Puff pastry is a type of traditional French pastry which is made by repeatedly folding a dough around a block of butter. When the pastry cooks, steam trapped inside the dough separates the folded layers, creating a puffy, flaky finished product. This pastry is used in a range of French sweet pastries such as croissants, and it can also be used to wrap up appetizers and other savory foods. Making the pastry from scratch is a bit challenging, but it can be a fun project.
If you don't feel like making your own pastry, most markets sell it, typically in the frozen section. Frozen puff pastry can be stored in your freezer until you are ready to use it as needed; you can also freeze the pastry you make at home. If you decide to freeze your own puff pastry, chill it in the fridge first and then wrap it well in wax paper and then slip it into an airtight bag.
There are two styles of puff pastry which you can make at home. The first is the traditional kind, which can take several days to make since it requires chilling between foldings of the dough. You can also make what is known as “rough” puff pastry. Rough pastry is fairly quick and easy to make, and it yields a flaky result, although it will not be as flaky as true puff pastry.
To make the classic kind, sift two cups of flour with one half teaspoon salt into a large bowl. Add one half teaspoon lemon juice and a teaspoon of butter. Mix these ingredients together with a pastry knife, adding a small amount of water to pull the dough together without making it too sticky. Once the dough has pulled together, chill it; this is the first stage in making the pastry, and this block of dough is called the detrempe in French.
While your dough chills, soften approximately one cup of unsalted butter and then spread it out in a rectangular shape on a sheet of plastic wrap. Lay another sheet of plastic wrap on top, and use a rolling pin to roll the butter as evenly thick as possible. One you have made an even, rectangular block of butter, chill the butter so it reaches the same temperature as the dough.
Roll your dough out into a rectangular shape which is about twice as large as the butter block, and then lay your butter block in the middle. Fold all four sides of your dough rectangle around the butter to make an envelope, and then turn it sideways and fold the two ends so they meet in the middle. Roll out your resulting rectangle, turn it, and repeat the process three more times. Then, chill your dough for at least eight hours before pulling out and folding in the sides and rolling as directed above. Plan on repeating this process at least one more time and up to six more times before using the dough as desired.
If you want to make rough puff pastry, mix one and one quarter cups flour with one quarter teaspoon salt, and then cut in one cup of unsalted butter. Add six tablespoons of ice water and then dump the loose dough onto a floured cutting board. Using the heel of your hand, smear the dough against the cutting board to mix the butter in thoroughly, and then gather it into a ball and chill it for half an hour. Roll the pastry out in a rectangle and fold it as directed for one stage above before using it as desired.