Puff pastry is a light, flaky dough used for many desserts, but it doesn't get that way by accident. To create this classic pastry, hundreds of layers of paper-thin dough are separated by equally thin layers of fat. Ideally, the fat separating the layers is butter and, as the pastry bakes, the butter creates steam between the layers of dough, which forces them apart. The puffy, crisp, flaky pastry is completed when the steam evaporates and the butter is absorbed into the dough as the baking continues. The process is time-consuming and delicate, and tips are usually welcomed.
Give It a Feel
When you bake your puff pastry, it may be tempting to only watch for color changes and puffing to determine done-ness, but according to pastry expert Michelle Tampakis, writing on the website of "Gourmet" magazine, feeling the dough is also a must. You want the golden brown color and you want it puffed up, but it won't be finished until the surface of the puff pastry is totally dry. Give it a quick, gentle touch with your fingertips when it looks ready, and then you'll know for sure.
Opt for Pre-Made
If you are more interested in the finished product than with following tradition, consider taking a trip to the grocery store for frozen, pre-made puff pastry. Working with dough that has already been made for you might not seem as authentic, but it will make your life easier because it will bake properly every time. Since puff pastry likes the cold, chill your pans and kitchen tools in the fridge before you work with the dough.
Protecting the Puff
The ability of the layers of puff pastry to puff up is the whole point of baking the dough, so it is important not to interfere with that process. Tampakis advises brushing the tops with an egg glaze made from egg yolk and water before baking to create a sheen, but you must be careful how you apply the glaze. Brush the glaze on gently with a pastry brush, but don't let it drip down over the edges. This will seal any cut edges and steam won't be able to escape during baking, which will hinder the pastry's ability to puff.
Easy on the Salt
If you have a say in the matter, a "Woman's Day" magazine article, sharing advice from "Food and Wine" editor Gail Simmons, suggests making your puff pastry dough with unsalted butter, rather than salted butter. Using unsalted butter gives you the option of adding more salt to the final product if you feel it needs it. If it is too salty after baking, you won't be able to remove it. You won't know for sure until the pastry comes out of the oven, and by then it will be too late if you've made the wrong choice.
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images