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Puff Pastry, or Pasta Sfoglia

User Rating 4 Star Rating (2 Reviews)

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Making pastry dough from scratch takes some doing, and good instructions are quite important. Pellegrino Artusi's recipe is one of the finest:
"The beauty of this pastry dough," he says, "lies in the way it rises, becoming light and multi-layered. These characteristics make it difficult for those who don’t have much experience; though you really should watch a master chef prepare it, I will do my best to tell you how."

Prep Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 2/3 cups (200 g) cake flour
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) unsalted butter
  • -
  • OR
  • -
  • 2 1/2 cups (300 g) cake flour
  • 1 cup (200 g) unsalted butter

Preparation:

Note: Flour with a high gluten content, such as unbleached flour, will produce better results.

Moisten the flour with 1/2 to 2/3 cup water, using hot but not boiling water in the winter months, and work in a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of aquavit, and a walnut sized piece of the butter mentioned above. You want a ball of dough that’s firm, but not so stiff that it will be hard to roll out. Shape the dough into a square loaf, wrap it in a cloth, and chill it in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, if the butter’s quite stiff, dip your hand in cold water and knead it till it’s uniformly soft and creamy, without letting it warm up. Form it into a roughly 6 by 12-inch slab and refrigerate it.

When the dough has rested for about a half hour, roll it into a rectangle that is large enough to wrap around the butter. Flour the butter, put it an inch from one of the short edges of the sheet, and fold the dough over it. Press the edges of the sheet together, being careful not to trap any air. Start to spread the dough, first with your hands, and then with a rolling pin, taking care that the sheet maintain its rectangular shape. Roll the sheet out as much as possible the first time, but be careful not to tear the dough. Should this happen, plug the hole with flour. Keep both your work surface and rolling pin well floured so that the dough spreads easily. Once you’ve spread the dough as much as possible, being careful to maintain its rectangular shape, fold the sides over the middle so as to have three superimposed sheets, and roll it out again.

Repeat this operation six times in all; Artusi says to rest the dough on ice for ten minutes between rollings to keep the dough cool, so the butter won’t melt, but he was writing before refrigerators -- wrap the dough in wax paper and chill it in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes. The last time, which will be the seventh, fold the dough in two and roll it out to the necessary thickness, which will be about a third of an inch.

Keep in mind, when you roll the dough out, that the sheet should be rectangular, and three times as long as it is wide, except for the last time. Should air bubbles appear, prick them with a pin.

A marble counter top, which is cooler and smoother, is better than a work surface made of wood. In the summer you will need ice, both to firm up the butter before using it, and to make rolling out the sheet of dough easier. Either wrap the ice in a cloth and pass it over the dough, or, better yet, place the dough between two plates and pack them in ice.

Once you have your puff pastry, what to do with it?

"You can use it to make vol-au-vents, pastries with marmalades or preserves, and pastries stuffed with marzipan," says Artusi. "If you wish to use puff pastry to make meat pies to serve between courses, make a stuffing with a delicately seasoned minced mixture of meat, chicken livers, and sweetbreads."

In all cases, brush the dough with lightly beaten egg yolk to turn it a pretty golden brown. Be careful not to get any yolk on the cut edges, however, because it will keep them from expanding. If the puff pastries are to be used for making sweets, dust them with powdered sugar while they’re still hot.

Some observations on Artusi's instructions:
  • Rolling the dough out and folding it over is called a turn; though the dough will give best results if used immediately, it will keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator, covered to prevent it from drying out. When you are ready to use it, roll it out carefully and cut it to the desired shape with a thin, hot, sharp knife or cutter. It is not a good idea to reroll the trimmings after you have cut your pastry; James beard suggests you use them to make decorative elements, for example palm trees.
  • When you are rolling the sheet, always have one of the short sides facing you, and roll down the length of the sheet.
  • Artusi does not give baking instructions. Bake the puff pastry in a thoroughly preheated 450-500 F (225-250 C) oven for 5-10 minutes (depending on the size of what you are baking), then reduce the heat to 350 F (175 C) and bake 20-35 minutes more. If the top of the pastry is browning too quickly, cover it with a sheet of baker’s paper for the last stage of the baking. If you are making a stuffed pastry, scoop out any dough that hasn’t puffed once the shell has cooled, fill the shell, and heat it through in a 350 F (175 C) oven.

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