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Once you've perfected basic techniques like frying an egg and cooking rice, it's time to move on to those things that may have initially scared you off. Every other Monday, chef and stylist Camille Becerra is going beyond the basics to help us tackle even the scariest cooking techniques.
Today: Master puff pastry -- it's easier than you think! Then stash some in the freezer, and effortless, last-minute pastries and tarts will be at your fingertips.
Nothing gives me more gratification than something that grows 5 times its size in the oven -- like puff pastry. This French pastry dough requires a bit of patience, but it is essentially foolproof, and it's a lovely weekend project to take on.
This method uses a block of dough and a block of butter -- along with a series of rolls and folds -- to create layers upon layers of pastry. When baked, the butter melts and creates steam, which is then encased and trapped between layers of dough, causing them to separate into dozens of flaky layers.
The uses for puff pastry are expansive. Start with savory or sweet turnovers, pinwheels, the lid to a pot pie, free-form tarts, and elephant ear cookies. Puff pastry stays well in the freezer, rolled flat and stored in a large Ziploc bag -- so you can make last-minute pastries and effortlessly impress all your guests.
More: Use puff pastry in this honey-sweetened Quince Tarte Tatin.
To start, you want to make your two different packages: the butter and the dough.
For the dough:
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups pastry flour
2 teaspoons salt
Add the yeast and sugar to the milk and give it a quick stir. Allow 5 minutes for the yeast to bloom.
Mix the flour and salt. On a clean surface, make a well with the flour and pour the milk into the well, gradually incorporating the flour into the milk until they are both well combined. Knead your dough by hand for 15 minutes.
Chill the dough and allow it to rest for an hour. In the meantime, make the butter packet.
For the butter mixture:
2 cups butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and knead the flour into it. Once everything is well combined, shape it into a 5-inch square -- flour your hands beforehand so that they won’t stick to the butter. Chill the square for 30 minutes.
Take your dough and roll it into a 6 x 12-inch rectangle.
Place your butter square over one half of the dough, then dip a pastry brush into water and brush around the edges. Encase the butter in the dough and press edges to seal. You can use parchment here if you like. Chill for 20 minutes.
Using a small dusting of flour, roll out the rectangle to 9 x 20 inches. Using a dry pastry brush, brush off any excess flour -- otherwise it will get trapped and start to brown, eventually discoloring your dough.
Fold your dough into thirds, like you're folding a letter, and repeat: Roll to 9 x 20 inches, brush off excess flour, and fold into thirds. Chill for an hour. You will repeat this whole process (roll, fold, roll, fold, chill) two more times, each time chilling the dough for 1 hour, for a total of six folds.
It is helpful to make indentations with your finger on the dough to keep track of were you are at with your folds. (One indentation for the first fold, two for the second, and so on.)
When you're ready to use your pastry, proof the dough in a warm place for an hour, then bake in a 425° F oven.
Photos by Sharon Radisch