Puff The Magic Pastry

The Kitchen

GUEST: Backup Girl

    Who's the laminated pastry
    That's always fast, always tasty?


    Um, mm.


    And who's that always standing by
    When you need your appetizer on the fly?
    Could it be ...

BG: Puff.

    I think you know what it is.


    What do you call those thousand layers
    That can wipe away every single care?

BG: Puff.

    Oh, yeah.


    What's the name of the that flaky sheet
    That can wrap around veggies, fruit, cheese and meat?

BG: Puff.

    Oh, I think you know it is.


    And who is there for the common cook?
    Well pop your freezer lid and take a look.
    You know who it's going to be.

AB & BG: Puff.

    Pastry, that is.


    But if you're going to taste that flake
    There are precautions you'll have to take.
    So tune in and together we'll ... good eats make?

BG: Puff.

    Can you dig it?

The Kitchen

    So what's so special about puff pastry? Well, consider this. We start with something this thin and this flat and with almost no effort at all we end up with something like this. How could this be? Layers. Lots of layers.

Atlanta Art Institute School of Culinary Arts

GUEST: Chef Michael McCurdy
            Chefs #2 and #3

    Puff pastry's layers are actually alternating strata of dough and butter which is why it's called a laminated dough. It's kind of the plywood of the pastry world. Personally I never make the stuff but then, uh, I don't have one of these. Luckily, Chef Michael here does so he's going to show us the ropes.

MICHAEL MCCURDY: Roll the dough out thin enough so that we can begin putting the fat in and locking it. We take the slab of butter and we lay it into our dough and open the machine back up because now it's much thicker than it was when we started. A tri-fold just like a business letter.

    Could you do this all at home yourself? Sure ... if you had several hours to spend and a big cold work surface—preferably a big slab of marble—and, uh, the arms of a Channel Swimmer would also be very helpful because we're basically talking about converting three layers into ... uh, let me do the math here ... uh ... 3 times 3 times 3 times 3 plus ... well, I don't know. We're talking about ...

AB: Could you take this?
CHEF #2: [does so]

... we're talking about at least 250 and maybe as many as 2,000 or 3,000 distinct and microscopic layers.

AB: Could you hold this for me for a second?
CHEF #3: [does so]

    Now I don't know about you but I'm not a jock, I don't have the big cold rock and I've never been very friendly with the clock so luckily there's an option.

The Kitchen

    Although some markets do carry puff pastry in flat sheets, odds are good what you're usually going to encounter is going to be a tri-fold like this. Okay? Now obviously this would thaw better if it were opened up, right? The problem is that, well, it doesn't really work like this [it breaks apart]. Now this is repairable but you know what? Let's give this one another try.
    The truth is, there are rules about thawing, even counter thawing. The first thing you want to avoid is any condensation on the dough. That would just, would ruin the dough. So lay out a kitchen towel or paper towel, then lay down your sheet and cover and wait 15 to 20 minutes.
    Okay, time to have a look. Open it up and gently see if you can peel back the layers. If they stop, do not force them. Oh, there. That still feels a little bit tight so I'm just going to let that lean just like that. Some air will get in there and everything will be fine.

    Meanwhile, let's think about the surroundings. Okay, what's the air in your kitchen like? Is it hot? Is it the middle of summer? Has the oven been on all day? The thing is, is it over 80 degrees? Because if the butter trapped in between these layers of dough melt, this is just going to ooze out all over the table and you will never have puff to your pastry.

Puff Law I: Keep It Cool

    So, take out some insurance. You know, professional puff pastry folks work on either marble or metal because it sucks up heat and it stays cold. So, stash a cookie sheet, sheet pan, what have you in the freezer just a few minutes before you start to seriously work the dough. That way if the dough starts to wilt, you can lay a piece of parchment out on the dough and then just slap the pan on top of it. Thirty seconds later it's as good as new. If nature calls or the office calls or somebody calls while you're working the dough, just put the pan on top of it, go, come back, everything will be fine.
    Now this feels good. That's what 15 minutes will buy you. But we've still got these seams and if we leave this like that, it's going to be very hard to work later on. So, take your finger tips or your knuckles and kind of crimp those seams together. Kind of form a serration like that.
    Now this dough is already getting a little bit wet. So before I try to roll this out, I've gotta find something to dust it down with. Now you can use all purpose flour or you can use sugar all depending on, uh, whether your final destination is going to be savory or sweet. I'm going to go sweet today. So a little sugar on this side and I'll flip it over and hit it with a little more sugar.
    Now to really bring these seams together and get us into a workable condition, you're going to have to roll it a little bit—just a little bit in each direction—just to help close those seals up. If it slides around the table, that's a good thing. That means it's not sticking to the table.

