Ever had a palmier? A flaky turnover filled with jam? A bite of puff pastry topped with mushrooms at a fancy cocktail party? All these delicious treats start right here, with this dough. Yes, you can buy puff pastry at the store, but if you're in the mood for a real baking project, you can make it yourself at home.
From such simple ingredients — flour, water, butter — greatness comes. Here's everything you need to know to make puff pastry from scratch.
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What Makes Puff Pastry Puff
Puff pastry is made from hundreds of paper-thin layers of butter trapped between hundreds of paper-thin layers of dough. In the oven, the liquid in both the butter and the dough rapidly evaporates, puffing the individual layers skyward. The butter melts into the dough, turning it golden and crispy.
Getting to this end result takes a little work. First, you make a "lean" dough of just flour and water — it's considered lean because it contains to fat. Then you wrap this dough around a block of cold butter. Roll it out, fold it up like a letter, roll it out, fold it up, and repeat. At the end of this whole process, you will have created all the paper-thin layers that make puff pastry puff.
Essential Tools for Puff Pastry
Making puff is a pretty low-tech process — no fancy gadgets or even a stand mixer required. However, there are two tools you really need and that are tricky to replace: a pastry scraper and a French rolling pin.
The pastry scraper is used in all the steps: for scraping the flour back into a pile as you make the dough, for nudging the butter into place as you work it, for lifting and moving the pastry as you roll. A pastry scraper also acts as an extension of your hands and fingers, helping you manipulate the dough without warming it up too much with your hands.
A French rolling pin or a tapered rolling pin is also essential for pounding the butter and making it pliable (see below). The kind of rolling pins with handles and a freely spinning roller are both too heavy and too awkward for this step. I've seen recipes that beat the butter in a stand mixer until pliable, but personally, I still feel that this warms the butter up too much. You want it to be pliable enough to be rolled like a dough, not so soft that it could be spread. (This said, if you have a favorite technique for softening the butter, I'd love to hear it! Please share in the comments!)
My Favorite Tools for Puff Pastry
Making the Lean Dough
The process of making the dough for this pastry may feel a little awkward and unfamiliar to you at first: form a trough down the middle of a pile of dough, add a tablespoon of water, then fluff with your fingers. Keep your fingers loose and use a scooping motion. Repeat, adding water just one tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms shaggy clumps and holds together when pressed.
But of all the parts of this process, you should fret the least about making the dough. The fluffing process is to ensure that the water gets evenly mixed into the flour and that not too much gluten is formed — it's actually pretty fun to do. When else do you get to toss flour in the air?
As long as you add water gradually and the dough holds together when you're done, your puff pastry will be fine.
Keep the Butter Cold, but Pliable
The butter in puff pastry presents a bit of a challenge: you want it to be cold so it stays solid and doesn't melt into the dough, but you also need it to be pliable so it can be rolled out without breaking into pieces.
This seemingly magic act is accomplished by pounding the butter with a French rolling pin — you'll need the kind that looks like a long shaft (not the kind with handles and a free-spinning roller). Cut the cold butter into pieces and begin pounding it with the end of the rolling pin. (This is very good for anger management, by the way.) Scrape the flattened butter up with a pastry scraper, fold it over on itself, and continue pounding and scraping until the butter will bend without breaking, but is still quite cold.
Sprinkle the butter with a few teaspoons of flour during this process — some of the liquid in the butter will bead up on the surface as you pound and the flour helps absorb this. Also, rub flour on your rolling pin as needed to prevent it from sticking to the butter.
What It Means to Turn the Dough
Most of the labor of making puff pastry is in that process of rolling out the dough, folding it up, and rolling it out again. One round of rolling out and folding up is called a "turn" and you do six of them in total to make puff pastry. To make sure the butter stays cool, refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes every two turns — or between every turn if your kitchen is very warm.
If some butter starts to pop through the lean dough as you roll, just sprinkle the spot with a little flour, pat it with your fingers, and carry on. If this is happening a lot, that's a sign that the butter is warming up too much and you should refrigerate more frequently.
