Wednesday 24 January 2018

Rachel Allen's easy puff pastry

Puff pastry is easy to do and it can take home cooking to another level so it is worth taking the time to learn how to make it writes Rachel Allen.

Rachel Allen's puff pastry
Rachel Allen's puff pastry
Rachel Allen

Rachel Allen

Why does puff pastry strike fear in the hearts of otherwise accomplished cooks? They'll happily whip up some shortcrust pastry or a few loaves of yeast bread, but claim they've neither the skill nor the time for puff pastry. Well, I think they have both! It isn't too difficult and doesn't take nearly as much time as you'd think. The dramatic, delicious results are well worth the effort.

Wonderfully versatile, there are so many different dishes and desserts that I like to use puff pastry for. After making it a couple of times, you'll have mastered the process, and your sense of achievement will be matched only by how impressed everyone else is!

If you've ever rolled out pastry, then you have enough skill to make puff pastry. It requires a little extra precision with your rolling, as proper rectangles are needed each time. Though this isn't especially difficult, it does get easier with some practice.

If you have even a few hours at home, then you have enough time to make puff pastry. Even then, most of that time is for the pastry to rest in the fridge – you'll only spend about half an hour or so actually making the pastry.

The rise in puff pastry comes not from yeast or bread soda, but from the hundreds of layers of flour and butter that you fold into the pastry as you make it. The result is unequalled: crisp, flaky, buttery and beautiful.

There are a few important points to remember to ensure that your pastry rises and tastes good. The dough must always be kept chilled, so never leave it out of the fridge for too long. If the butter begins to melt into the flour, the pastry will be greasy and it won't rise properly. The other important step is to make sure your rectangles are accurate, with straight edges and right angles! That way, when you fold them up, the edges will align correctly and your pastry will rise evenly.

If you're in any way inclined, then I urge you to give puff pastry a try. It's undeniably impressive and, once you know how to, I think it's so much fun to make. Plus, it keeps in the freezer for up to three months, so you can make a big batch like this and it can be the golden crowning glory to a parade of different dinners.

Puff Pastry

Makes approximately 1.25kg (2lb 12oz)

You can store any leftover pastry in the fridge for 48 hours or in the freezer for up to three months.

You will need:

450g (1lb) strong white baker's flour

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

200-275ml (7-9fl oz) cold water (the amount of water will depend on the absorbency of the flour)

450g (1lb) chilled butter, still in its wrapper

Rachel Allen

Method

Sift the strong white flour and the pinch of salt into a large bowl. Mix the freshly squeezed lemon juice with 200ml (7fl oz) of the cold water, and pour it into the flour and salt mixture. Using your hands, mix to a firm dough, adding more water if necessary. This dough is called detrempe (a mixture of flour and water). Flatten it slightly and cover it with a plastic bag, cling film or greaseproof paper and allow it to rest in the fridge on a baking tray (which aids the chilling process) for 30 minutes.

Then, roll the detrempe into a rectangle about 1cm (½in) thick. Remove the butter from the fridge – it should be still in its wrapper – and, using a rolling pin, flatten it until it forms a slab about 1.5-2cm (5/8-¾in) thick. Remove the butter wrapper, place the butter in the centre of the dough rectangle and fold the dough over the edges of the flattened butter to make a neat parcel.

Dust the work surface with flour to prevent the dough from sticking. Turn the dough over on to the floured surface, and gently roll it out into a rectangle approximately 40cm (16in) long and 20cm (8in) wide, positioned so that one narrow end (the 20cm (8in) end) is facing you.

Brush off the excess flour with a pastry brush, then fold the dough neatly into three – lift the end furthest away from you and place it on the rectangle of dough, so that only one-third of the pastry is left uncovered. Align the sides as accurately as possible. Fold the other end on top. Seal the edges with your hands or a rolling pin.

Give the dough a one-quarter turn (90°) – the pastry should look like a closed book in front of you. Roll it out away from you, again into a rectangle (you should end up with roughly the same measurements as before), brush off any excess flour and fold in three again, as described above. Seal the edges, cover with cling film or greaseproof paper and allow to rest in the fridge for another 30 minutes.

Repeat the entire process twice more – every time you begin, start off so that the pastry looks like a closed book in front of you – so that, in the end, the dough has been rolled out six times and has rested in the fridge three times for 30 minutes each time.

