Now that the jolly fa la’s and dreidel spinning has ceased for another year, it’s time for that annual self-flagellation of good intentions and promises to do better this year. And in the spirit of that, I have some resolutions for my next 360 days.
- to hold firm to my commitment to shun kale or quinoa, despite a constant stream of recipes on every food web trying to convince me of how delicious it really is. If it’s so wonderful why haven’t we been eating it for centuries, like say butter, or chocolate, or bacon;
- to pay absolutely no attention to anything uttered by or about a Kardashian or Trump, unless it’s related to the aforementioned’s long-awaited well deserved exile to an island with no microphones, television cameras, wifi, twitter, instagram or cellphone reception, where inhabitants are forced to live in huts made of selfie sticks;
- to try to just smile and resist the urge to slap anyone who tries to convince me to live a paleo or vegan life;
- to seek facts before saying or doing anything with anything on everything;
- to keep trying to find the laugh before, through or after the tears;
- and to continue to share the love and a few giggles through food and snark, because let’s face it, that’s why I’m here.
So, in my effort to hold fast to my resolutions, let’s talk about butter. I make a small, hopefully growing part of my living by way of butter. Recently, I’ve decided to expand my quest for tasty tart world domination with puff pastry. Now before any of you decide to switch to watching cat videos because only a lunatic would make her own puff pastry, hold up there a sec. I know there’s some pretty good pre-made puff out there, and cast no aspersions to using it. But I’ve discovered something. Making your own is cheaper, better, and isn’t the servitude to endless rollings and turnings Julia led us to believe all those years ago. In fact, the whole process takes only about an hour, provided you are willing to relax and go rough.
Rough puff pastry has been around probably as long as its high maintenance fussy cousin. I’ve tried several recipes but the one I always come back to is Patricia Wells’ from her Bistro Cooking cookbook (1989, Workman Publishing.) I know that convincing some of you (mom) that spending an hour making your own puff pastry isn’t an hour wasted will be a challenge. But the resulting doughy treasure is so wonderfully layered and buttery, I don’t mind pulling out the rolling-pin and investing an hour, especially on a snowy cold day like today. And since most of that hour is resting rather than active, rolling my own gives me the opportunity to enjoy a cup of tea and four 15-minute intervals of internet surfing, catalog thumbing, or catching up on the latest torture Mary Berry has in store for her British Bake Off minions. Plus the result is so much better than anything I can buy.
Rough Puff Pastry (Patricia Well, Bistro Cooking, 1989, Workman Publishing)
Yield: One 10 1/2″ pastry shell, or enough for eight 4-inch circles or squares of dough to play with, plus a little more.
- 10 TBSP (5 oz.) chilled butter (Patricia Well suggests unsalted, but for me this is the perfect place to use gorgeous salted Kerry Gold, Plugra or if you are lucky enough to have it, Amish butter)
- 1 1/4 cup (160 g) unbleached AP flour
- 1/2 tsp salt (if you are using salted butter, just a pinch)
- 6-7 TBSP ice water
Equipment: Bench scraper, rolling-pin, ruler
- Divide the butter into 4 portions, then chop each portion into little bits. Pop three portions into the freezer/fridge while you’re working with the first portion so everything stays nice and cold.
- Dump the flour onto a cool work surface and make a well in the center. Add the first portion of butter, salt and 6 TBSP ice water. Work the butter, salt and water together with fingers until well mixed. This is going to feel weird and look like a mess – don’t worry. Gradually start drawing in the flour, working the dough into large crumbs using your fingertips. If the dough seems dry as it’s coming together, add in the additional 1 TBSP water. Press the dough firmly together into a rectangle – it should be soft but not sticky. Wrap in plastic and pop in fridge for 15 minutes or longer. Put the kettle on, check in on your friend’s lives on Facebook.
- Lightly flour your counter, then roll out the dough to a 6×15 inch rectangle. Take the second portion of butter from the fridge, and sprinkle over two-thirds of the rectangle, leaving a third empty at one end. You’re going to fold the dough in thirds so there is butter separating each layer. Fold the empty third of dough over the center, then fold the buttered side over the center. Press the ends together with the rolling-pin to seal, then wrap and stow in fridge again. Sit and drink your tea (or make a cocktail), check your email, thumb through the Sundance catalog for things you’ll never buy for at least 15 minutes while the dough chills.
- Repeat the rolling to 6×15″, butter two-thirds, folding, wrapping. Amuse yourself for another 15 minutes. Do this one more time with the last of the butter. You perform this whole dance 4 times.
- Patricia says if the dough looks streaky, roll and fold one more time. My dough always looks streaky, so I do this 5th one too (without adding anything, just roll out, fold, wrap. Once it has rested another 15, you’re ready to make whatever you like, or freeze some, use some. Here’s a few ways I play with this wonderful stuff:
Roll out to about 1/8-inch thick:
- Cut circles from the dough. Score a 1/2″ border around the edge (use a knife tip but don’t cut all the way through the dough). Now slice up your fruit of choice (apples, pears, peaches, etc.) into thin pieces, lay over the circle within the border, sprinkle generously with sugar, bake at 400ºF until the edge has puffed and the bottom and edges have browned.
- Cut 3″ squares, tuck into muffin pans, fill with sautéed mushroom (they should be cooked until dried), sprinkle with parmesan, asiago, or goat cheese and thyme, bake at 400ºF until the edge puffed and the bottom and edges have browned.
- Cut two circles the same size. Spread herbed goat cheese thinned with a little cream or whipped cream cheese over the bottom, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Top with some sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil). Brush the edge with egg white thinned with a little water. Put the other piece of pastry on top, crimp the edges with a fork. Bake as above. Or, fill with slices of brie and pear, or cheddar, apple and bacon. Or…
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