Puff pastry is one of the most versatile and commonly used pastries in the arsenal of a baker. As a result it is crucial that all pastry chefs understand what puff pastry is, how to make it and what products it is used for.
Puff pastry is a flaky pastry made from dough that has been laminated with butter or a solid fat. All puff pastry recipes will involve a significant amount of butter or fat. The butter is folded into the dough in a slab, which is repeatedly folded and rolled out, building up the layers of butter and dough, which will eventually develop into the layers and flakes that puff pastry is known for. The flakes are produced as the pastry bakes. During the baking the butter melts and releases steam due to the presence of water in the butter. As the steam is produced it collects in the gaps between the layers of dough, thus creating the lightness and puffing the pastry up.
Now that we know what exactly puff pastry is, we can begin to consider how we could use it. Due to the flaky nature of puff pastry, and also its strength, it is used often for filled items that can be sweet or savoury. Some of the most famous products made with puff pastry are pasties, croissants and beef wellington. This shows the versatility of puff pastry, and when you consider the composition of those products you can understand the texture that puff pastry brings to products.
As mentioned above, one of the key product types made from puff pastry is viennoiserie. This term covers croissants and other derivatives of them like pain au chocolat and danish pastries. When producing viennoiserie the quality of the puff pastry is paramount. Puff pastry has two key ways in which it can be compromised, so it is important to avoid them as best you can.
When making puff pastry you must make sure to keep the dough as cold as you can, to prevent the butter melting and therefore losing the layers you are working to develop. Also, it is important to be delicate when rolling and folding the dough, as applying too much pressure will cause the dough and butter to mix, again breaking down the layers.
For recipes with puff pastry, it is often best to make the pastry in advance, as it is a very time consuming process and can be rested overnight in the fridge, or even frozen if more convenient.