Of all the pastries I’ve made over the years, it was the puff pastry that really won my heart. Even after nearly four decades of preparation, my breathing still quickens with fear that it won’t be as good as it could be. Then, as I taste it, my heart skips a beat of pleasure as the sheer, flaky layers almost dissolve on my lips.
Making puff pastry takes a little time and patience, a little skill and a lot of passion. The passion comes when you decide to tackle it. There are plenty of good and not so good alternatives on supermarket shelves, but while most people opt for the easy option, it’s worth trying.
The principle is simple. You take a dough (called in French tempera) and a piece of butter (buttering), and with a series of rolls and folds, you get a dough made up of hundreds of layers of dough and butter.
The cooking mechanics are just as simple. When subjected to intense heat in an oven, the butter melts between the layers of dough, and the resulting steam pushes each thin layer, creating the flaky, puffy look and texture of puff pastry. It’s simple but exquisite.
And the uses – oh, there are so many. You can roll out a sheet of pastry, cut out a series of circles and rings, and glue them together with a beaten egg to form a vol-au-vent case. You can roll the leftovers into a sheet, then coat that sheet in powdered sugar. Roll out slices of dough in a pinwheel, then flatten to create palm trees. Or you can roll out a sheet, sprinkle it with cayenne pepper and Gruyere cheese, cut it into ribbons and make cheese twists.
For this photoshoot, I created a version of an Australian delicacy – matchstick. But instead of a sweet pink icing, I placed roasted rhubarb between two layers of baked batter.
My favorite use for puff pastry, however, is to make a mille-feuille, whether sweet or savory. It is the creation of cooked leaves that is part of the almost sadomasochistic techniques of cooking. You first work your pastry with love and passion to create your hundreds of layers. Then you roll it into a sheet. Then it’s baked between two heavy trays that allow you to smash it into submission at different times during baking, removing space and light between layers and leaving you with a flat surface that can be dressed and decorated. and which will dissolve. in the mouth.