Ways to Use Your Awesome Puff Pastry
Oh, the things you can do with puff! You can make big tarts for a crowd, or tiny tarts for an elegant dinner party; fold it into a turnover with fruit or jam for a special breakfast; or bake it in muffin tins to make cups that can be filled with just about anything. This recipe below makes about the same amount as one sheet of store-bought puff pastry, so you can use it in any recipe that calls for puff.
Our Best Recipes That Use Puff Pastry
Gather your ingredients: 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon; 1 teaspoon salt; 2/3 cup ice water; 8 ounces unsalted butter, cold
How To Make Puff Pastry
Makes 1 large sheet of puff pastry, equal to store-bought pastry
What You Need
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup ice water
8 ounces unsalted butter, cold
French rolling pin
Make the lean dough: Mix the flour with the salt, then turn out onto your work surface in a pile. Run your fingers down the center to create a trough. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of water into the trough. Quickly fluff the dough with your fingers, keeping your fingers loose and using a scooping motion. Gather the flour back in to a mound, create a trough, and add another tablespoon of water. Continue sprinkling and fluffing until the flour clumps together in large pieces and holds together when pressed.
Chill the dough: Press the dough into a square and wrap in plastic. It's fine if it looks a little shaggy and unkempt at this stage. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare the butter block: Cut the butter into a few large pieces and sprinkle with a teaspoon of flour. Begin pounding the butter with a French rolling pin to soften it, sprinkling flour on your rolling pin as needed. Pound the butter flat, then use a pastry scraper to gather it up again. Sprinkle with another teaspoon of flour, pound flat, and repeat. Add one more teaspoon of flour, then continue pounding and gathering, pounding and gathering, until the butter is very pliable and does not break when you fold it over on itself.
Chill the butter block: Once the butter is pliable, shape it into a 4-inch x 4-inch square, wrap in plastic, and chill 10 minutes (no longer).
Roll out the lean dough: Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out to a roughly 7-inch square.
Wrap the butter in the dough: Place the square of butter on top of the dough at a 90-degree angle to the dough. Fold the corners of the dough over the butter so they meet in the middle. Pinch to seal.
First turn: Flour the work surface lightly and flip the butter package over so the seams are down. Roll it out to a rectangle roughly 12 inches long by 6 inches wide. Fold the top third over the bottom third, and the bottom over the top third, like a letter
Second turn: Rotate the folded dough so it looks like a book about to be opened. Roll it out again into a rectangle 12 inches by 6 inches. Fold it again.
Chill for 30 minutes. Mark 2 divots in the edge of the dough to remind yourself that you've done two turns. Wrap the puff dough in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
Do two more turns: Repeat rolling out and folding the dough two more times. The dough should feel much more smooth and pliable at this point. If you notice any butter popping up through the dough, pat it with a little flour.
Chill for 30 minutes: Mark 4 divots in the edge of the dough to remind yourself that you've done 4 turns. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
Perform two final turns: Repeat rolling and folding the dough two more times for a total of six turns. By this point, the dough should feel completely smooth and be easy to roll out.
Chill for 1 hour or overnight: Wrap in plastic and chill for a final 60 minutes, or overnight.
Roll and cut the dough: When ready to bake, begin the oven preheating to 425°F. Roll out the puff pastry dough to between 1/4 and 1/8 inches thick. Use the dough as is to make a large tart, or cut the dough into whatever shapes you need. Transfer them to tart pans or baking sheets. If the dough feels very soft and warm at this point, chill for another 30 minutes before baking.
- Bake for 10 minutes at 425°F.
- Lower the oven temperature to 375°F and continue baking until dry, crisp, and deep golden-brown.
Cool completely: Baked puff pastry is at its crispiest best the same day it's made, but will keep quite well in airtight containers for a few days.
- If it's very warm in your house and the dough seems to be warming very quickly or if the butter seems to be melting, refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes between every turn instead of every two turns.
- If you plan to freeze the dough, it's best to do so after just 4 turns; thaw overnight in the fridge and then complete the final 2 turns before rolling out the dough and baking. If necessary, you can freeze the dough after all 6 turns, but the pastries might not be quite as puffy.
(Image credits: Melissa Ryan)