Puff pastry is one of the most useful ingredients to keep on hand -- in commercial and home kitchens -- because of its versatility in both sweet and savory preparations. It freezes beautifully, and prepared pastries can be baked while frozen or thawed. Thawed products can sometimes be refrozen for later use, depending how they've been thawed and stored.
Puff Pastry 101
Puff pastry is made by preparing a basic dough, then wrapping it around a block of well-kneaded butter. When the dough is rolled and folded repeatedly, it creates hundreds of thin, leaf-like layers of dough separated by equally thin layers of butter. When baked, the butter insulates each layer of dough from the steam that bakes out. That steam forces the layers apart, quadrupling the height of a well-made puff pastry. The finished pastry bakes to a crisp, golden and flaky consistency.
Freezing and Thawing
Most bakeries freeze puff pastry for storage, and home bakers typically rely on frozen sheets of pastry from the supermarket. Thaw the dough overnight in the refrigerator, rather than leaving it to thaw at room temperature. If the dough becomes warm enough for its butter layers to begin melting, the layers will stick together in those spots. The pastry will still taste fine, but it will rise poorly and unevenly when baked. A properly thawed sheet of pastry remains slightly stiff, enabling cooks and bakers to shape it around a variety of fillings.
Fillings and Food Safety
While the puff pastry itself can be frozen and thawed safely, that's not necessarily true of the fillings. The standard rules of food safety still apply. If your pastries have been thawed and held in the refrigerator, they are safe to refreeze if they remained below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If they've been out at room temperature for two hours or less, they're still safe as long as they're refrozen immediately. If they've been out for longer than two hours or were thawed at room temperature, discard them.
Although food safety is the primary consideration when refreezing pastries, quality is also a concern. Fruit-based fillings usually leak juices when they're thawed, which degrades the quality of the fruit and can make the pastry soggy. Delicate seafood, such as crab and lobster, can seldom tolerate thawing and refreezing, which gives them a dry and mealy texture. Meat-based fillings are variable. Sausage rolls can usually be refrozen if food safety precautions have been observed, but Beef Wellington bleeds into the puff pastry and causes the same problems as a fruit filling. Discard pastries that won't refreeze well, or bake and freeze them when they cool.