No rolling pin? Pick up a wide wooden dowel at the
hardware store or use a clean (empty) wine bottle.

    Tarts, of course, can come in all sizes and shapes. Round, for instance. And this rapidly brings us to the second law of puff pastry: nothing is more critical than the cut, okay? If you take a raw, jagged, nasty edge to puff pastry you'll only serve to mangle it, to tear it, to stretch it and, worst of all, mash it.

Puff Law II: Cut It Clean

    Okay, when puff pastry mashes it's like taking all these layers of dough and squeezing them together like that and then they can't rise in the oven. So, use your sharpest knife or better yet, don't use a knife at all. Believe it or not, a good heavy-duty pizza cutter is the best friend Puff ever had. Just lightly hold the bowl and just trace around whatever your shape may be.
    Now these are firm enough to go ahead and put into the oven right now. But they're going to be even better if we give them a few minutes in the refrigerator. The reason? Well, it's got to do with gluten which we've talked about before back on our pie show. Just get this in the fridge. Gluten, since we did do a little bit of rolling, has been activated, and that's kind of like this [sling shot]. Okay?

AB slipped at this point and put the camera's eye out.
You can avoid such disasters by resting that dough!

The Kitchen

    Now would be a good time to talk about fruit because what self-respecting tart would not be fruitful. What we need is an apple ... a big, juicy, tart, Granny Smith for instance. [is thrown a Granny Smith] Of course it would be really nice to go ahead and core that. [tosses it back and it thrown a cored apple] And, uh, now that you've got it cored you should peel it. [tossed back is thrown one that is peeled] Of course, what I'd really like to have is a quartered apple. [toss back and is thrown 4 quarters of an apple] That would be a lot easier to work with.
    Now, you want to slice these wafer thin. Now this will take you a little bit of practice and that's understandable. After all, you may not be a highly trained culinary professional. But guys like me can do this pretty much ... all right, so I'm not and I use a vegetable peeler. But truth is, when it comes to things like apple slices, nothing does a better job at wafer thin than a vegetable peeler.

    But this means a lot of broken cell walls. That means a lot of enzymatic action. That means a lot of browning. So these need to go into acidulated water very, very quickly. Now I like to use just water that's been spiked with a little bit of lemon juice. Of course if, uh, you don't want to use that, you can always dissolve a vitamin C in there.

1 Cup H2O +
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice

    [looks at watch] Oof. Time to dough.

    Of course you know this means another puff pastry law. And this one is important:  always flip cut puff bottom up. Got that? Okay, here's the thing. These layers on the bottom were very close to the board—on the cutting board, of course—when we cut. So, they suffered the least amount of tearing and stretching and, of course, mashing. So by putting them on the top side, we maximize our puff potential.

Puff Law III: Cut
Puff Bottom Up

    Of course, in the middle here we're about to have a bed of wafer thin apples and we don't want that puffing up. We want that to stay nice and flat. The problem is steam. It's got its own laws. As steam is formed inside the dough, it's going to push up. So we've got to give it some place to go. This is called 'docking'. Just make a few little exit ports for the steam right around the center of the pastry. Don't do it around the edges because we want the edges to be puffy.
    Now, sugar is involved. And sugar has its own laws and rules, too. Mainly which is when it melts, it sticks to things like metal. Now since we rolled out this dough with a little bit of sugar on it, parchment paper goes underneath the dough. That's going to make for easy extraction later on. So we can add a little bit more sugar which would be a good thing. Just sprinkle on a little bit more. And now it's time to lay on the apples. Now I find that I can really put the bang on the heads of friends and neighbors if I go with a, uh, an inter-locking spiral.

Other tart friendly fruits:

    And into the middle of a 400 degree oven we go. Now 400 degrees Fahrenheit is the magic puff number. You get the puff. You get the crispy. And you get the golden delicious. You also get to wait 15 to 20 minutes.

Bake at 400°F
15-20 mins.

If you're not ready to bake, cover the tarts
with wax paper and refrigerate for up to a day.

    Now they look done. But to be sure, you've got to touch. Just give the crust a poke. If it feels soft at all, you've got more baking to do. These are nice and rigid, though. We're good to go.

    Of course it would be nice if we could have that new tart shine. But that would be making a glaze and, of course, if we had some apricot jam microwaved for about 30 seconds—just enough to loosen it up—we'd have a glaze. Just dab a little bit of your jam on and paint around the edges. And then dab around inside where the apples are. Do not brush because brush strokes would pull the apples and mess up that design. They're not a hundred percent set yet.

Jelly works too.

