Cookbook author Tom Douglas makes his delicious pear tarts.
“Worth the Effort” Puff Pastry Makes enough puff for six 4 1/2–inch squares
1/3 cup ice cold water, plus a few more teaspoons as needed (2 3/4 ounces/80 grams)
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar or cider vinegar 1
1/2 cups all purpose flour (8 ounces/227 grams)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice, very cold, preferably Plugra
( 12 ounces/340 grams) 2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Directions: Combine the ice cold water and the vinegar in a measuring cup or small container and set aside. Combine the flour, butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle. (You may want to hold a kitchen towel around the mixer before you start mixing, as the chunks of butter jump and sputter around and a few may fly out of the bowl). Mix the dough on medium-low speed for about 30 seconds to a minute, or until the cubes of butter have lost their shape, and are about three quarters of their original size. The butter cubes will look smashed up but you will still see biggish chunks of butter. (When in doubt, mix the butter less rather than more, as these chunks of butter will eventually become your puff pastry layers, so it is important not to crumb them down too much.) Turn the mixer to low and add the water-vinegar mixture. Mix for about 15 seconds, just long enough to get the water evenly distributed, but not worked in. The dough should not come together in the bowl, but when you squeeze the dough in your hand it will clump together. If the dough seems too dry add another teaspoon or two of ice cold water. While the dough is still in the bowl, work it with your hands for a minute to clump it together, then turn the dough onto a work surface. Gather the dough together with your hands and work it into a rough rectangular or square shape, using a metal bench knife to help you. (Your rough square or rectangle should be about 4 or 5 inches on each side.) Lightly flour your work surface, then roll the dough out to an 8 X 21- inch rectangle. Use a knife or a metal bench knife to trim your rectangle to 7X 20 inches with nice, straight edges, saving all the scraps. Use a dry pastry brush to brush off excess flour, then give the surface of your rectangle a very light spray of water from a spray bottle or a few drops of cold water scattered from your fingers. Take all the trimmings and arrange then over the top of the rectangle, pressing them to help them adhere. Now you are ready to put your first turn in the dough, which will be a book fold. Turn the rectangle of dough so that it is horizontal to you. To make a book fold, place the rectangle horizontally, and pull the outer edges in to the center, so they meet in the middle (leaving about a ¼ inch gap in the middle), giving the appearance of an open book, then fold “the book” over, using the center seam as the point of folding (and the little gap will make folding possible). Use your rolling pin to press gently but firmly on the top of the “book” to seal. Now the dough should look like a closed book, with the “binding” on one side and the “pages” on the other. The rectangle of dough should now be approximately 7-inches by 5 inches. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes. fter chilling the dough in the freezer for 30 minutes, remove the plastic wrap and put the dough back on the lightly floured work surface, placing the seam sides (where you folded it, or the “pages” of your book) at your right and left and the short (5-inch) sides as your top and bottom. In other words, one of the short (5-inch) sides will be closest to your body. Using a rolling pin roll in a vertical direction, from top to bottom. In other words, roll what used to be the 7-inch sides out to 20 inches. While you are rolling out the length, the shorter (5-inch sides) will expand naturally to about 6 inches (Don’t worry about the exact width here, just be sure you get the 20-inch length.) While you are rolling the dough, keep preserving your straight sides by now and then pressing against them and straightening them with a metal bench scraper. When you have rolled the dough to a 6 or 7-inch by 20-inch rectangle, again brush off the excess flour and spray it very lightly with water then turn the dough horizontal to you and give it a book fold (this is the second book fold). Again use your rolling pin to press gently but firmly to seal the block of dough. Then wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and allow to rest in the refrigerator for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. After the 1 1/2 to 2 hour chill, place the dough back on a lightly floured work surface , again, with the seam or folded sides (in other words- the “pages” of the book) at your right and left, and roll the dough again in a vertical direction from top to bottom to a 20-inch length. Again brush off excess flour and very lightly spray or sprinkle the dough with a few drops of water. Turn the rectangle horizontally to you and, this time, make a “business letter fold” by folding the dough into thirds. In other words, fold in one short (7-inch) side towards the middle of the rectangle, then fold the other short side over and on top of it, just like you would fold a business letter. Use your rolling pin to press lightly on top of your block of dough to seal. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and return it to the refrigerator to chill for 1½ to 2 more hours. After the second 1½ to 2 hour chill, roll the dough back out, again, with seam or folded sides at your right and left, rolling from top to bottom in the direction of the folded sides back out to a 20-inch length. Brush off excess flour, spray the surface of the rectangle lightly with water, and fold the dough in half, pressing on it with the rolling pin lightly to seal. At this point, your dough should be approximately 7-inches by 10-inches. