two large pieces of plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin, beat the butter into a 15-16 cm square, the size of the détrempe.
Place the beurrage in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Note: The détrempe and the beurrage need to be really cold before you move on to combine them and make the pâton. They also need to be of almost equal hardness otherwise it will be difficult to incorporate the beurrage into the détrempe.

Make the pâton
First, take the détrempe out of the fridge, unwrap it (keep the plastic wrap to re-use it) and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Dust the détrempe with flour and, using your rolling pin, roll out the four pieces of the cross you’ve made, making sure the center is not rolled out so a mound remains. See photos for reference.

Then, take the beurrage out of the fridge, unwrap it and place it in the center of the détrempe, on top of the mound, and press it gently. Now fold each rolled out piece on top of the beurrage, making sure it covers it completely and also pinching the détrempe around it so that the beurrage is encased properly in it. What you have now is the pâton.

Using your pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the pâton, wrap it with plastic wrap (re-use the one you had wrapped the détrempe with) and place it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

From this point on what you need to do is make 6 tours; roll out and fold the dough 6 times in total. The dough needs to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes between each tour so that the butter solidifies and doesn’t melt inside your dough thus ruining the layers you’re trying to accomplish.

Note 1: Traditionally, classic puff pastry needs to be rolled out and folded 6-8 times but 6 times is the usual.

Note 2: Before you start, keep in mind that you need to act quickly. The more the dough stays out of the fridge, the more the butter melts and the dough softens, making it difficult to roll out. I don’t want to make you panic, just be aware that you need to be quick.

1st tour
Take the pâton out of the fridge and unwrap it. Flour lightly your work surface and keep the flour at hand because you may need to dust your surface with more flour while you’re rolling out the dough. Dust the top of the pâton with flour.
The best way to roll out the pastry is by first making indentations using the rolling pin, in three-four places, the two always being towards the far edges of the pastry. (See photos for reference). This will help keep the rectangle shape of the dough but also push and distribute the butter throughout more evenly.

Then make more indentations between those first ones. It will make rolling out the pastry easier and you won’t need to put much pressure with your hands. Then roll the dough out in one direction (do not roll out the sides) into an elongated rectangle with a thickness of 1 cm (approximately 45 cm long and 20-22 cm wide). Remember to flour as you roll when you feel the dough is sticking to your work surface, otherwise the butter will peep out of the dough and your layers will be ruined. Also, if butter does leak out of the dough, then put it back in the fridge.
Furthermore, while rolling the dough out, always try to maintain a rectangle and an even shape.

Dust the flour off the dough and you now need to fold the rectangle into thirds. Divide visually the dough into thirds and fold one third over the middle, dust the flour off and then fold the opposite third over, much like you would fold a business letter. Brush off the excess flour, making sure to also brush off the flour from the bottom of the dough, and wrap it in the plastic wrap. Place the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Note 1: Make sure you dust off the dough every time you fold it, otherwise it will dry out.

Note 2: Between tours, before rolling out the dough, you need to always scrape the butter and flour off your work surface otherwise the dough will stick to it. Have your scraper always at hand.

Note 3: If you are making puff pastry during the winter and you realize that after one tour your dough is still cold and firm enough, you can do two tours back to back before you return the dough to the fridge. However, do not get carried away and try to do more than two tours at one time, because your dough will most probably tear, you’ll lose your layers and all your hard work will go to waste.

Note 4: If you want to keep track of how many tours you have done, the classic way when making pâte feuilletée, is by marking the corner of the dough by pressing with the tip of your finger(s), making as many indentations as tours you have completed (see photo). Don’t press too hard though, you don’t want to tear the layers.

2nd tour
Take the dough out of the fridge and unwrap it. Flour lightly your work surface and place the dough, seam-side up, with its spine on your left (if you were to unfold the dough, it should open to your left, like how you open a book) and dust the top with flour. Make indentations on the dough just like you did on the previous step and then roll it out again to a 1 cm thick elongated rectangle (just like you did on the previous step). Continue rolling and folding the dough just like in the 1st tour to complete the 2nd tour.

3rd – 6th tour
From this point on, you need to repeat the same exact process 4 more times, completing 6 tours in total.

This recipe yields about 1.2 kg of puff pastry, which is a lot, so you can cut it at this point into 2 or 4 pieces, cover them with plastic wrap and keep them in the fridge.

If you want to use the pastry right away, you need to put it in the fridge for 30 minutes after the 6th tour and then roll it out again, but this time more thinly, depending on what you are making. For example, if you want to make a tart, you should roll it out 0.3-0.4 cm thick.

