I had the house to myself for a few days last weekend and I took the opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen, trying out a few recipes I’d been hoping to get to for a while – homemade puff pastry and homemade pasta. We’ll get to the puff pastry in a minute but just a brief thought on homemade pasta first. I don’t have a pasta roller and while I’d love to get one, I doubt I’d use it often enough to justify the expense, and I really don’t have the room to store it anyway. Still, I’ve seen people have success with a rolling pin alone, so I figured I’d give it a shot. The dough came together beautifully, but sadly despite my best efforts, I could not roll it thin enough. The dough kept shrinking back as I worked it, so I let it rest but still no luck. My noodles were thick, and when I boiled them, they got even thicker and a bit rubbery. They were definitely not tasty. I am determined to try again though, so if you have tips for making homemade pasta without a machine, please send them my way!
For as much as the pasta was a failure, the puff pastry was a huge success! I think puff pastry is the perfect thing to keep in the freezer – you can make any number of elegant and wonderfully delicious dishes with it (both sweet and savory!) and most of them are really simple. There are a few brands of frozen puff pastry readily available in the supermarket, and while I have absolutely no problem with using them, sometimes it’s just fun (for me anyway) to try making my own. I’m also cheap, and the store-bought brand of puff pastry made with butter is quite expensive so I hoped this recipe might save me some money.
This is a quick recipe for puff pastry and it really is quite doable. The only tricky part is that the dough is a bit shaggy and rough, not really coming together into a smooth, satiny mass until the final turn (a turn is the process of rolling and folding the dough). While I did not take step by step photos to demonstrate the turning process this time, you can find some here in my post on making homemade croissants. There are only three turns required to make this dough yet you’d never know it from the end result. I used my puff pastry to make upside-down mango tartlets earlier in the week and then I used the remaining dough to make these apple tarts yesterday. Both times, the puff pastry baked up light and flaky and I also thought it had a lot more flavor than the supermarket brands I’ve tried in the past. While I can’t say I’ll never use store-bought puff pastry again (sometimes shortcuts are necessary), this homemade version is definitely my preference and I’ll likely be restocking my freezer with more in no time.
Homemade Puff Pastry
from The Art & Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet
4 1/2 sticks (18 oz) cold unsalted butter
3 cups (15 oz) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3 oz) very cold water
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
Cut the butter into 3/4-inch cubes. Transfer the cubes to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the flour and salt to the bowl also and use your hands to mix briefly, until the butter is coated with flour. Put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill for 20 minutes. Combine the water and vinegar in a measuring cup and chill this mixture in the fridge for 20 minutes as well.
After 20 minutes, remove the mixer bowl from the fridge and attach to a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. You want the butter to break into smaller pieces of varying sizes (the largest about 1/2-inch square); be careful, however, not to over-mix – if the butter is too small, it will be unable to form flaky layers in your puff pastry.
With the mixer still on low speed, slowly add the water/vinegar mixture to the bowl, drizzling in different points around the bowl. When the dough begins to come together in large chunks (within about 10 seconds), stop the mixer. The dough will be slightly moist but it will not look smooth. Turn the contents of the bowl onto a floured work surface.
Use your hands to shape the dough into a rough rectangle about 6 x 8 inches and 1 1/2 inches thick. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a 14 x 16-inch rectangle. You can flour the dough a bit if necessary, but brush the excess flour away once you’ve finished rolling the dough out. Fold the dough into thirds like a letter. Start with a narrower side facing you and begin by folding the bottom third up. Next, fold the top third down to complete the “turn.”
[Note: for more detailed step by step photos, please see this link to my recent post about homemade croissants. There you can find photos depicting the process of completing a "turn" with your dough. Please be aware, however, that the dough won't be as smooth here as it was for the croissants. It may even look shaggy, but it will come together so don't be concerned.]
After you complete the first turn, roll your rolling pin across the top of the dough gently 1 or 2 times, just to fuse the dough. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. You’ll want to repeat this process 2 more times – to create three turns total. Continue to chill the dough for 30 minutes between turns. Once you’ve completed all 3 turns, chill the dough (wrapped in plastic wrap) for at least 1 hour before using.
The dough can be refrigerated for 2 days or frozen (double-wrapped in plastic wrap) for 4-6 weeks. Thaw frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator.
Makes 2 1/4 pounds of dough