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and return it to the refrigerator to chill and rest overnight. (Note: Freezing is not resting- for this refrigerated overnight rest, do not put the puff pastry in the freezer.) When you are ready to continue with the puff pastry the next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it on a lightly floured work surface with the seam (folded) sides on the right and left, and, this time, the long (10-inch)sides of the dough will be at the top and bottom. Now, rolling in a vertical direction from top to bottom in the direction of the seam or folded sides, roll the dough out to a 20 inch length. You will now have a 10-inch by 20- inch rectangle. Brush off excess flour, spray or sprinkle the dough very lightly with water, then fold the dough in half, which will give you 10-inch square (or pretty close to that), and use the rolling pin to press gently on the square to seal. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place it in the freezer for 40 minutes, flipping the dough to the other side after 20 minutes to the block of dough is evenly super-chilled. (Ahead of time note: at this point, instead of leaving the dough in the freezer for 40 minutes, you can just leave the plastic wrapped dough in the freezer to finish at a later time.) When you are ready to roll and cut the dough, remove the 10-inch square of dough from the freezer (Note: this means you can remove it from the freezer and work with it if it has only been in the freezer for 40 minutes. On the other hand, if the puff has been frozen longer at this point for the sake of convenience, you will have to thaw it at least 8 hours or overnight in the refrigerator before continuing with the recipe. Before rolling and cutting dough that was frozen longer than 40 minutes and has now been thawed in the refrigerator, place it back in the freezer for 30 minutes, flipping it to the other side after 15 minutes so that the dough is evenly super-chilled before continuing with the recipe.) Place the chilled dough on the lightly floured work surface with the seam (or folded) sides left and right. Roll the dough in a vertical direction (in the direction of the seam or folded sides) out to 15-inches. (So in other words, you’re not rolling very far this time, just 5 more inches.) You will now have a rectangle that is 10 by 15 inches. Using a pastry wheel or a very sharp, thin knife, trim the dough to a 9 x 13½-inch rectangle. (In other words, trim approximately 3/4 inch from each long side and trim approximately ½ inch from each short side.) Make clean even cuts on all 4 sides of the dough being sure not to pinch the layers while you cut the dough, because that will keep your puff from rising properly. After you have trimmed the dough to a 9 x 13 1/2-inch rectangle, cut the dough in half lengthwise to make two 4½ x 13½- inch rectangles, then cut each of the strips into 3 portions each, which will produce six 4 1/2 inch squares. (You can place one of the strips in the refrigerator or freezer while the other is being portioned.) When you have made your puff pastry squares, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover them tightly with plastic wrap, and place them in the freezer until you are ready to bake them. After the squares are frozen you can stack them, wrap them in plastic, and place them in a sealable plastic bag in the freezer. Puff pastry bakes best when very cold. Don’t worry about thawing the dough if your pastry squares are frozen. The dough will thaw enough as you are assembling your tarts.
This is not classic puff pastry, because there’s no butter block, but our recipe requires more folds, made with more precision, than rough puff pastry recipes. If you are intrigued by the project of making your own puff pastry from scratch, and you’re willing to put in several hours over the course of two days, this is a recipe that will reward your efforts with beautifully crisp, buttery, golden pastry that rises dramatically in the oven.
Precision is important in making puff pastry. Use a ruler to check your measurements and keep the dimensions as close as possible to those described in the recipe. Also, after you start making your “turns,” the direction of rolling is critically important- always roll vertically, with the seam (or folded) sides to your right and left.
Keeping your puff pastry dough cold is crucial. If at any time while you are working, the dough seems to be getting soft or warm, place it in the freezer for 10 minutes or the refrigerator for 20 minutes before continuing.
For puff pastry, we prefer the higher butterfat and lower moisture of a European style butter, such as unsalted Plugra, but regular unsalted butter will also give you a good result.
This puff pastry requires an overnight rest in the refrigerator, so note that this is a two-day process and plan accordingly.
Ahead of time notes:
On the second day, after the overnight refrigerated rest, when you reach the step of forming a 10-inch square of puff pastry dough, you can freeze the dough and finish the recipe at another time (this is noted in the body of the recipe.) If you have frozen your puff at this point, thaw at least 8 hours or overnight in the refrigerator before continuing with the recipe. Or you can finish the recipe to the point of cutting squares, then wrap and freeze the puff pastry squares for later use. Puff pastry squares do not need to be thawed. Use them directly from the freezer.
Before starting this recipe, put the butter, diced into ½ inch bits, into the freezer for 30 minutes. You want the butter as cold as possible without being frozen solid.
Special equipment: Electric mixer, yardstick or long ruler Additional equipment that’s nice to have: spray bottle of water, pastry wheel cutter, metal bench knife
3 small to medium size pears, ripe but firm (about 7 ounces each) (21 ounces/ 595 grams)
4 cups water (32 ounces/907 grams)
2 cups sugar (13 ounces/375 grams)
1 vanilla bean, sliced in half lengthwise