I’ve been asked from several people about the process for making the puff pastry for the plum puffs on the Historical Food Fortnightly. If I’m calculating correctly, based on the reactions I’ve gotten, I may be the only person in a 100 mile radius crazy enough to make her own puff pastry. The process itself is not difficult, or even fussy, it’s just really, really time-consuming. It takes a few hours to do it completely. That said, the results were so incredible that it’s definitely something I’ll be trying again.
As I mentioned in my original post, I looked at different recipes from different eras and discovered that puff pastry has not changed much in the last 170 years. Good news! I felt comfortable taking some tips and tricks from modern recipes and utilizing them with the historic recipes. Now that I’ve got a handle down on the process, and know that I can in fact make puff pastry, I will probably try a more purist version of a historical recipe, just to test the difference.
I made a simple paste dough of flour and water. You want it to be wet enough to hold, but not so wet that it gets sticky. I set it aside to let the gluten relax.
Next, I chilled the butter. I found a variety of techniques for getting the butter into the dough, but the best technique (modern) I found was to take room-temperature butter, put it between two pieces of cling wrap, and press it down into a flat disc. I did that, and then chilled it. A bit of a cheat, but not so dissimilar from period techniques of putting butter shavings or pats of butter on the dough and folding it up.
Once the butter was chilled, and the dough relaxed, I rolled the dough out. I put the disc of butter on top of the dough, and folded the dough up over the butter so that the butter was completely encased in dough. Mrs. Hale describes it as folding it up like an envelope.
Then, I rolled the dough out to a half an inch. I folded the dough in thirds, turned it 90”, and rolled it out again. This is referred to as a “turn”. I did one more turn, then chilled the dough - the butter was starting to get soft, and the trick for a good puff pastry is to keep the butter from breaking through the dough. So, after every two turns, I chilled it for about half an hour, wrapped in plastic wrap to keep it from drying out. What you’re basically doing is building in each layer with the folds. The more turns you do, the more layers the dough will achieve. Six turns is standard, but more can be had if, I don’t know, you’re under house arrest or an insomniac.
One last chill, and you’re ready to cut out. Cutting out in circles makes a ton of waste. It was sad. I baked them at 400 degrees - you need a hot oven to get enough puff. I was concerned about going any hotter (my apartment oven is a bit unreliable) but I think next time I’d bump it up to 425 to get even more rise. I baked them for 15 minutes on baking sheets lined with parchment. Once they’re baked, you need to leave them untouched as they lighten/harden. Think of it like a meringue or something - it needs to cool.
So that’s it! It’s pretty simple, as long as you stick to the rules and have enough time and space to make it. I think the key is plenty of chilling between turns, to keep the butter manageable.