Store-bought frozen puff pastry is a life saver any time of year, but especially as we move into the busy holiday season. With a package or two stashed in the freezer, I know a quick apple tart for visiting guests or plate of mini-quiche appetizers for a potluck is only a few steps away — and the empty, crumb-filled plates at the end of the night speak for themselves.
If you've never used frozen puff pastry before, let me assure you that it couldn't be easier. This is definitely a time where taking some help from the freezer aisle is the smart move.
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Store-Bought Puff vs Homemade Puff
In all honesty, I think most of us would be hard pressed to tell the difference between store-bought and homemade in this case. Homemade puff pastry will usually puff a little more impressively and have a more delicate texture — but the difference is surprisingly small. The one real advantage of homemade puff is that you can choose the butter; using a high-quality butter will make a world of difference in the flavor of the finished pastry.
Seek Out All-Butter Puff Pastry
You may not get to pick the exact kind of butter used in your store-bought puff, but you can — and should — seek out brands that use only butter in their ingredients. Puff made partially or entirely with shortening or any other fat will have a far inferior taste to those made with butter alone. Read the labels and ingredients list carefully.
Let Puff Thaw Before Using
The only potentially tricky moment when working with store-bought puff is that it needs to completely thaw before you use it. If you can, take the package of puff out of the freezer and let it thaw in the fridge overnight.
If you're baking at the last minute and don't have time for this long thaw, set the pastry on the counter, but keep an eye on it — you want to catch it right at the moment when the pastry is pliable enough to be rolled and shaped, but isn't so warm that the butter is melting.
Using Your Puff Pastry
Puff pastry is yours to play with. You can use it as a crust for a free-form tart, fold it into breakfast turnovers, bake it into cups for easy appetizers, or cut it into bite-sized shapes for appetizers. Here are a few favorite recipes to try first.
Our Best Recipes That Use Puff Pastry
Thaw the puff pastry overnight or on the counter: If you have time, it's best to thaw puff pastry overnight in the fridge. If you don't have time, thaw it on the counter until it's pliable enough to unfold without cracking, but still cold to the touch. Keep a close eye on it — if the butter is starting to melt or if the dough feels very limp, refrigerate it for 30 minutes to help it firm up again.
How To Work with Store-Bought Frozen Puff Pastry
What You Need
1 or more sheets store-bought frozen puff pastry
- Thaw the puff pastry overnight or on the counter: If you have time, it's best to thaw puff pastry overnight in the fridge. If you don't have time, thaw it on the counter until it's pliable enough to unfold without cracking, but still cold to the touch. Keep a close eye on it — if the butter is starting to melt or if the dough feels very limp, refrigerate it for 30 minutes to help it firm up again.
- Unfold or unroll the puff pastry: Most store-bought puff comes folded or rolled into smaller packages. Carefully unfold or unroll the puff on your counter, taking care at any seams or toward the center of the roll, which are prone to cracking. If the pastry does start to crack, wait a few minutes and try again. Small cracks can usually be patched together again when you roll it out. Remove any packing papers or liners.
- Lightly roll out the puff pastry: Dust the top of the puff with just a little flour, then use a rolling pin to very lightly roll across the seams and bumps from the packaging and make the pastry even. Don't press to hard here or your pastry might not puff as much — the goal is just to flatten it, not to actually roll it out.
- Cut and shape the puff pastry: Cut the puff pastry into whatever shapes you like, according to your imagination or a recipe that you're following. You can use the entire sheet of puff to make a big tart, shape smaller individual tarts, or even bake the puff inside muffin cups and fill them later.
- Bake the pastries at 425°F until puffed: Bake just until you see them puff up and just start to brown, roughly 10 minutes. Baking time will vary based on the size of your pastries and their filling, so keep an eye on them.
- Bake the pastries at 375°F until done: Lower the oven temperature and continue baking until the pastries are dry, crisp, and deep golden brown.
- Cool and serve: Let the pastries cool slightly, then serve. Or if you're filling them after baking, let them cool completely, then fill and serve. Wait to fill the pastries until just before serving or else the pastries will get soggy.
- If you don't want the pastry to puff so dramatically, prick the dough all over with a fork (just like docking a pie crust). After baking, the pastry will be cracker thin and shatteringly crisp.
- To make a tart with a puffy outside crust, lightly score a border around the entire edge with a paring knife and then prick everything inside this border with a fork. The edges will puff up while the center stays down.
- Make only what will be eaten and make it as close to serving as possible. Puff pastry looses its lovely crispiness after a few hours.
This post has been updated — first published November 2009.
(Image credits: Melissa Ryan)