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Excerpted from The Grand Central Baking Book by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson

Some of the cooks I respect most tell me that ready-made puff pastry is one ingredient they will buy. They scoff at the notion that puff pastry can be made easily in a home kitchen. The solution is rough puff pastry, which refers to a technique for making lovely puff pastry without the time, special equipment, or precision required for classic puff pastry. The simple formula and straightforward technique are proof that making puff pastry at home doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming.

Rough puff pastry dough is, by nature, a bit of a mess. There will be irregular chunks of butter and floury dry patches no matter which method you choose. Don’t lose faith; the end result is always stunning.

Puff pastry owes its dramatic appearance and flaky texture to lamination. For a better understanding of the process, it’s helpful to compare the structure of laminated dough to a cross section of plywood: microscopic layers of dough and butter are stacked up repeatedly, one on the other, without mingling. As the dough bakes, the butter releases steam, which is trapped by the layers of dough, causing the pastry to puff. In the case of rough puff, this structure is achieved by cutting large chunks of butter into the dry ingredients, where they’re distributed randomly, and then by folding the dough repeatedly.

Rough puff dough can be mixed by hand or with a stand mixer. I prefer to use my hands if I’m making a small quantity; it’s just as fast and there’s less cleanup. When I want to stock up, I pull out my KitchenAid to mix a large batch.

INGREDIENTS

To yield about 3 lb rough puff pastry (the most a home KitchenAid mixer will hold):
4½ cups (1 lb, 6.5 oz) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp salt
2¼ cups (1 lb, 2 oz, or 4½ sticks) butter
1 cup (8 fl oz) water
1½ tbsp lemon juice

To yield about 2 lb rough puff pastry:
3 cups (15 oz) all-purpose flour
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp salt
1½ cups (12 oz, or 3 sticks) butter
¾ cup (6 fl oz) water
1 tbsp lemon juice

To yield about 1 lb rough puff pastry:
1½ cups (7.5 oz) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
¾ cup (6 oz, or 1½ sticks) butter
½ cup (4 fl oz) water
1½ tsp lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

Measure flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl you’ll use for mixing and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Cut butter into 1-inch chunks.

Working with a stand mixer: Using the paddle attachment on medium-low speed, add the butter all at once and mix for 1 minute. The texture of the flour will go from silky to shaggy, and the dough will still contain some larger chunks of butter. You’re likely to find unincorporated flour at the bottom of the bowl and dry patches throughout. To hydrate the dough, reduce the speed to the lowest setting and, with the mixer running, drizzle in three-fourths of the ice water and lemon juice. Check the hydration of the dough by gathering a small fistful; if it holds together, it’s ready. If it’s dry or crumbly, mix the dough a little longer (2 or 3 rotations) before adding more water, 1 tbsp at a time, testing the dough after each addition by pinching it.

Working by hand: Use your fingertips and thumbs to quickly rub the butter pieces into the chilled dry ingredients. Stop mixing when the texture of the flour begins to change from silky to mealy. There should still be chunks of flattened butter ranging from the size of a nickel to the size of a quarter. Make a well in the flour mixture. To hydrate the dough, drizzle in three-fourths of the ice water and lemon juice while gradually pulling the dry ingredients into the middle with a fork and mixing gently. Check the hydration of the dough by gathering a small fistful; if it holds together, it’s ready. If it’s dry or crumbly, mix a little longer before adding more water, 1 tbsp at a time, testing the dough after each addition by pinching it.

Form and chill the dough. Bringing the dough together into a rough but cohesive mass is the first step in developing the structure of puff pastry.

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Pull out a length of plastic wrap, leaving it attached to the roll. Begin building layers by loosely arranging handfuls of dough on top of one another. Use the heel of your hand or a dough scraper to pat and guide the dough into the center of the piece of plastic wrap. Gradually form the dough into a 1-inch-thick rectangle using the heel of your hand. (Don’t poke or prod the dough with your fingers or a utensil, as that will interrupt the development of the layers.) The height, or thickness, of the rectangle is what matters here, not its length or width.

When you have piled all the dough into a rough rectangle, fold the plastic wrap up around the dough’s edges, then fold the 2 sides into the center, tugging firmly on the ends of the dough to coax it to hold its shape. Tear the plastic wrap and wrap it tightly around the dough, using the heel of your hand to lightly pack the dough as you do so. Chill for at least 2 hours.

The microscopic layers of butter and dough in puff pastry are created by rolling the rectangle of dough and folding it like a letter, also known as “giving it turns.” To begin the process, lightly flour a work surface. Arrange the rectangle so the short ends are at the top and bottom of the work surface. Roll the dough out to 3 times its original length; it will be about ¼-inch thick. Always roll the pastry into a square or rectangular shape, and roll in only one direction. The dough may be difficult to work with or fall apart as you make the first fold. Use a dough scraper and your hands to redistribute the dough, pat the pieces together, and keep the rectangle true. Take the bottom edge of the dough and fold it two-thirds of the way up the rectangle. Bring the top edge down to meet the new bottom edge, like a business letter. Wrap or cover the dough with plastic and refrigerate for 20 minutes after the first turn.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and arrange it so the short ends are at the top and bottom. Repeat the process of rolling and folding and refrigerating 2 more times for a total of 3 turns. As you further develop the gluten in the dough, it will want to shrink or spring back when it’s rolled. It is crucial to let the dough rest after each turn. If it becomes elastic or difficult to roll out in the middle of a fold, let it sit in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

(Feel free to interrupt the process of adding folds at any point, as long as you pick up where you left off within the next 24 hours or so. If you wait longer, the dough may begin to oxidize. The flavor shouldn’t be affected if it’s well wrapped.)

After it has all of its folds, you can use it immediately. Alternatively, you can roll the whole sheet up and freeze it, dividing large batches into two or more pieces. An 8-ounce chunk of puff pastry is the smallest size you’re likely to find useful. It’s most helpful to divide and freeze your dough in 12- to 16-ounce pieces. It can be used almost immediately after removing it from the freezer.

Puff pastry can be frozen for up to a year. Double wrap the dough in plastic or store it in a resealable bag. Once it’s defrosted, the dough shouldn’t sit in the refrigerator for more than 2 days, or its ability to rise will be significantly impaired. Put it back in the freezer as soon as possible if you can’t use it all. The dough can be refrozen twice after its initial freezing without affecting its puff.

This article appeared in the January 2011 issue of Seattle Met Magazine.

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