When added to each cooking equation, puff pastry brings out the party. This is the essence of extravagant dishes with poetic and fantasy titles like vol-au-vent (“breeze”) and mille-feuille (“a thousand sheets”). Another layer of special that swells and illuminates and brings your dish – and with it your Shindig – to life. You might think pulling something as light as this breeze out of your grasp, but rest assured, even the professionals working behind the scenes at the most lavish restaurants use the frozen stuff.
So what exactly is puff pastry? It is a laminated dough, meaning it is made by stacking (laminating) countless sheets of dough and coating the layers with butter. The effect, as is well known: happiness is crisp and flaky. Hand puff pastry preparation is a victory that includes countless stages of rolling and folding with hours of cooling between each “round” to keep the butter in place obediently. It is almost impossible to get it right. And usually, this is just the beginning, since puff pastry is usually one component of a complex dish. So, if you can save yourself a step and worry of another variable, why not lift your leg?
John Denison, who serves elegant and tasteless French classics at the Portland St. Jack restaurant, says making puff pastry “comes with a huge investment of time” and chooses to outsource 99 percent of the puffs he serves. He fell in love with fresh puff pastry while touring the south of France, wading through crowded markets in galette des rois and learning the art of bass and crustacean from the three-Michelin-starred chef, Michel Guar. However, when recreating these famous dishes at home, Dennison finds the only practical way is to buy the pastry. He works with a local bakery to meet the restaurant’s high volume requirements, however Dufor Is a great retail option, as well Trader Joe Sheets are available seasonally.
Dennison warns that some puffs purchased at the store are made with a vegetable shortening, lacking in the rich flavor of real butter. But the taste of butter is not the only reason to check the packaging label: the small amount of water that the butter contains (and vegetable shortening is not) is what makes puff pastry exhalation. While baking the pastry, the water hanging between its cutting sheets creates steam, which inflates the light layers in an impossible way. Vegetable shortening does not have the structure that butter provides as well, which often causes the puff pastry to swell much less dramatically and one that can lean in a wet and oily direction, not crispy and buttery.
For me, anything wrapped in a pastry immediately produces an exciting, theatrical presentation: it is crusty, shiny, ornate. While an excellent puff pastry in apple caramel like a tarte tatin or laden with currants in the form of a chunky ecclesiastical cake, it really shines in epic savory presentations like Guardian’s whole fish wrapped in material – and a fish wrapped in pastry is within reach even if you are not a three star chef. Co-author of Wine food and The picnic Andrea Slonker offers salmon al-crota as an elegantly and deceptively simple way to impress your friends: “It looks sumptuous but quite easy to make using frozen puff pastry.”
Slonker chooses the frozen variety “because it is an easy and quick way to make a crust when I feel like something crusty.” Amen. She buys frozen puff pastry sheets from a local bakery, and this is a great (and painless) way to get your hands on a top quality butter pastry. She keeps it around for ad hoc desserts, quiches and savory tarts; See “Membrane Things”.
Treating puff pastry, whether you made it yourself or not, is a project of its own. Temperature and timing are everything, so do not feel that you have exaggerated too much in buying it. Keep the puff pastry frozen until the day before you plan to use it, and thaw it slowly in the refrigerator overnight to avoid disturbing the delicate balance of the floating butter, which can be discarded if the dough rests too much at room temperature.
After thawing, roll the pastry gently until thick and puff some life back into the dough. Be sure to brush off any excess flour – this will help create a stable seal when connecting parts and bring you closer to a glossy surface with jewelry. When cutting the pastry, keep it cold and use a sharp knife to ensure you cut way The layers instead of sliding them together, promote a uniform rise.
Brushing the surface in the egg before baking is a crucial step when you are looking for a glossy surface, but after baking you achieve a rich professional surface. As always, sugar is the secret. Brush the still hot surface of your freshly baked puff pastry with a thin layer of maple or simple syrup to get a glossy sheen that will stabilize into a crackling veneer as it cools. Do not avoid brightening your savory pastries as well. The thin coat will provide the shattering crunch you are looking for, but it will not offset the balance of your salty flavor profile.
Some style swelling ideas:
Main photo: John Curry. Second photo: Rachel Cabit