Thursday, May 26, 2005

Cooking School: Puff Pastry, Tarte Tatin and Palmiers

Lots of recipes today! I made puff pastry from scratch. It is far and away the best puff pastry I have ever tasted. I'm modest, I know, but man it's good.
I have, as have many other people, only ever used frozen puff pastry. It is convenient, inexpensive and works very well. I can now proudly say that I have passed the puff pastry trial by fire and joined the ranks of the bloggers who did it before me. To put it briefly, it involves a lot of butter, a lot of folding and a lot of rolling. You also have to keep it cold the whole time.
One of the biggest challenges is to keep the pressure even the whole time you are working with the dough so your edges will stay straight and none of the butter will be able to escape. Several people in class had problems with this and their pastry became gooey as their holes got larger and butter escaped.
To make a good pastry, shape your butter into an even rectangular block before you begin. Mush the block together and refrigerate to keep it firm. This way you will only have one piece of butter to work with and you will not have to worry about individual pieces moving around. Use lots of flour when rolling to prevent the dough from sticking. There is plenty of butter in the pasty, so you will not toughen it by using flour! A few people, since they were not using enough flour, had problems rolling their dough. The best way to roll is use lots of short strokes, which will prevent the butter from being pushed to the side and out of the dough. If you do make a small hole, dab a bit of flour over it so it doesn't stick to the rolling pin and continue on. It will probably get covered during the next fold.
Many instructions state that it is necessary to make 6 turns in your pastry. When you're making it by hand, you should only make 3 or 4 turns. It simply isn't that practical to try so many turns without the consistency of a machine - your odds of tearing your dough or squeezing out the butter really increase. Try for 4 turns and stop at 3 if you seem to be getting a few holes. As long as the butter stays inside your pastry, your dough will still be flaky.

Puff Pastry
2 cups ap flour
2/3 cup cake flour
10 ounces butter, cold (2 1/2 sticks), divided
1 1/4 tsp salt
3/4 - 1 cup cold water

Take 8 ounces of butter (2 sticks) and shape into a block roughly 1/4 inch thick. If you are using stick butter, slice each stick into three long pieces and make a 2x3 block. Press butter together well and refrigerate.

Combine flours and salt in food processor. Pulse lightly to combine. Add remaining 2 ounces (1/2 stick) of butter and cut in until dough looks like sand. With the motor running, add 3/4 cup water. If dough has not come together, add remaining water slowly.
Flatten dough into a smooth disk, wrap and chill for 1 hour.

On a well floured surface, roll dough out into a large (10 inches or so) circle. Set butter block in the center and fold up the extra dough as though you were folding an envelope: fold over the sides, the fold the top down and the bottom up. Turn the seam side down and roll until envelope has quadrupled in size. USe short strokes, keeping the pressure as even as possible, and lots of flour.
Fold the dough in thirds as though you were folding a business letter. This is one turn. Wrap and refrigerate dough for at least one hour and up to two days.
To make turns 2, 3 and 4, place chilled dough seam side down on a well-floured surface and roll out again into a large rectangle. Try to keep the dough as evenly rectangular as possible. Fold as you would a business letter. Wrap and chill.
Dough can be frozen until ready to use.

You can use your puff pastry to make a Tarte Tatin, shown above. Be sure to check your apples with a tester because cooking times may vary depending on the softness of your apple.

Tarte Tatin
1 cup sugar
2 ounces butter (1/2 stick)
6 medium apples
10" square of puff pastry

Preheat your oven to 400F.
Peel your apples and cut them in half, removing cores.
Put sugar into a 9 inch, oven safe skillet. Cook over medium heat until sugar is a deep brown. Stir in butter, then turn off the heat and let caramel rest for 5 minutes.
While caramel is resting, roll out your puff pastry and cut a vent in the center.
Arrange apples in the caramel so that there are no open spaces. Place puff pastry over apples and tuck the edges lightly around the apples.
Bake until golden brown and the apples are soft when poked with a tester, about 25-30 minutes.

These are the best palmiers I have ever eaten. What a difference homemade pastry makes - though ones made with store bought will be almost as good if you buy a high quality dough. Don't put cinnamon in your palmiers. As it was put in class: "French people will roll over in the graves if you do." Even the living ones? Yes, even the living ones.

1 recipe for puff pastry
lots of sugar

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll out your puff pastry on a floured surface until it is as thin as you can get it. Cover generously with sugar. Starting at the right side, roll the pastry until it reaches the center. Repeat with the left side.
Cut roll into 1/2 inch segments.
Spread more sugar onto your work surface. Fold each segment into a V shape and press it down into the sugar, flattening it with the palm of your hand. Use lots of sugar. Place each palmier on baking sheet.
Bake 12-15 minutes, possibly a bit more depending on your oven, until golden brown.