Let's take a look at Pepperidge Farm's Frozen Puff Pastry Sheets as compared to the recipe for making puff pastry at home from Fine Cooking magazine. All costs are taken from Peapod Online Grocery unless otherwise noted.
• Pepperidge Farm's Frozen Puff Pastry Sheets from Peapod Online Grocery
PER OUNCE: $0.27
• Homemade Puff Pastry
4 oz unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 oz melted: $1.50
6-3/4 oz unbleached all-purpose flour; more for rolling: $0.41
Generous pinch table salt: $0.01
1 tsp lemon juice: $0.08
PER OUNCE: $0.13
• Pepperidge Farm's Frozen Puff Pastry Sheets from Peapod Online Grocery: Thaw for 30 minutes
• Homemade Puff Pastry: Active time - about 20 minutes; Total time - about 3 1/2 hours or longer if your dough needs to be chilled more frequently.
Making puff pastry is an involved process, to say the least. You start off by making a block of pliable butter and wrapping it in an envelope of lean dough. This butter package is then rolled out, folded like a letter, and rolled out again. This rolling and folding process, technically called "turns," is repeated six times. By the end, the dough consists of hundreds of very thin layers of butter separated by hundreds of very thin layers of dough. During baking, the steam in the butter will cause the layers to puff up into the crispy, pillowy pastry clouds we know and love.
Keeping the dough and butter chilled is crucial to the whole process and is also what makes puff pastry so time-consuming. If the butter is too warm, it gets absorbed into the dough layers. If it's too cold, it breaks and cuts the dough (which is equally undesirable). To keep it in a happy middle zone, the pastry is chilled for 30 minutes in between every turn or two.
This said, the hands-on time is relatively minor. If you're at home, just set a timer to remind you when the dough is ready for another turn and then go about your business. Once the pastry is made, it can be used right away or frozen just like store-bought pastry.
TASTINESS AND HEALTHFULNESS
Traditional puff pastry - and the pastry we make at home - is made with all butter, while store-bought puff pastry like Pepperidge Farm's often contains vegetable shortening. Aside from being something that many of us try to avoid, puff pastry made with shortening just isn't as tasty as those made with butter. There are a few commercial brands of all-butter puff pastry, and these are remarkably tasty. Trader Joe's makes my personal favorite from this category.
Where homemade puff pastry really wins is in the puff. I have never seen pastry quite as spectacularly puffy as those made by hand the long way. This homemade pastry crackles when you bite into it and the flakes melt on your tongue. It's ethereal and completely mind-blowing.
MAKE OR BUY?
Puff pastry is a fun project for a lazy weekend, but nine times out of ten, I'll go for the convenience of a good store-bought puff pastry over making it myself. The exception is when I really want that fantastic puff from homemade pastry, as for pastry cups or a very fancy dessert.
Have you ever made puff pastry? Do prefer it over store-bought?
Related: How to Work with Frozen Puff Pastry