Puff pastry and football

There is one sure sign that you have made it as a cook. You not only announce to the world that you are about to make puff pastry, you actually succeed in your attempt. Not that it’s any big deal making the revered mix of butter and flour; all you have to do is bring together all the key points of fine cooking — care, concentration, commitment and common sense — and there’ll be a spectacular crowd pleaser at the end. And, as with souffles, there are volumes of sad stories about failed attempts at puff pastry. All the more satisfying to succeed.

Puff pastry making is an ideal Sunday afternoon exploit, especially in winter, not only because it is beautifully relaxing, but because you will need an afternoon to succeed. Making puff pastry is to me what gardening is to those with sturdy backs, and golf to those with fluid joints. The rolling pin is the six-iron of the kitchen.

If you are one of those people who decides at a moment’s notice that you are going to attempt something dramatic, then this one’s for you. A few words of caution. You will need plenty of room, the more the better; for clumsy types (like me), the deck of an aircraft carrier is just about right. Those of you with housekeepers and gardeners will probably want to rush out and buy a marble slab for your pastry. I wouldn’t bother. Just wipe the breakfast crumbs from the kitchen table. If the temperature of the kitchen and/or the table is ever a worry (as in too hot) you won’t be inside making pastry anyway — you’ll be out making the most of the sunshine.

Remember, always make plenty more than you need. Puff pastry freezes perfectly, and you won’t often have the time to devote to making it.

1kg flour

400ml water

100g melted butter

900g butter


In a large bowl, mix together gently the flour, water and melted butter, and then form the mix into a ball. Allow to rest for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator. There are several resting periods to allow the gluten in the flour to stop flexing its muscles. (That’s the beauty of making puff pastry. You can justify a lazy day by pointing triumphantly to the completed mound of pastry. In fact, you can clock on at midday and off at five o’clock, do about 15 minutes real work, and crash exhausted at the end. Perhaps Sunday afternoon football was invented for puff pastry makers. The breaks fall perfectly in line with the resting periods! )


Unwind yourself from the couch, and cut an ‘X’ into the ball, to about three-quarters of its depth. Pull down the flaps formed by the cut and roll them out quite firmly. You will have a square in the middle, and four flaps, each flap being a quarter the thickness of the square.


Now to the solid butter. The butter is about to be placed primly on the centre of the pastry square, but first it should be bashed into the same shape as the square. Work it so that it will sit securely in place. The butter and the pastry should be at the same temperature: cool, but not cold.


With the butter in place, fold the flaps over and join the edges with a little water to hold them firmly in place. The mound may need a few light taps with the rolling pin at the start to get it to a manageable thickness for rolling. Roll out gently, firmly and carefully into a rectangular shape. You should be able to feel the pastry through the rolling pin.


Now we are at the first climax, and that, in this case, is no tautology. I have heard people say that success with puff pastry is one of the great feelings. You are about to find out.


Roll to a rectangle with a length that is four times the width. This is the danger area. It takes some trial and error before you get to feel the ideal density and temperature of the dough-butter. If the butter is too hard it could crack through the dough. If the dough is too soft the butter could ooze through. Have plenty of flour on hand to flour both bench and dough. Keep rolling, gently but firmly, working the pin at each end of the rectangle. You must be careful not to force a great tidal wave of butter to one end of the rectangle. If that does happen, you can cut your losses by slicing away the extruding butter. When you are satisfied you have reached the required length, ’square’ off the ends.


The best way to picture the next step is to do it with paper. Cut out a piece of paper 30cm x 11cm (a piece of foolscap cut down the middle). This ratio of width to length (3:1) is sufficient for paper, but for the more unwieldy pastry you will need a ratio of about 4:1. All the folds are done with the long side — the short side will still be 11cm at the end of the folding. On the long side, from the left, measure 10cm, then 15cm, and finally 5cm, marking each area A, B and C. Fold A over B and C over B so that the edges of areas A and C touch. You will now have an area 15cm x 11cm.


Make a line through the middle of the area leaving 7.5cm on either side; fold the left half over itself to touch the middle line, and do the same with the right side. You will now have an open, long, but narrow ‘book’. Close the book. The final ‘book’ will be about 11cm x 4cm. What you have done with the paper, you must do with the pastry.


With your sheet of paper at your side, follow exactly the same routine with the pastry. Once you have a long, narrow, and quite thick piece of pastry, you again roll it out until it is four times as long as it is wide. After that mammoth exercise of both mind and body you must be in need of a rest. So is the pastry. Leave it for at least a half an hour in the refrigerator, then once more roll it firmly, but gently, so it is four times as long as it is wide.


Again you must feel the pastry working beneath your roller. Be strong, be gentle. When you have achieved the length required, the dough will be smooth and sleek. Fold it over itself as before and leave it to rest for about an hour. If you feel content at this stage, the job is nearly done. One more rolling and folding will give you a superbly flaky pastry, two more and it will be explosive. If you have made an absolute mess don’t worry too much. Just roll your mess into a ball and call it rough puff. It will still make a delicious and buttery pastry.


If, however, you have been successful, you should now have enough pastry to make about thirty pretty flash variations of pastry dishes, so cut the pastry into four blocks, and freeze three of them for other days.


To get the taste of the pastry, make a quick apple tart. Peel and slice some apples roughly, and cook them gently with some lemon juice, some lemon zest and a handful of sugar, until the apples are soft and mushy. Force the mix through a sieve to remove the pips and set aside.


Meanwhile cut away a small block of your pride and joy and roll it as thinly as you can, no more than 2 mm thick. Heat the oven to 200°C. Cut the pastry into the shape of a diamond, score some lines lightly on top, and place it in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes. Remove and brush the top with a mix of egg yolk and milk. Bake the pastry for at least 25 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Warm the apple puree. When the pastry is cooked, slice it in half, spoon some puree onto the base, and put the lid on top. Wolf it down with stacks of cream.


Make a toast to your amazing cooking prowess. There is simply nothing you cannot do.

3 Responses to “Puff pastry and football”

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