    Now I prefer these at room temperature, not hot. So I let them cool down on the counter thoroughly, at least 4 hours to make sure all of the moisture is out of them. And then I seal them up in a zip-topped bag and leave them at room temperature. This way they're around whenever I want to take a chomp out of one of them. Of course if the in-laws drop by, I can also whip one of these out, put it in the microwave for 20 or 30 seconds or in the toaster oven for a minute, and then top it with a nice dollop of vanilla ice cream. Who's a hero now?

Large tarts can be cooked directly on a pizza stone heated to 400°F.

    My second division of puff pastry construction are the stacked pastries. And they're exactly what they sound like, just cutting and stacking different layers of pastry to build different things. Now this is a fun division because you get to pretend that you're an architect. And architects get to play with things like rulers and scissors and pens and things like that.

    The first thing we're going to do is we're going to do is cut four walls and that's where the ruler comes in. I'm just going to lay that across the edge and cut one wall. There.

Step I: Walls

    Now the 'floor' is going to have fruit all over it, so we don't really want it to be very puffy. So, we're going to dock again with a fork. Don't worry about trying to push all the way through the dough. You're not trying to, to, you know, turn it into a colander. You just want to let some steam out. So just poke lightly. There.

Step II: Docking

    Now we can't just stack those walls on. I mean, because, they wouldn't stay. They'd fall off. So what we need is some kind of cement. And as anyone that works in the adhesive industry will tell you, nothing glues quite like protein. Of course, a steak would be kind of expensive and messy. So we're going to go with one egg beat with two tablespoons of water. This is called an egg wash and it's good for a lot of things in pastry work as we will soon see.

1 Egg + 2 Tbsp H2O

    Of course, we don't want to get this near any of these cut edges, okay? It's glue and if it binds those edges, no puff, right? So, lightly apply just inside the cut area, like that, about a quarter inch in. You can go as far in as you want as long as you don't ride out on that edge.

    Now make sure that when you put your walls on, that you put the cut edge—the new edge that we just created—on the outside, okay? I'm just going to stack that like that. Now I'm going to put a dab of 'glue' on the ends here to hold on to those end walls. It's just like building a wall. And the next piece. There. A little more cement here and here and there and there. And then just fold these edges over like that. Don't worry about getting it perfect. Believe me when it's all puffed up, I mean, it's going to be up to here so it won't matter.

Step III: Construction

    No, uh, that's a pretty good looking tomb, right? But we really can't do anything with it until it sets. Oh, we're going to make a 'roof' so measure. Okay, we're going to need something about 7 inches by 7 inches. Okay. Into the refrigerator.

Step IV: Roof

    Of course the roof is going to require another piece of puff pastry. Oh, and it looks like we've already got one. How nice. So again, I'm just going to measure off about, uh, 7 inches in one direction and that's going to be right there. Seven inches. I'm not going to be real precise here because as you'll see, we don't really have to be.

Remember: stretching is bad so when cutting puff, err on the large side.

    Now there's going to be a lot of steam gathered up in this thing because there's going to be fruit under here, okay? And we've got to give that steam a way out and that's going to be through the 'roof'. So I'm going to fold this in half and cut some vents for that steam to get through. Just cut in a couple of inches. Now you see when we open that up, we'll have a nice 'roof' that's solid all the way around the outside and slots on the inside. That's fun. Okay, into the refrigerator with this as well.

For a fancier roof, weave together individual strips of puff.

The Kitchen

    You know how sometimes a really nice frame can save a really cheap piece of art? Well in this dish, the puff pastry is the really nice frame and these canned pie cherries are the really cheap art. But, hey, we can't all be Martha Stewart. [thunder and lightning]

AB: [to storm] Sorry.

Oregon Pie Cherries

1 can pie cherries, drained

     Drain these to get all that excess moisture out of them. Then shake on about, oh, half a cup of bread crumbs or cake crumbs. Not only will those add another layer of texture, but they'll soak up any extra moisture and that will keep the cherries from wetting their bed, if you get my drift. Let these sit for about 10 minutes.

1/2 Cup bread or cake crumbs

Frozen berries can also be used if thawed and tossed liberally with sugar.

    Now remember when you spoon this stuff in, that the walls of the pastry are going to come up quite a bit. And if you don't fill enough, you're going to end up, well, with kind of a caved in tomb which just wouldn't be right. So ladle this in and add more than you think you need.
    Of course before we put on the roof we're going to need more cement. So, the egg wash comes in to play once again, just around the edges. Staying away from the edges, of course, because we don't want to impede the puffage.
    The roof. And this is the piece that you've got to be the most careful with because it's the one that's most likely to get stretched out. And if it does, again, puffage will not be achieved. Just lay that right on top. Now remember we made it just a little bit bigger than the base so we've got a little bit of room for expansion there.
    Now the other thing that egg wash is really good for besides cementing things is turning things brown and glossy. Look at any good loaf of French bread, the outside, that's probably because of an egg wash or at least because of proteins. So just brush as much of this as you can. Again, you're not going to be able to stay away from all of the cut edges on this, so just try not to gunk it up too much. That looks good.

