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What Is Puff Pastry?
Puff pastry is what’s known as a laminated dough, famous for its paper-thin sheets of puffy, soft-yet-crackly pastry, and made by the repeated layering and folding of dough and cold butter, punctuated by trips to the refrigerator to chill. Gluten builds during the rest periods, and when baked, the water contained in the butter turns to steam, levering apart the stretchy layers from within and burnishing the top with a glossy golden-brown sheen.
Though often associated with French cuisine—with creations like croissants, kouign amann, and vol au vent leading the way—the modern puff pastry predecessor can actually be found in a 17th century cookbook from Spain.
What Is a Rough Puff?
If you don’t have the hours (or the patience) to tackle traditional puff pastry, fear not: rough puff is here for you. Rough puff pastry also goes by the moniker “flaky pastry,” but the overall idea is the same. Pieces of butter, instead of a rolled out block, are incorporated into the dough in a method just like pie crust—then folded and rolled out to create layers.
The butter (or shortening), and thus the pockets throughout the flaky layers, are less evenly distributed than if you were to use a block of butter in the traditional way, but if that’s okay by you, off you go.
2 Tips for Making Puff Pastry
While making your own puff pastry can be daunting (Precision! Chilling it overnight—twice! Smacking more butter than you’ve ever seen in your life into a neat rectangle with a rolling pin!), tackling homemade puff pastry isn’t impossible.
- There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to what kind of butter you use, but as with other doughs, unsalted is the most common, allowing for a pure, straightforward fresh flavor and a tighter hold on salt content. Most of all, in order to get clean, even workable layers throughout, it needs to be cold.
- Of course, there’s no shame in the frozen puff pastry game. Pre-made and easy-to-use, industrially folded puff pastry sheets can be found in the freezer aisle of the grocery store. They get the job done beautifully.
10 Recipes Featuring Puff Pastry
- Croissants: While traditional croissants are made with a levain, like these from Chef Dominique Ansel, you can also make them using puff pastry. They won’t be as bready, but they will have layers of buttery dough—and that’s all you really need in a croissant, right?
- Vol-au-Vent: A vol-au-vent is essentially two rings of puff pastry stacked on top of one another to create a kind of case for a savory filling, like meat and gravy.
- Kouign-Amann: True kouign-amann is made with a kind of sweetened, laminated bread dough, but you make a solid homage with puff pastry, folding squares in on fillings like chocolate or fruit in a muffin tin.
- Beef Wellington: Beef Wellington features steak coated in duxelles, wrapped in ham and puff pastry and baked until golden brown and crisp on the outside and moist and juicy on the inside. Try Chef Gordon Ramsay’s classic Beef Wellington recipe here.
- Tarte Tatin: Puff pastry makes a fantastically airy crust for this upside-down apple tart. Simply arrange fruit over a layer of brown sugar in the bottom of a tart pan, then fit with a circle of puff pastry with a few slits for ventilation. Carefully flip with an inverted plate after baking!
- Apple Turnovers: Place a little apple filling in the center of a round of puff pastry, fold it over, and crimp it shut before baking.
- Danish: This open-faced pastry can be made by folding puff pastry up and over a small mound of fruit or sweetened cheese filling.
- Chicken Pot Pie: Think of this as an inverted vol-au-vent or a savory tarte tatin: top chicken and vegetables in a thick gravy with a small sheet of puff pastry.
- Sausage Rolls: Like pigs in a blanket, but much, much better. Simply swap out triangles of puff pastry for the dough and roll up the cocktail or breakfast sausages before baking.
- Cheese Straws: Brush a sheet of puff pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with grated cheese of choice—Parmesan is a great place to start—then cut into strips and twist before baking.
Easy Puff Pastry Recipe
Prep Time30 min
Total Time30 min
In praise of the easy puff: while this super quick take on puff pastry dough won’t give you hundreds of finessed layers found in a sheet of puff pastry, it will give you little pockets throughout and a light, crisp exterior. No one has to know!
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen, plus 2 tablespoons, chilled and cut into cubes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the chilled cubes of butter and work into flour mixture with your hands, just until butter is crumbly and there are no large chunks left, like you’re making a pie dough. Add in cold water, a tablespoon at a time, until it comes together to make a shaggy dough.
- Transfer to a lightly floured work surface, and roll into a rectangle.
- Over the bottom two-thirds of the rectangle, grate half of the frozen stick of butter (you can also blitz the butter in a food processor—just be quick about transferring it so it stays relatively cold). Fold down the top third of dough, then fold the bottom third up over it, just like an envelope.
- Here comes the fun part: rotate your dough letter 90 degrees (so the spine is on your left like a book) and roll out into another rectangle. Grate the rest of the butter over the bottom two-thirds again, and fold just as before. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until using (give it at least 2 hours).
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