Chill for at least 1 hour before using.

Pear and cinnamon tart

Serves 6-8.

You will need:

4 pears

100g (3½oz) caster sugar

½ tablespoon ground cinnamon

25g (1oz) butter, melted

500g (1lb 2oz) puff pastry, rolled into a rectangle about 5mm thick

Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, to serve (optional)

Method

Preheat the oven to 220°C, 425°F, Gas 7. Leaving the skin on, core and cut the pears into 5mm (¼in) thick slices.

Place the sliced pears in a bowl and mix with the caster sugar, the ground cinnamon and the melted butter. Trim the puff pastry into a 25-30cm (10-12in) rectangle and transfer to a baking sheet.

Arrange the sugar, cinnamon and melted butter-coated pear slices in rows on the puff pastry – they should overlap slightly – and leave a 1cm (½in) border all the way round. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the puff pastry is golden brown and the pears have slightly caramelised at the edges. Remove from the oven and serve the tart immediately. If you wish, you can serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Asparagus and puff-pastry rolls

 

Serves 4 as a starter.

You will need:

Flour, for dusting

150g (5oz) puff pastry

10 asparagus spears

1 free-range egg, beaten

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan or grana padano

Rachel Allen's puff pastry

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6. Dust the work surface with flour, then roll the puff pastry out into a rectangle that measures 15cm x 25cm (6in x 10in).

Cut the puff pastry into 10 long, thin strips about 1cm (½in) wide. Wrap one puff-pastry strip in a spiral around each asparagus spear and then place each one on to a baking tray. Brush the beaten egg over the pastry, then sprinkle over the grated Parmesan or the grated grana padano, whichever you are using.

Place the tray in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the puff pastry has risen and is golden brown.

Raspberry millefeuille

Serves 8.

You will need:

Plain flour, for dusting

500g (1lb 2oz) puff pastry

300ml (½ pint) double or regular cream

350g (12oz) fresh raspberries, plus 50g (2oz) raspberries to decorate

150g (5oz) raspberry jam

Icing sugar, for dusting

Method

Preheat the oven to 220°C, 425°F, Gas 7. Divide the puff pastry into four equal pieces, as each piece will be rolled and baked separately.

On a work surface lightly dusted with flour, roll out each piece of puff pastry to 20cm x 32cm (8in x 13in), making sure it is nice and thin – about 2mm. Trim the edges with a knife dipped in hot water (to give a nice neat edge) before carefully lifting the puff-pastry piece into the tin. Prick the pastry all over with a fork and chill it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes.

Bake in the oven for about 7-8 minutes, or until it is crisp and golden in colour. (The puff pastry will shrink a little while baking.)

Remove the pastry from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack while you roll out and bake the next puff-pastry layer in the same way. You may need to do this in batches, but, once the puff pastry has been cut, it will sit perfectly in the fridge while you are baking the other sheets. Repeat until all four puff-pastry layers are baked and have been set aside to cool.

In a bowl, whip the double or regular cream, whichever you're using, until it is thick, then place it in the fridge if you are not using it immediately.

To assemble the millefeuille, place one puff-pastry layer on a serving plate and spread it with a third of the whipped cream, then cover the cream with half of the raspberries (I like to save the best-looking raspberries for the very top).

Carefully spread the raspberry jam over the second puff-pastry layer, then place this layer on top of the raspberries on the previous layer. Spread with another third of the whipped cream. Add another layer of puff pastry on top of the whipped cream, then spread the remaining cream and raspberries on top of this.

Finish with the fourth and final layer of puff pastry, then dust liberally with icing sugar and add the extra raspberries for decoration.

Bring to the table to serve, cutting into squares as neatly as possible.

Rachel recommends

If you'll be making a lot of pastry, it might be worth picking up a marble pastry board. They are really useful as, if you keep them in a cool place, when you need to use them, they provide a nice cool surface for you to work on, ensuring that your pastry doesn't overheat. You can either buy prepared marble slabs at kitchen shops and online, or you can buy offcuts from marble and stonemasons.

Rachel's tip

OK! If you really don't have the time, you can buy puff pastry, but do try to buy puff pastry that uses 100 per cent butter.

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