Making Puff Pastry II

In sharp contrast to the first step of puff pastry making, step II is where you get to really get in touch with the inner Neanderthal. It’s the butter block stage. The recipe instructs us to put room temperature butter into a food processor with a small amount of flour and blend it. Once the two ingredients have been combined, we’re asked to put all that warmed-up greasy butter back into the fridge until it’s firm enough to roll.

There are two problems with this technique. First, it’s much easier to arrive at the proper butter consistency by taking the tempertaure in the other direction: cold to warm (or at least warm-er). The reason, because things put into a refrigerator cool from the outside-inward. Since I rarely make less than five pounds of puff pastry at a time (hey, I like to have it around), the outer portion of the two-pound butter mass is rock hard by the time the interior has cooled down enough. Plus, getting the butter just-so requires a heck of a lot of checking and opening and closing of the refrigerator door. Way too much trouble for my taste.

Second, and more importantly, it’s not even remotely as much fun as whacking the tar out of a pile of firm butter with a big wood club. Actually a rolling pin, and man, it feels good. Here’s what you do: get yourself two double layers of plastic wrap, preferrably the heavy freezer stuff. Arrange the sticks on the first piece of plastic (if you’re using sticks that is, otherwise cut the pound-size chunk, or chunks, into a couple of large pieces). Make sure the stack is roughly even and roughly square. Sprinkle the flour over and among the butter pieces, put the other double-thick piece of pastic on top, and open the can of whoopass.

Grab your rolling pin (I like a nice meaty, no-handles oriental job for this) and pound the butter. Oh yeah, hard. Swing that pin. Just let it all out. Feels good doesn’t it? You want to keep that up, folding it over and shoring it up every so often until a) all the flour has been incorporated, and b) it’s the texture of silly putty. Now this is the only really important part: there’s only a five-or-so degree window, of about 65 to 70 degrees, when the butter is at the perfect rolling temperature. You know the point, it’s the difference between nice, inviting still-a-bit-chilly-and-very-nice-to-spread-on-bread butter, and shiny, greasy better-put-this-back-in-the-fridge-so-I-can-really-go-
to-town-on-it-later butter. Any warmer than silly-putty pliable and the butter will soak into the dough you’re rolling it with and ruin the nice layers. So keep a close eye. If the butter gets to the point that the pin is cutting straight through and connecting with the counter, it’s too warm. But not to worry, just put it back in the fridge and firm it up again.

I should point out right about here that you probably don’t want to try bludgeoning butter that’s straight out of the fridge, unless of course the garage just called and it wasn’t the thermostat, your Chevy needs a whole new radiator. In that case knock yourself out kid. Otherwise, leave the stuff out for ten or so minutes until you can see a dent when you poke it.

But whatever you do, in the end you want a giant play-dough-soft butter pat that’s roughly the same size as the dough square you made in the previous step. More later.

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