Concerning the final stage of puff pastry, the rolling and folding, I’m pretty much in agreement with the author of this week’s recipe. Yet I think it’s important to emphasize the “why” of the butter envelope and the initial roll, because this is the really critical point in the recipe. So you’ve got your giant butter pat enclosed in an envelope of dough, fine. The next step is rolling it out into a sheet, a sheet that will of course have three layers, dough on top, butter in the middle, and dough on the bottom. The more consistent and even those layers are, the better (i.e. higher rising) your pastry will be. So it’s important you get the butter as far out to the edges of the dough packet as possible.
You do this in part by giving the packet some decent thwacks with the rolling pin in the middle, which drives the butter outward to the edges of the dough. After you’ve thwacked a little, start rolling a little, from the middle outward. You can check your progress by pinching the outer edges of the dough: is there butter in there? (Don’t worry, you’ll be able to feel it, the butter is firmer and heavier than the surrounding dough).
Go on this way, thwacking, rolling and pinching until the dough is rolled out to about half and inch thick. If there are spots on the edges where you can’t feel any butter…eh, so what. You just did something even most TV chefs are afraid to do. And there’s always the next time, so crack a Pabst and toast your bravery.
If you like you can use a pizza cutter to trim any un-buttered edge back to where you can start seeing the good stuff, but it’s not critical. Just carry on as the recipe says, folding and refrigerating until you made six complete “turns”. When I’m finished I usually roll it out once more, then use a pizza cutter to divide it into store-able pieces. This recipe makes about 2 1/2 pounds, so, considering that store-bought packages of puff pastry are just over a pound (and most puff pastry recipes are based on them), you’ll want to roll it out long and cut it in half, putting one in a freezer. My pieces are usually about 5 x 6 or so, which means a 1-quart zip-lock freezer bag is just about perfect. If you’re doubling the recipe, roll the dough out into a square and cut it in quarters. Of course these pieces will be extra-large compared to store-bought packs, but hey, that just means you’ll have more scraps to save, and scraps, oh my brothers and sisters, are little miracles of their own (more on that later).
I should interject here that if disaster strikes at one point or another, don’t despair. Keep going. Keep rolling and finish the recipe, even if there’s naked butter poking out like flesh in a J-Lo evening dress. Just dust it with flour and keep going. For one, it’ll be good practice for next time, and second, there’s no such thing as useless butter (see above comment on scraps).
The last thing I should say is that I do suggest you do the long form: don’t do more than one turn at once, and let the dough rest in the fridge for fifteen minutes in between. MAKE SURE you use an egg timer though, to remind you. You don’t want to forget the dough in the fridge between turns. The butter will harden and won’t spread when you roll it. It’ll just break into wide flat pieces that look like little icebergs under the surface layer of dough. If that happens just leave the pastry out until it warms up enough to continue.