I suppose I’d be a bit of a rat-fink if I didn’t provide you with a situational report for puff pastry–what with me admonishing you to use it.

Puff pastry is called a “laminated dough,” which means that you make a fairly ordinary dough, spread butter over it, fold it up, let it rest in the refrigerator, and then roll it out and fold it again; repeat that six or eight times.  You wind up with hundreds of layers of dough alternating with butter.  When you pop it into the oven, the water content of the butter turns into steam, which separates the dough into countless flaky layers; the fat content of the butter–the tasty part–stays behind.

You use laminated dough to make croissants, napoleons,  palmiers, bouchées, vol-au-vents, allumettes, etc.

The French name for puff pastry is pâte feuilletée (it’s easier to pronounce than you might think), and there is also feuitellage rapide, as I mentioned elsewhere, and which is just a quicker version of the same thing.  You can slap it together in about an hour–max–and use it for pretty much anything except for vol-au-ventsFeuilletage rapide does not produce a dough as uniform or flaky as pâte feuilletée, but unless you had them side-by-side you’d probably never notice the difference.

Feuilletage rapide is a beautiful thing, and you can make it with all-purpose flour (“AP” for short) or “instant blending” flour, of which there are various brands.

Don’t be put off by all the italics and French words.  It really is easy, and I’ll bet you anything that you already have all the necessary ingredients.  Look:

Feuilletage rapide

1 lb. unsalted butter, quite cold

1 lb. AP or instant blending flour, plus some more for later

1 tsp. salt

1 c. ice water

Dice the cold butter into small cubes–not quite 1/2″.  Dump the flour unceremoniously onto your work surface, make a well in the middle, and introduce the butter and the salt to the well.  Get yourself a pastry scraper (a/k/a “bench knife”) and use it to cut the butter into the flour.  It should look coarse and mealy.  Add the ice water and get everything incorporated.  Move quickly and don’t knead the dough (you’d run the risk of melting the butter–zut alors!–and that would also develop the gluten and make the dough tough).

Don’t ask me why “dough” and “tough” don’t rhyme.

An example of the finished product--spanakopita. Ain't it pretty?

Right about now, the dough ought to look pretty unsavory and unpresentable–it’s very lumpy and the butter is still in pieces.  It should still be a cohesive mass, though.

Spread plenty of AP on your work surface–more than you would use for working an ordinary dough (cold butter is sticky, so you need more flour to keep it from sticking)–and roll the dough out to a rectangle a little less than half-an-inch thick.  Brush the excess flour off of the dough and fold one end to the centerpoint of the rectangle.  Fold the other end in the same way; the ends should meet at the centerpoint.  Again, be sure to brush the excess flour away.

Fold the dough in half at the centerpoint–nothing fancy; just flop it over.

Hey, guess what.  You’ve just made a double turn.  Remind me, and I’ll send you a diploma.

That double turn leaves you with four layers of dough.  Give it two more double turns (roll it out first both times).  If the dough gets too elastic or unmanageable between turns, stick it in your refrigerator for twenty minutes or so.

You really want to keep everything cold, and don’t rush.

Refrigerate the dough well before you use it.  When you need some, cut it perpendicular to the centerpoint.  Save whatever scraps you have, smoosh them into a ball, and refrigerate or freeze ’em.  You can use this stuff–demi-feuilletage (“half puff pastry”)–for ornamental tidbits, tarts, fleurons, and crust for sausages or pâtés.

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