'The true cook is the perfect blend, the only perfect blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn.'

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Flo Braker's PDQ (Pretty Darn Quick) Puff Pastry

Puff pastry is is close to alchemy as baking gets. As Joe puts it, 'it’s comprised of hundreds and hundreds of individual layers of dough, all of them separated by ultra-thin layers of butter. When the pastry is inserted in the oven the butter melts, freeing and lubricating the dough sheets so they can separate from one another.' The result? Hundreds of layers of feather-light, fragile sheets of buttery goodness shattering in your mouth, vanishing into nothing. As with all good things, it's ephemeral, and you can't help but give it another bite to re-experience that nanosecond of hedonistic pleasure. It's one of the most wondrous gastronomic sensations one could have.

All good things come at a price; and puff pastry takes a lot of time to make and even longer to master the art. You need to make a dough (détrempe) which encases a butter slab, from there you begin a process of folding and turning that can easily take half a day. As much as I love puff pastry, I usually go for 'quick' puff pastries, which skip the process of making a dough and a butter slab. In this quick version, you partially mix the butter into the dough. As you roll out the dough, the butter bits are stretched to laminate the dough. The other shortcut is that instead of having six folds, there're only four. It doesn't provide as dramatic a rise as a real puff pastry dough, but the result is good enough for most purposes, and vastly superior to anything you can buy. The following recipe is one by Flo Braker's from her Baking for All Occasions.

For lovers of puff pastry, I highly recommend the fantastic book by  Gregoire Michaud. The imagination behind his puff pastry creations is staggering!
Flo uses two kinds of flour here: a combination of all-purpose and cake flour. It helps with lowering the
gluten formation and therefore ensures that your final product will be light. Be sure to use the best butter you can find, preferably an European high-butterfat butter, and use a scale to weight the flour. Once you have made your puff pastry, there're endless pastries you can make. From palmiers to puff pastry tarts and mille-feuille, the possibilities are endless.

Tarte à la crème

Flo Braker's PDQ (Pretty Darn Quick) Puff Pastry

(Slightly adapted from Flo Braker's Baking for All Occasions)

500g good unsalted butter, cold
370g  unbleached all-purpose flour
130g cake flour (or 500g plain flour)
1/2 tsp salt
240ml  ice water mixed with 1 tsp lemon juice or white vinegar

Cut the butter into 1/2-inch slices. Since it takes time to cut this large amount of butter into pieces, once you have cut them, place the pieces on a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes so they retain their chill and remain firm after handling.

Place the flours and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer; whisk by hand to blend. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture. Have the ice water in a liquid measuring cup.

Attach the bowl to the mixer, and fit the mixer with the paddle attachment. Wrap a kitchen towel around the back and sides off the mixer bowl or use a bowl shield to contain the mixture in the bowl, since even the lowest speed causes this amount of flour to fly out of the bowl. Beat on the lowest speed just long enough for the flour to coat the butter lightly, about 10 seconds. The majority of the chunks should be the size of fava or lime beans.

Without delay, resume the mixer's lowest speed while pouring the ice water on the flour in a steady stream, not too slowly or too quickly, taking 10-15 seconds. As soon as all of the water has been added, stop the mixer. Most of the butter chunks should look almost the way they did when you began mixing. The mixture will appear chunky, messy, and not cohesive. However, touch it and it will feel somewhat moist, but with some loose flour particles in the bottom of the bowl.

Using your fingertips, scoop up a large portion of the dry flour particles from the bottom of the bowl, place them on top of the rough mass, and press them together in an attempt to form a dough. Don't be concerned if some dry particles remain.

Dust your hands and a work surface lightly with flour. Transfer the rough mass to the work surface.

Pat it into an 8 1/2 by 5 1/2 by 1 1/2 inch rectangle.

 Roll out the dough into a 16 by 10-inch rectangle, dusting lightly with flour if necessary. With your fingertips, gently coax the dough to straighten the edges and square off the corners, and dab any ares of sticky butter with a little flour.

Starting at a short end, fold the dough into thirds like a business letter: working from a short end, lift the bottom one-third of the rectangle up over the centre and then fold the top third down to cover. This is called a single fold, or first 'turn', and the dough won't be smooth.

Rotate the dough 90 degrees to the left so that the flap on top opens to the left like a book

Roll out the dough again on the lightly floured surface into a 15 by 8-inch rectangle. Brush off any excess flour.

With a short end facing you, repeat folding the rectangle into thirds like a business letter. Now the mixture is beginning to look like a dough, and you have just completed the single single fold, or second turn.

Wrap the dough in aluminium foil and refrigerate for 20 minutes. You have completed two single folds in a short time, so a short resting time should be enough to chill and partially firm the dough. If at any time the dough resists rolling or the butter becomes too soft, you need to return the dough to the refrigerator to chill a bit longer.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and lightly dust the work surface and the dough with flour. Place the dough so that the last fold is at a right angle to you and the flap on top opens to the left like a book. Roll out the dough again on a lightly floured surface in to a 15 by 8-inch  rectangle. Brush off any excess flour. With a short end facing you, fold the short end closest to you up over the centre of the rectangle and fold the other short end down over the centre again resembling a business letter. You have just completed the third single fold, or third turn, and you will notice the pastry is beginning to take form.

Position the dough again so that the last fold is at a right angle to you and the flap on the top opens to the left like a book. Repeat the rolling and folding as directly previously. This is the fourth and final turn. Rewrap the dough in the foil and place it in the refrigerator to rest for at least 1 hour to chill it thoroughly before shaping it for use.

After the dough as rested, roll it into a more manageable shape, such as a 11 by 9-inch rectangle. I like to divide the dough into four pieces. Wrap in plastic wrap/clingfilm and refrigerate for up to 2 days. For longer storage, overwrap with foil, label with the contents and date, and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw the dough in the refrigerator for about 24 hours before using.

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