It takes hours and hours to make because of all the chilling time in the fridge required in between folding and rolling sessions. If you want Puff Pastry for tomorrow, you need to start this morning.
Problem is, it’s really amazing, so it’s not something you want to dismiss out of hand. It turns anything into a dish that makes people’s eyes pop out of their heads.
Solution — buy it already made. In all grocery stores in the UK, you can buy it fresh or frozen, in blocks or in ready-rolled sheets. In North America, the selection is more limited to just frozen in blocks and in pastry shells, though in some parts of America, Pepperidge Farm is selling it in frozen rolled sheets. Pillsbury and others make it in the UK. Just steel yourself, stop up your ears to all the whining you’re going to get from food writers about how lazy you are because you went to work instead of taking a day off to make Puff Pastry, and buy it already made and enjoy it.
And, the already made stuff is actually really, really good. The frozen is useful to have on hand because then there’s always some in my freezer ready to go. If you’ve made a stew, but want to really make it special, when the stew is done, turn it into a casserole dish, whack a layer of puff pastry on and bake for about 25 minutes, then stand back for all the cheering when you take it out of the oven.
The frozen blocks of are the most useful, rather than the ready rolled or preformed shells, as it can be stored until when you need it, and it’s more flexible because then you can form it to whatever use has struck your fancy on a particular night.
And please, don’t let any food snobs stop you from making Puff Pastry a regular part of your cooking.
Allow frozen puff pastry to thaw at room temperature for 30 minutes before using, but no longer, as you don’t want it to get warm because then the butter in it will melt into the pastry before you get into the oven, making it tough, rather than exploding and creating crispy layers.
The people in Florence believe that it was they who taught the French how to make Puff Pastry.
Puff Pastry seems to have been invented as a technique by the 1400s, whether in Paris or Florence; it had already reached the English court by the time of Elizabeth. For many years, the English called it “puff paste”.
Literature & Lore
“Puff-paste, the best way how to make it: Take a pottle of Flower, mix it with cold water, half a pound of Butter, and the whites of five Eggs, work these together very well and stiff, then roul it out very thin, and put Flower under it and over it, then take near a pound of butter, and lay thin bits all over it, then double it in five or six doubles; this being done, roul it out the second time, and serve it as at the first, then roul it out and cut it into what form you please, and for what use, you need not fear the curle, for it will divide as often as you have doubled, ten or twelve times is enough for any use.” — Hannah Woolley. The Gentlewomans Companion. London. 1673.
“Rough Puff Pastry. Sift one-half pound flour and a pinch of salt onto your baking board, cut up six ounces butter among it in rough-sized pieces, make a hole in the center, mix together one-half cup of cold water, the yolk of an egg and one-quarter teaspoon lemon juice. Stir this into the flour, using the flat part of a knife to prevent cutting the butter through, gather together with your hands, roll out on a lightly floured pastry board, fold pastry in three, turn it half way round and roll out again. Repeat the rolling and folding being careful to roll always one way till the pastry has been rolled four times, then sprinkle over it another one-quarter teaspoon lemon juice, fold again in three, and roll out for use.” — Elizabeth Craig. “Boar’s Head and Rough Puff Pastry In an Old-Time English Feast.” Reprinted in: Syracuse Herald, New York State. 4 January 1925, Home Institute Page.