Puff pastry forms the foundation of as many sweet and savory treats as you can dream up, so it’s perfect to have on hand during the holidays for easy desserts and hors d’oeuvres. The much-loved dough bakes up into hundreds of delicate layers of buttery pastry, which can serve as a base for a tart, a wrapper for a turnover, or the layers of a napoleon, to name a few.
Puff pastry is made by repeatedly rolling and folding a block of butter into a tender dough until the butter is divided into scores of layers within the mass. This technique is known as laminating; when the dough is baked, the water in the butter turns to steam, causing the layers to rise and create a light, flaky pastry.
Here, we show two ways to make puff pastry at home. The classic version will give you the most layers, but it’s time-consuming to make. The quick version requires fewer turns and results in fewer layers, but the results are still delicate and delicious.
Classic Puff Pastry
For the puff dough:
3 cups (15 oz./470 g.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (4 oz./125 g.) cake flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm.) pieces
1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml.) ice water, or as needed
For the butter package:
1 lb. (500 g.) unsalted butter
2 Tbs. unbleached all-purpose flour
In the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 2 cups (10 oz./315 g.) of the all-purpose flour and the salt. Pour in the ice water and mix on low speed until a smooth batter forms. Scatter the butter pieces over the surface. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the remaining all-purpose flour and cake flour, 1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz./75 g.) at a time, until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 15-20 seconds to make sure it is smooth and not sticky. Flatten the dough, shape into a rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to overnight.
To make the butter package, using a rolling pin or the heel of your hand, beat or knead the butter on a work surface to flatten and warm it until it is cool and pliable, about 60°F (16°C). Sprinkle the butter with the flour and gently beat the butter with the rolling pin to press the flour into the butter. Shape the butter into a 6-inch (15-cm.) square about 3/4 inch (2 cm.) thick. If the butter has become too warm, wrap and refrigerate just until firm but still pliable (60°F/16°C).
To laminate the dough, on a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch (30-cm.) square. Place the butter at a diagonal in the center of the dough. Fold over the corners of the dough to meet in the center, covering the butter completely. Pat with your hands to form an 8-inch (20-cm.) square, then turn the square over so the seams are underneath. Roll out into a rectangle 24 inches (60 cm.) long by about 8 inches (20 cm.) wide, with a short side facing you. Fold the bottom third up, then fold the top third down, as if folding a letter. This is the first turn. Rotate the dough a quarter turn clockwise so that a fold is on your left.Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. Repeat to make 5 more turns, rolling, folding and chilling the dough each time, for a total of 6 turns. Each time you start, make sure you have a fold on your left. After the final turn, wrap the dough in plastic wrap, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or for up to overnight before shaping. Makes about 2 lb. (1 kg.) dough.
*NOTE: Many recipes call for 1 lb. (500 g.) of dough, or half of this recipe. Puff pastry is easily stored for later use; just cut the finished dough into quarters, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, place in a zippered plastic bag, and freeze for up to 1 month.
Quick Puff Pastry
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz./235 g.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2 oz./60 g.) cake flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. (250 g.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm.) pieces
1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml.) ice water
BY HAND: In a bowl, stir together the flours and the salt. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in the butter until the mixture forms large, coarse crumbs the size of large peas. Sprinkle the ice water over the surface and toss and stir with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula until it is absorbed. With your hands, pat the mixture into a loose ball.
BY FOOD PROCESSOR: Combine the flours and the salt and process briefly to mix. Scatter the butter over the flour and pulse about 10 times until the mixture forms large, coarse crumbs the size of large peas. Pour in the water and pulse 2 or 3 times until the dough starts to gather together, but before it forms a ball.
BY STAND MIXER: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the flours and salt. Scatter the butter over the flour and mix on low speed until the butter is coated with flour. Pour in the water and mix just until the water is absorbed and the butter is still in large pieces.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, dust the top lightly with flour, and pat into a rectangle 3/4-inch (2-cm.) thick. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 12 inches (30 cm.) long, about 7 inches (18 cm.) wide, and 1/2 inch (12 mm.) thick.
With a short side facing you, fold the bottom third up, then fold the top third down, as if folding a letter. Rotate the dough a quarter turn clockwise (so a seam is on your left) and repeat the process, rolling the dough into a 12-by-7-inch (30-by-18-cm.) rectangle and folding into thirds. Repeat the process a third time.
If at any time the dough begins to warm up and the butter begins to soften, place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 20-30 minutes. After the third and final turn, wrap the dough in plastic wrap, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or for up to overnight before shaping.
For longer storage, cut the puff into quarters, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, place in an airtight plastic bag, and freeze for up to 1 month.
Recipes from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking, by Cathy Burgett, Elinor Klivans and Lou Siebert Pappas.