    Now into a 400 degree oven. As we said before, 400 is the magic puff number. But this time we're only going to go for half an hour at that temperature. The reason is is that will be plenty of time for the piece to puff up but it won't be enough for it to set, for all those dough layers to really cook through. We're going to give it another half hour after this at 350 degrees. That way we won't get any over-browning on the piece but it will set.

30 mins. at 400°F

30 mins. at 350°F

    Having worked our way through the flat and the stacked, it's time to move on to category three: the stuffed. Now this is my favorite category because this is the one that includes things like empanadas, turnovers, fritters, things like that. Now all of these devices have their roots in the middle ages. You see back then they didn't have any refrigeration. So cooks would take leftovers and cook them in this real, hard crusty shell that was called a huff pastry and it would basically seal the food in. It would seal in the juices and to some degree would keep germs out. Now, uh, these days I stick with the refrigerator for preservation but I do like the idea of having a place to put all these leftovers that I accumulate.

    Now in this case I've got, uh ... what is this? I've got some rice left over from, uh, some takeout a few nights ago. I'm going to throw that in there. Some sautéed mushrooms. Pickle relish that I really do need to use up one of these days. Whatever you've got that's green. Here we've got some, uh, green onions and some parsley. Perfect. Salt. A few grinds of pepper. And that should just about do it.

Leftover white,
brown or fried rice

Up to 1/2 Cup cooked mushrooms

1-2 Tbls dill pickle relish

2-3 chopped scallions

1 Tbls chopped parsley

Salt & Pepper to taste

    [sigh] No. That, that doesn't do it. We've got to find something else. Something with a little soul. Something with ... ah, tomato soup. No. No. Here we go. This is it. Salmon. Salmon. Now, now we've got a bunch of leftovers that are actually going to start turning into a classic dish. Because the Russians have this classic pastry dish, puff pastry dish, called koulebyaka which does, indeed, contain all of these elements, especially the salmon. So I'm just going to put the whole can in. Give that a stir.

1 can salmon (skinless)

    Now give it a taste. That's good. But I can't use this [spoon] anymore. Double-dipping is not allowed. Luckily I always have a backup [spoon]. Now, all we need is some puff pastry. One sheet to be exact, trimmed into a square. So I'm going to cut this into quarters. That way and that way. Don't try to get it exact. Odds are you won't.
    Now I'm just going to use a regular serving spoon or tablespoon to put some of this filling right in the middle. And I'm not really concerned about these things puffing up around the edge so I'm not going to worry about avoiding it. You'll see why in a minute. This is basically just like the turnover your grandmother used to feed you when you were a kid. You want to do this carefully, though, to keep hold of all the stuff. Don't let it fall out.
    This is going to be one case where mashing is good because we're going to seal this by crimping it with a fork. Just lay down your fork and just push the tines down like that and go all the way around.
    That's it. Right? No. You remember the law, the steam law. And this where I whip out the utility knife which is just about the sharpest thing I've got around my kitchen. You want to give a little exit port for the steam. So just a little gash, two of them, on the top of each pastry.

    Now we're ready for the oven. And what would that be? That's right. A 400 degree oven. The magic puff temperature. In about half an hour these are going to be golden-brown, delicious and suitable for use in any picnic.

Bake at 400°F for 30 mins.

AB's favorite puff filling? Manwich mix and cheddar cheese.

The Dining Room

    The moral of this story? Take care of the puff and the puff will take care of you ten times out of ten. Just stick to the plan. Keep it cold on the way home. Thaw it right. Work it when cool and firm and when it's not, put a cold pan on top of it until it is. Cut it with sharp tools only. Dock the bases. Vent the tops. Flip upside down before building or filling when you can. Rest before baking when you can. And, uh, keep an eye on your oven over there. If you've got any cool or hot spots in there it could result in un-even puffage. You might have to spin the pan.

Keep It Cool
Cut It Clean
Dock the Base
Vent the Top
Build Cut Side Up
Rest Before Baking

    Now, who's the dough who's going to get you where you want to go? [waits for BG but no answer] I've got to figure out where those girls are. Until next time this is ...

BG: Good Eats.

    I give up. Whatever.

BG: Good Eats. Good Eats.

Proof Reading help from Jon Loonin and Sue LIbretti

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010