Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Puff me with butter. Ply me with flour.

The profundity of butter is a difficult thing to express. Especially when combined with other elemental ingredients: flour, water, salt.

In the past, I've made pastry. Pie, tarte, quiche...they all work. But puff pastry - this is a different beast. This is more that a few turns of the fork in cold butter, more than a few dribbles of ice water, and more than a simple roll of the pin.

In fact, the process of making puff pastry is a veritable marthon of steps, all ensuring the integrity of the endless and growing numbers of layers. It's about building, re-rolling, and pushing forward. An unincorporated blob of butter, though not ideal, can't be faulted for not forming a perfect layer between its neighboring perfect layers of dough, but it can be coerced.

Another light sprinkling of flour, another fold, another roll across the table, hour after hour, can only produce something spectacular, especially in considering the short list of ingredients.

And though I don't claim to have learned the techniques through and through, I can say I was an excellent observer, and did my best with the camera on my cell phone to capture the following:

It began with a small amount of butter cut into a mountain of flour.

The flour was then shaped into a moat, and filled with salty water.

Gentle nudges, and a paste began to form.

Paste became a sticky dough, clinging to fingers and wrists and every half-touched object in the kitchen.

The dough base was finished, and then came the butter.

Unwrapping cube after cube, quickly so the temperature didn't rise, like eager children shedding wrappers of Christmas chocolates.

And then, the chopping.

A fine dice of cold butter, incorporated with a small amount of flour, and then reformed into a slab of butter that could rival any impressive cheese wheel in form and brawn.

The dough was pressed to a square, just large enough to wrap comfortably around the butter block.

Folded together with the precision of a crisp envelope, we patted away flour and pulled the stretchy dough for just the right fit.

Edges neatly sealed, the package was ready to be rolled.

Time lapse: several hours, in which four times the rolling to the length of the table took place, with a double fold over to achieve those 447 layers of perfect flakiness.

Cut into 1 pound blocks, the finished puff pastry was carefully wrapped and stored, with just enough left out to finish the evening with a few palmiers.

Cut from a thin slice of rolled out dough, the palmiers couldn't have been simpler.

A quick foldover, a bit of beaten egg for sealing, and a sprinkling of sugar was all it took before they slid into the oven.

With heat, they puffed and spread, cozying up to their neighbors as the melting butter carmelized with the small sprinkling of sugar.

Small, crisp, even dainty, I say with confidence that the palmiers were mind blowing. Warm from the oven, with a texture that melted from shards of flaky pastry to the sweet taste of caramel, the small plate only left me wanting more.


  1. what a HUGE pile of puff pastry! I made half puff pastry with Catherine this summer-- she made it look so easy-- yet i kept thinking how sweet it is that Pepperidge Farm does all that work for me.

    Where were you making this huge amount of dough?

    Will you be a guest chef on our cooking show -- coming next year!

  2. Kona Pam says: I think the butter would melt too soon here in Hawaii, unless we started late at night when the mauka (upland) breezes blow down from the volcano and deliver chilly temps, and we did it on the marble table. I think I am with Barb on this, too much effort. We made a roast pig leg (wild pig) which we brined overnight and then cooked at 295 for about 4 hours. We made a jaboticava syrup reduction to go with it.

  3. barb - san francisco, the city i still yearn for....cooking show?! what else do you make with your puff of choice?

    pam - maybe you can overnight me a limb of two of that hog...a restaurant in town makes an amazing wild boar ragout that i've would love to recreate.

  4. Moey says: mmmmmmmmmmm yeah baby!! more butter!!~!
    this is the yummiest yet~! only one thing tho, i can't believe
    i didn't get a palmier. those are my very favorite thing!
    and who's hands are those fondling the ingredients anyway??
    don't look like yours!