This past weekend, we headed out to the farm. While it’s not our farm, it is the farm where most of our food is grown, and, once a year, the farmer holds an open house so that CSA members can see the fields, talk with the people who do all the hard work, learn a bit more about how their food is grown, and even try their hand at harvesting. We try to go to every open house, primarily to thank the people who work so hard so that we can eat.
In terms of harvesting, we headed out to the fields to do some ourselves. At the time we visited, there was Swiss chard, spinach, fennel, cilantro, and perhaps one or two other items that we could harvest. Since they’re some of our favorite greens, we went for the chard and spinach and soon had two large bags full. [Aside: We’re sure you’re wondering how this is leading into puff pastry — patience.] So what to do with all these greens? Yep, spanikopita. We just made it the other week for a potluck dinner, and it was so tasty we wanted to do up a small batch for ourselves. Of course, that means we need phyllo dough, but we only had 5 sheets left. Not enough. We could run out and buy more, or we could do without. Or we could try using puff pastry, instead. We went with the third choice.
Puff pastry dough, with its thousands of layers of dough and butter looks so daunting, we just had to try it. We’ve made it a few times before, and it’s a bit time-consuming, but really not too difficult. And, let us tell you, this is the best way to eat butter and flour. Oh, this recipe comes from what we consider to be the most useful cookbook ever, The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker.
- 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 4 ounces all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 1/2 ounces water
- 1 tsp lemon juice
First, yes, you do want to weigh the flour. Puff pastry dough is made from equal amounts of butter and flour by weight; too little flour and your butter will tear through, too much flour and your pastry won’t rise as much during baking. So weigh it. We also weigh out the water, as it can’t hurt. Let the butter warm slightly. It should be malleable, but not soft.
Since there are so few ingredients, this recipe is all about technique. It’s not difficult, but it does need care, a certain deftness of touch, and a willingness to wait for the dough while it rests. Let’s get started.
Measure ingredients. Weigh out the flour. Weigh out the water. Then add the salt and lemon juice to the water and place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Slice butter. Take the stick of butter and slice lengthwise into four pieces so that you end up with four “planks” of butter about 1/4 of an inch thick. Set aside.
Make dough. Start mixing the ice-cold water into the flour until a dough forms. Then take it out and knead it until smooth, about 5 minutes. With the right amount of water mixture added, the dough will be slightly soft. Ideally, it’ll match the softness of your butter.
Refrigerate. Take the dough, form into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Refrigerate your rolling pin. If your butter is soft, refrigerate that, too.
Roll out. Take the dough from the refrigerator and roll out into a rectangle about 16 inches long and 6 inches wide. It’ll try to spring back, but keep at it; eventually, you’ll get it the right size.
Add butter. Now, place the planks of butter on the lower half of the dough, leaving about an inch of dough around the edges. Fold the dough over, and press down the edges to seal in the butter.
Roll out. Turn the dough 90° and carefully roll out the dough and butter until you have a rectangle that’s about 16×6 inches. Take your time; it takes us about 5 minutes of rolling. Patch any tears as best you can, so the butter doesn’t squeeze out.
Fold (first turn). Take the far edge and fold in about 1/3 of the way, then fold the bottom edge up to cover. That is, fold the dough in thirds like a business letter. This is your first turn, and you’ve just created three layers of dough/butter.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Carefully wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate, along with your rolling pin, for 30 minutes.
Second turn. Just as before, take the dough, place it on a lightly floured work surface so the folds are on the sides, and roll it out to a rectangle that is about 16×6 inches. Again, this will take about 5 minutes. Then, fold in thirds as before, wrap in plastic and refrigerate the dough and rolling pin for 30 minutes. This is your second turn, and you now have nine layers of dough/butter.
Repeat. As you may have guessed, you need to repeat the rolling/folding: do a third turn. Refrigerate. And a fourth. Refrigerate. And a fifth. Refrigerate. And, finally, your sixth turn. Refrigerate.
Congratulations! You have made one of the most difficult pastry doughs there is. It really is an achievement to be proud of, and, while you probably won’t make pastry dough all the time, once you taste it, you will be making it for those special occasions (all-butter pastry is light-years ahead of anything you’ll find at the store).
So, now what do you do with it? We made ours to top spanikopita, which we’ll show below, but you can use it for super-light cookies, to make turnovers, anyplace you’d use a puff pastry dough (not for croissants, though; while similar, croissants have yeast in the dough).
Roll out and bake. To use the pastry dough, you’ll want to roll it out to a thickness slightly less than 1/4 of an inch. Then, using a sharp knife, cut out whatever shapes you need. We just needed a square to place on top of the spanikopita; the edges we cut into 1×2 inch strips and baked (400°F) on a cookie sheet until puffed and golden. Then we ate them as a treat.
We just love puff pastry dough. We’ll make cookies (lightly coat the puff pastry with egg wash and dredge in sugar, bake at 400°F for 18 minutes or until golden brown), but this is the first time we used it for a savory dish (it isn’t sweet), and it turned out pretty well. Next time we’ll bake the puff pastry dough separately, then place it on the savory dish. The moisture from the food baking made the dough a bit soggy in the middle. So, is it worth the trouble? Yes, but it’s not for everyday. It’s a treat, and you do need to set aside an afternoon. That said, it is better that any we’ve had anyplace else: better than stores, better than bakeries, better than restaurants, so we give it five stars.