You can keep the puff pastry in the fridge for 4-5 days but I find that you get a better result i.e. a higher puff, when you use it within the first couple of days.
You can also store it in the freezer, wrapped well with plastic wrap, for one month.

You can use your puff pastry to make anything from savory and sweet pies, mille-feuilles, napoleons, tarte tatin, palmiers, beef Wellington or anything “en croute”, vol-au-vents, etc. The possibilities are endless. I'll share some recipes very soon!

Have fun making it and enjoy eating it!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A beginning

I wasn’t planning on posting anything today, I was preparing another post, one I have been working on for a couple of weeks now, but I felt I had to stop and write about these cookies instead.

It all started yesterday, when the large flakes of snow began to fall. Big, huge flakes like cotton balls falling from the sky. As I was walking the streets of the city, the scenery was transforming before my very eyes, and it was nothing short of magical.

Today, when I woke up, I realized that the snow had been falling all night long. I looked outside and everything was covered with a white blanket, everything looked peaceful and you couldn’t hear a thing. Total silence.

I had the uncontrollable urge to make cookies. With salted butter. And cocoa nibs. And ground pistachios. And soft light brown sugar. And crème fraîche. And vanilla. And it was my own concoction. A dream I had. And it worked. And they were beautiful, like only something with rough edges can be, and chewy, and flavorful, not of the overly sweet kind but of the mildly sweet and slightly acidic and bitter and nutty and buttery kind, and they were warm and comforting, like only homemade things can be.

I missed you, friends. I’m glad I’m back.

Salted Butter, Cocoa Nib and Pistachio Cookies

Cocoa or cacao nibs are pure cocoa beans. Let’s take it from the top though. Cocoa trees are native to the Amazon and certain areas of South and Central America and the fruit of these trees are the cocoa pods. Cocoa pods are harvested and opened to expose the beans that are fermented, dried, crushed, processed and manufactured into every type of chocolate and cocoa you can imagine. In factories, the cocoa beans are cracked and their shell is removed; the cracked bits of the cocoa bean are the cocoa nibs. These can be raw or roasted, depending on whether or not the cocoa bean has been roasted before cracking.

Cocoa nibs are a super-food; they are full of antioxidants, magnesium and vitamin C among others, and can be eaten as a snack or incorporated into baked goods. They are bitter and slightly acidic in flavor—they’re not at all sweet—and have a very crunchy texture. Granted, they’re an acquired taste, at least for me, and as with everything else, their flavor is hugely dependent on their quality.

You’ll find them in health food stores and there’s no actual substitute for them. What you can do is add dark chocolate chips instead, just to keep things interesting (the higher percentage of cocoa solids the better, 85% is best).

Yield: about 20 cookies

125 g salted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature (if you don't have salted butter, substitute with unsalted butter + 1/8 tsp salt)
125 g soft light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp crème fraîche
125 g all-purpose flour, sieved
1 tsp baking powder, sieved
125 g unsalted, shelled pistachios
50 g raw cocoa nibs

Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Special equipment: small food processor, stand or hand-held mixer, fine sieve, baking sheet(s)

Grind the pistachios in a food processor, being careful not to grind them too finely otherwise they’ll start releasing their natural oils and become pasty. You don’t want that. Add them to a medium-sized bowl, along with the flour, baking powder and cocoa nibs. Mix well with a spoon.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the butter and soft light brown sugar and beat, using the paddle attachment (or with your hand-held mixer), on medium-high speed for about 6 minutes or until you have a creamy and light mixture. Add the vanilla and crème fraîche and beat to incorporate. Add the flour-pistachio-cocoa nib mixture and beat on low speed. After a minute it will come together and gather in pieces around the paddle attachment (or around the beaters) of your mixer.

Remove the dough from the bowl and shape it into a ball. At this point you'll see the actual texture of the dough which should be a little sticky, smooth and pliable. Wrap it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Line your baking sheet with baking paper.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 350 Fahrenheit.

Remove the dough from the fridge and unwrap it. Take a piece of dough and roll it between your hands to make a walnut-sized ball and place it on the lined baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough, spacing the balls 3 cm apart because they’ll spread while baking.

Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, until the cookies take on a golden color and remain soft in the middle.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and sprinkle them with a little granulated sugar. Allow the cookies to cool a bit on the baking sheet and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

You can keep cookies for 1 week at room temperature, in a tightly closed cookie tin.