To make puff pastry, you have to be a little crazy. Not necessarily stark raving mad, but a little loopy. A wee bit batty. Slightly unhinged.
Like meringue, puff pastry, or pâte feuilletée, is one of those culinary curiosities whose invention probably involved something less than perfect sanity.*
The pâtissier who first thought of wrapping a slab of butter in dough, and chilling and rolling and folding and rolling and chilling and folding and rolling to create a slab of dough interspersed with very thin layers of butter that would bake into light, flaky, buttery sheets? Crazy. In a good way, yes, but still crazy.
The sane buy their puff pastry. Or they bribe their slightly crazy friends into making puff pastry for them, which is really the same thing.
Unfortunately, law students, by definition, aren't sane. And some of them go to extreme lengths to avoid their reading. You have to be a little unhinged to make puff pastry according to the directions in a real cookbook. You have to be completely off your rocker to wing it.
The Law Student's Puff Pastry
Real puff pastry is supposed to be a two- or three-day process. The law student's puff pastry abbreviates this process to an afternoon, which is the amount of time it takes to read an Evidence assignment with lengthy breaks for procrastination in between. Apologies to the French pâtissiers, who are probably rolling in their graves.
(Makes enough pastry for two eight-inch tarts.)
Sit down with Evidence casebook and highlighter. Make it through two pages on Rule 608 (character evidence) before deciding that a cup of tea is in order. Head to kitchen to make tea. Open the fridge to get milk. Get distracted by the pound of butter next to the milk. Decide to make puff pastry.
Puff pastry begins with a détrempe, which is a flour and water mixture. Unfortunately, it's been a while since you read the Larousse, and you can't remember if the détrempe for puff pastry should contain butter or not. Decide that the extra butter can't hurt. Make up a détrempe using a basic pastry recipe:
Begin with three cups of flour in a big bowl. Cut a stick of chilled salted butter into bits and rub them into the flour until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Pour in one-and-a-half cups ice water, and mix just until a light dough forms. Shape into a neat ball. Wrap this in cling wrap, and put it in the fridge.
Next, prepare the butter:
Lay out a sheet of parchment paper on your counter. Sprinkle it lightly with flour. Lay two sticks of chilled salted butter on it, right next to each other. Sprinkle them lightly with a little more flour. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper. Whale on them with a rolling pin hard enough to send everything in the kitchen rattling, until you have a roughly square-shaped sheet of butter that is about half a centimeter thick. (Three-sixteenths of an inch?) Put the butter back in the fridge.
Pick up where you left off on your Evidence reading. Note that Rule 608 has not improved with time. Do your best to concentrate for half an hour, then give up.
Lay out a sheet of parchment paper, and sprinkle it lightly with flour. Remove the dough from the fridge and set it on the parchment. Sprinkle with flour, and cover with another sheet of parchment. Roll it out into a rough square (if possible) of the same thickness as the butter.
Get the butter out of the fridge. Lay it out on the dough diagonally, so that the corners of the butter touch the edges of the dough. Fold the dough over and pinch gently to seal, creating a dough envelope with butter inside. Wrap in plastic wrap (or the same parchment paper used to roll the dough, if you're feeling lazy), and put it back in the fridge.
Back to the Evidence reading. Rule 608 still isn't any more exciting than it was the last time you looked at it. Give it half an hour before you go to check on the pastry again.
Parchment, flour. You know the drill by now. Get out your pastry-butter envelope and set it on the counter. Cover with more parchment. Roll it out until it's three-sixteenths of an inch thick.
Gently fold the dough into thirds, like a letter:
Flip it over so that the seam is on the underside:
Now roll it out again to three-sixteenths of an inch, and fold and flip again. Every fold-and-flip is called a turn. You've given the dough two turns, so gently press two fingertips into the dough.
Put the dough back in the fridge. Yes, it's back to the reading. This time, try your best to focus on Rule 608 for an hour.
When the hour is up, remove the dough from the fridge and give it two more turns. Press four fingertips into the dough to mark four turns:
Put it back in the fridge. By this point, you might be done with Rule 608, and can move on to Rule 609. Impeachment by evidence of conviction of a crime, yay. Try to stick it out for another hour.
After one hour, pull the dough from the fridge, and give it two final turns. It now needs to rest for many hours, preferably overnight, before you use it.
Yes, this means you have to finish reading about Rule 609. That's okay. Tomorrow, you can bake something with the puff pastry, and procrastinate on your reading for another class. Like Fed Tax.
Coming soon: the law student's Tarte Tatin.
*And alcohol. According to a friend's theory, meringue was the invention of a French pastry chef on a bender.