Pastry 1: Puff dough

2005-06-17

We're in the same lab for this one as for Basic. Our very chatty “German-trained” instructor has been in the business for almost 30 years, starting when she was 14. During the roll call, she made it a point to comment on almost everyone's names. I assume she's been in Toronto long enough to realize that, yes, there are people living here who aren't named Chris or Terry or Pat. Anyway, I digress.

This class was spent learning the theory and practice of making puff pastry which consists of dozens or hundreds of alternating layers of dough and fat. When baked, the moisture in the fat vaporizes, and since it is trapped inside the dough, it creates a pocket of air and causes it it puff. The baked layers of dough preserve the structure.

The dough was made in the mixer by kneading bread flour, shortening, salt and water until it forms a smooth dough. The high protein content of bread flour allows the dough to hold up during folding and provide sufficient structure to prevent collapsing after baking. Next, we took roll-in fat, a specially formulated vegetable shortening with a high melting point (and faux-butter appearance), and worked it between a piece of parchment until it was a flat rectangle.more…

After a period of resting, we rolled out the dough to a large rectangle. The slab of fat was placed on the dough and encased inside it. We then rolled it out to its original size making sure to use plenty of dusting flour and to strive for even thickness and rectangular shape. The first fold was a three-fold turn, much like folding a letter. Since the dough was still somewhat relaxed, we gave it a quarter turn and rolled it again. Then we did a four-fold turn, like an origami cupboard fold followed by a book fold. Now the dough needed to rest for 30 minutes. While we waited, our instructor demonstrated how to use a tabletop sheeter. We did another three-fold turn, let it rest some more, then another four-fold turn. In all, we created 3 × 4 × 3 × 4 = 144 layers! The puff dough was wrapped in plastic and placed in a freezer to be used for the next two classes.

I appreciated the fact that Chef explained the differences between an industrial setting and the home kitchen. Butter, being far too expensive and temperamental in production, is the best choice for use at home. Besides having a superior taste, it melts at body temperature, unlike the special puff shortening which leaves a film in the mouth. Pay attention next time you buy something made with puff pastry: Chef said very few bakeries use butter!

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