For the longest time, I thought that the French puff pastry was the coolest (albeit most tedious) type of pastry to make. You roll a plain dough (flour, water, salt) into a rectangle, place a slab of cold butter in the center, fold the sides of the dough over the butter (like wrapping a parcel), roll the butter+dough parcel into a rectangle again, fold it in thirds, turn it 90 degrees and repeat ... at least 6 times or until you have some 700-odd alternate layers of dough/butter. Oh, and as if things are not complicated enough, the pastry has to be chilled for at least 30 minutes in between each roll so the butter doesn’t melt. Finicky? Hell, yes. Cool? Oh so! Especially when you see the layers of pastry puff up as you bake.
But then I discovered another pastry - a Malaysian pastry - that is just as cool. Maybe cooler. I'm talking about the flaky, layered pastry used to make the Malaysian spiral curry puff @ karipap pusing. This pastry is not puffy like the French puff but it is very flaky and crispy. And it also looks very attractive : if done properly, you see flaky spirals running all across the diameter of the crescent puffs.
Now there are two types of curry puffs available here: one with a soft pastry similar to what you use for western pies and the other uses this flaky pastry with the spiral layers. The fillings for both are usually the same: either a potato-based filling with carrots and sometimes green peas (and for non-vegetarians, chicken and a hard boiled egg!) or spicy sardine (also for non-vegetarians, obviously).
My mother always made her curry puffs with the softer pie-type pastry. And because she made spectacular puffs, I never felt the need to buy curry puffs from the road side stalls that usually sell these delicacies either for breakfast or tea. However, I was always curious to know how the spiral pastry was made. Obviously I wasn't curious enough to try and make them myself ... until last week when a friend challenged me to make "the best curry puffs in town".
What a tall order. And no, before I go on, I am in no way implying that these puffs are "the best in town".
I am, however, pleased to say that I have discovered a new cool pastry to play around with. It took me three tries to get the pastry right: the first wasn't flaky enough, the second wasn't crispy enough but the third was, if I may say so myself, quite perfect :)
Flaky, spiral pastry
The spirals in this pastry are formed NOT by layering a plain dough with a block of pure butter as in puff pastry. Instead, the spiral rings on the pastry are achieved by layering TWO different types of doughs: a dry water dough (flour + water + a little oil) and a wet, sticky oil dough (flour+butter/shortening).
The process of making the pastry isn't all that complicated BUT there are quite a few steps which I hope I can explain well. Don't be intimidated by the steps - hopefully the almost step by step photos will help!
I have not included a recipe for the filling as this post is strictly about the lovely pastry. :)
For the wet dough
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tbsp corn flour
For the dry dough
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup warm water (approx)
First, the wet dough. Mix the plain flour and the corn flour together. Rub in the butter and mix until all the butter gets incorporated with the dough to form a smooth, slightly sticky dough. Cover with a tea towel and set aside.
For the dry dough, first dissolve the salt in the warm water. Place the flour in a bowl and make a well in the middle. Heat the oil and pour in into the well. Using a wooden spoon (for you don't want your fingers anywhere near the hot oil), mix the flour into the oil. The dough will be a little clumpy where the two ingredients mix. Add the water and, using your hands now, bring everything together till a dough forms. Use just enough water to bring it all together. The dough shouldn't be too sticky.
Cover and let both the wet and dry balls of dough rest for about 15 minutes. (Unlike the French puff, the dough for this recipe need not be chilled).
Once rested, divide both types of dough into four equal portions and roll them into smaller balls, making sure to keep them separate. (The balls of dry dough should be slightly bigger as more flour was used to make them).
Take one ball of the dry dough and roll it out into a circle, not to thin or too big. You just want it to wrap the smaller ball of wet dough.
Once rolled out, place the ball of wet dough in the centre and crap the sides around it. (see pic).
Seal the ends tight and, cupping the ball with the palm of your hand, roll the ball smooth. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough.
Once rested, take one of the balls and flatten in gently with a rolling pin. Roll the dough out into a rectangle, about 2mm thick, with the short edge facing you. Roll the rectangle upwards, kinda like a cigar or a Swiss roll.
Flatten the cigar roll of dough with the rolling pin and give the dough a 90 degree turn so the short edge faces you again. Roll the dough out into a rectangle again and repeat the entire process. You have to repeat this step at least another 3 times.
Cut the cigar rolls of dough into 1.5 cm slices.
(Repeat the rolling, turning and rolling again process with all four balls of dough.)
When you have cut all the rolls into 1.5cm slices, you are ready to make your individual puffs!
Lightly flour your work surface. take one of the 1.5 cm slices of dough and roll in out into a circle. You don't want to roll it too thin or it will break. You don't want it to be too thick either or it will take too long to fry and may be doughy. The should be approximately 2mm thick. (See above).
Gently bring the edges together and seal them by pressing with your fingers. You can use a little water to help the edges come together.
Once the edges are sealed shut, pick up the curry puff and start with the edge closest to you. First, pinch the edge so that it's flat and then fold it in at a 45 degree angle.Just go along the edge repeating the process and at the end, seal the last fold in with a bit of water.
This is actually not too difficult but perhaps you'd want to see a video to be perfectly clear. Here's a link that is very helpful. It shows you the entire rolling process too although, instead of rolling the rectangles into cigars, the chef folds it into thirds. The crimping style is the same though.Enjoy!).
Once the puffs have been made, heat some vegetable oil in a wok (there should be enough oil to submerge the puffs) and fry them about 3 minutes each side or until golden brown. You will see the flaky spirals getting all golden and crispy!