The Economy of Puff Pastry

e-con-o-my \i-ˈkä-nə-mē\1. archaic: the management of household or private affairs and especially expenses; 2. a: thrifty and efficient use of material resources : frugality in expenditures; also: an instance or a means of economizing:savingb: efficient and concise use of nonmaterial resources (as effort, language, or motion) (source: Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)

I am moving toward economy in all aspects of my life.  Economy of resources, of words, of effort.  Minimal expenditure, maximum gain.  That old saying that sometimes less is more?  Yep – that’s what I’m going for.

This puff pastry embodies the concept.  Few ingredients, simple technique, maximum impact.  Elegant, flaky, delicate. Impossibly thin layers – thousands of them –  shatter and melt in your mouth.

When I saw a similar product at the market for $12, I thought to myself “how the hell can this lump of flour and butter cost $12?” Surely I could create something just as good for pennies on the dollar, and I could do it using whole grains rather than refined white flour.

The recipe is adapted from the good old Joy of Cooking.  I used freshly ground soft winter wheat, ground it fine, and then passed it through a medium-mesh sieve to remove the largest bits of bran and germ.

  • 2 1/3 cups freshly ground flour
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup ice water (the original calls for 3/4 cup, but I didn’t use it al)
  • 1 3/4 cups butter, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 cup flour
  1. Combine the first 2 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine
  2. Add 4 tablespoons butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs
  3. Add ice water and pulse just until dough comes together in a ball.
  4. Form a 5-inch square, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  5. Freeze 1 3/4 cups butter for 2 minutes
  6. Place in the bowl of the food processor, along with 1 cup flour
  7. Process mixture until it looks like fine gravel.
  8. Scrape down sides of bowl and process until smooth.
  9. Scrape onto a sheet of plastic wrap, form a 6-inch square, wrap and refrigerate while you roll out the dough.
Illustration of puff pastry technique - through the first double fold

From here, it’s all about technique.  Handling the dough as little as possible, yet creating layer upon layer of buttery, tender pastry.  First, you roll the 5-inch square of dough out to a 13×8 inch rectangle.  You place the 6-inch butter block at one end, and fold the other end of the dough over it, crimping the edges to seal all around it.  Roll this out to a 17×7 1/2-inch rectangle.  Fold the bottom third up over the center of the dough, and fold the top third down over the bottom third, like folding a business letter.  Turn this so that a short side is facing you, and roll it out once more to a 17×7 1/2-inch rectangle.   Fold the top 1/4 down and the bottom 1/4 up to meet in the center.  Then fold this in half, creating four layers of dough (this is a “double fold” – you will be repeating this step two more times). Refrigerate for 45 minutes.

Roll dough to 17×7 1/2-inch rectangle again, do a second double fold, and refrigerate for another 45 minutes.  Do the same again, and refrigerate for another 45 minutes before using (or freeze if not using immediately).

To test the success of this simple pastry, I decided to pre-bake a tart shell.  I rolled about a third of the dough out to a 1/4-inch thickness, creating a long thin rectangle.  I created a border by trimming about 1/2 inch of dough from each of the four sides and adhering them to the edges with an egg wash.  I brushed the entire thing with egg was and sprinkled it with sea salt.  I docked the center with a fork, to keep it from puffing to much, and I baked it at 375F for 10 minutes.

I made a filling by sauteing 8 oz. of button mushrooms and 1/2 a thinly sliced yellow onion in 2 tablespoons of butter until golden brown and soft.  I seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper, and finished it off the heat with an ounce of good goat cheese and a tablespoon of heavy cream.  I spooned the filling into the shell and sprinkled a few sprigs of fresh thyme over the top.

The final product was something I’d be proud to serve as a first course at the finest of dinner parties.  Sliced into two-inch square servings and placed atop my grandmother’s fine china, it was the epitome of refinement.  The earthy, musky mushrooms paired with the sharp chevre and the sweet, buttery onions, spooned in thrifty measure onto the golden brown pastry – it was a memorable marriage of flavor and texture.

There is a lesson to be learned here.  It doesn’t require a lot of money, or a laundry list of ingredients, to create elegant food.  Simple, real ingredients, treated with care and minimally processed, can result in the most elevated of pastries.  A case where less truly is more.  Flour, butter, water, salt.  Four ingredients, that’s all.  It’s what you do with those ingredients that makes all the difference.

Peaches and Cream

It’s farmer’s market season, and that means my Saturday mornings are spent perusing the vendor booths in the parking lot of our town’s city hall.  Choosing the prettiest heads of cabbage, and the plumpest pickling cucumbers, the brightest bouquet of zinnias, and the peaches with the prettiest blush on their fuzzy cheeks.

This morning, I found myself with two very ripe peaches staring up at me from the kitchen counter. Their skins were just beginning to get a little loose, and I could smell their sweet ripe scent without lifting them to my nose. They really needed to be eaten or used in some form or fashion. We’d ploughed through the other seven in the bunch, and these were the last two stragglers. They’d been slightly under-ripe when I’d brought them home on Saturday, but now they were threatening decomp on my counter.
When I glanced at my Facebook wall, I noticed that Foodimentary had posted that it was National Peaches and Cream day.

Well, then.  I guess that was my answer.  Peaches and cream.

So, I halved my peaches and removed the pits.  I dropped one half of each into 2 half-pint mason jars, and topped those with 1 teaspoon of salted butter, 3/4 teaspoon of sucanat (you could use brown sugar if you don’t have sucanat) and the leaves from a sprig of thyme per jar.  I topped that with the other half of the peach.

I made a sweet biscuit dough, comprised of 1/4 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of sucanat, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1 Tablespoon of butter.  I brought it all together with about 1/4 cup of buttermilk and divided the batter evenly between the two jars.  I baked them in a 350F oven for about 15 minutes, or until the topping was golden brown, and I could see the peaches had softened and the liquid was bubbly.

I allowed them to cool a bit, then poked  holes in the crust with the fat end of a chopstick.  I carefully poured a couple of tablespoons of cold heavy cream into the jar and allowed it to soak into the crust and down into the peach syrup.  Then I ate it.  And I knew I had done the right thing.

Individual Peaches and Cream Cobblers
prep time: 5 minutes
bake time: 15 minutes
serves: 2

  • 2 peaches, halved and pitted
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sucanat, divided
  • 1 Tablespoon cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons softened butter
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1/4 cup white whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 4 Tablespoons cold heavy cream
  1. Preheat your oven to 350F.  Have two half-pint mason jars ready
  2. Prepare the batter.  Combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of the sucanat, and the baking soda.  Cut the cold butter pieces into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.  Add the buttermilk and stir to combine – do not overmix.  Set aside.
  3. Place 1/2 of each peach into  the mason jars. Top each half with 1 teaspoon softened butter, 3/4 teaspoon of sucanat the leaves from the thyme sprigs.
  4. Place the other half of each peach on top and spoon half the batter into each jar.
  5. Place the jars on a pan and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until brown and bubbly.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to cool a bit.
  7. Just before eating, poke holes in the crust of each cobbler and pour 2 tablespoons of heavy cream into each, letting it soak into the topping and down into the fruit and syrup.
  8. Eat and enjoy!