Monday, February 21, 2011

Puff the magic pastry

This puff doesn't look at all professional so you KNOW its homemade, right? Absolutely. But, though obviously imperfect, I don't think I've been so happy with anything I've baked as I am with this puff. It's a simple eggplant puff : roasted eggplant + greek yoghurt + lemon juice, chevril and pine nuts with white cheese.

But the filling is not what I'm over the moon about. It's the pastry. I made the puff pastry at home, from scratch. Making my own puff pastry has been on my to-do list for about six months. I've put it off so long simply because it looked to troublesome and difficult. Most books/recipes on puff pastry come with diagrams, for goodness sake! Diagrams? Egad. Diagrams just remind me of secondary school Science lessons. Not a very pleasant memory. So, yeah. 

But for some reason I felt brave enough to give it a go last Thursday. It was Chap Goh Meh (the 15th day .. and the very last day of the Chinese New Year) and there were some awesome firework displays going on outside. It was 9pm, my usual baking hour. My dog, Mojo, was terrified and refused to go outside. He kept close to me ... real close... his wet nose was, quite literally, stuck to my ankle.  The cutie.

So together, we marched into the kitchen for my most ambitious project this year.

Making puff pastry takes time. Why? Well, you get the rich, flaky and buttery goodness of puff pastry by patiently creating layers (and layers) of dough and butter.

Start by making your basic dough.
250 gms high protein or bread flour
pinch of salt
250 gms unsalted butter
3 tbsp water (more if necessary)

Sift the flour and the salt into a bowl. Cut up 50gms of the cold butter into cubes and with your fingers, gently rub it into the flour till it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the water (one tbsp at a time) and, using a knife (and later your fingers), bring the mixture together to form a dough. No need to knead. The dough should be a little sticky.  

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and rounding it into a ball.Make an X-shaped incision on top of the dough and then wrap tightly in plastic and chill for at least 40 mins. 
While waiting, work the butter.
Sandwich the remaining 200 g butter (still cold but not frozen, about 10-15 mins out of the chiller) in-between two sheets of greaseproof paper. Gently tap with a rolling pin until softened to the same consistency as the dough. Form the butter into a rectangle about 2 cm thick. Chill.

Note: You have to work fast because though your butter has to be soft enough to flatten, you cannot let it get too soft while you are folding it. Tip: don't work in a hot kitchen (i.e in the late morning/afternoon) and use a cold surface (like marble or tile).

Back to the dough.
Once the dough has chilled for a good 40 mins, place the ball on a lightly floured work surface and unfold the four segments that you cut into flaps earlier so your dough looks like a four-leaf clover (mine wasn't too pretty but, come on, it was my first go, right?). The centre should be slightly thicker than the "arms".

Now place the butter in the middle section of the dough (the mounded section) and fold in the arms, stretching the pastry in order to fully cover the butter.

Lightly tap the top of the pastry with a rolling pin to seal the edges and to enlarge and flatten the square a little. Next, roll out the pastry (one direction only, please) to a long rectangle. The edges of the rectangle should be even and straight: mine were not!!!

Now, roughly (in your mind) divide the rectangle into three segments. Fold the bottom third of the rectangle up toward the centre, aligning the edges. Then, fold the top third down: the edges should  meet.

Turn the square 90 degrees to the left (for maximum rising, always rotate the pastry in the same direction) so that the fold is at the side. Now, roll out the pastry into a long rectangle and repeat.

If you cannot work fast enough and you feel the butter getting too soft to handle, chill the buttery dough for about 20 - 30 mins till it hardens a little.

Repeat at least four times.

OK. My step-by-step pictures aren't pretty so have a look at the diagram which I got online.

Better? Yup. Meanwhile, I looked down at my ankles and noticed that my appendage (Mojo) was no longer around. He'd given up and was fast asleep in his cot.

I was really psyched that my pastry turned out well. I could actually see the thin layers of dough and butter. I was on a high. So high was I that the next day when the pastry was ready for use, I made four (yes four) different types of pastries!  

That's the preview. Lookout for the individual posts soon!

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