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There are some products that can strike a certain level of fear into even the most professional baker or pastry chef. Laminated doughs are one of them. To laminate a dough means to incorporate layers of butter into the dough through a technique of repeatedly rolling out and folding the dough and butter together.
You start by creating a dough, and then encase a block of butter into the dough like a packet. This is known as the "lock-in stage." After that you begin the successive rolling and folding of the dough; the finished dough will have multiple layers of dough and butter. When baked in the oven, the steam from the melted butter puffs up the dough and you end up with a beautiful pastry that is crisp, buttery, flaky.
That is, if you do it correctly. As anyone who has ever attempted a laminated dough can tell you, much can go wrong, especially in the initial lock-in stage. The butter and the dough must (and I stress must) be at the right consistency for the layering to properly take place. If the butter is too cold, you'll end up with a ripped dough with chunky butter that melts out of the pastry when baked. If the butter is too warm, it will absorb into the dough and the pastry won't be flaky.
With frozen puff pastry readily available at the store, you might wonder why anyone would ever bother making it from scratch. That's easy to answer: puff pastry made from scratch tastes absolutely amazing. You just won't ever get that wonderful buttery flavor from a ready made version.
To the rescue is what is known as a blitz puff pastry. Instead of rolling an entire slab of butter into a dough, chunks of butter are mixed in, and then it's rolled out and folded the same way as a traditional puff pastry. The beauty in this method is that you don't have to worry about shaping the butter into a block, or making sure that the butter is the same consistency as the dough. You can also keep your butter quite cold, which is really what you want so that you can get all of those nice layers of fat.
For this recipe, we will do a total of 4 folds. To be honest, the time commitment of a blitz puff pastry is comparable to a traditional dough (the dough needs to be rested between folds), but I'm never fearful when I make a blitz puff pastry, and no one would guess that I didn't slave over it the traditional way.
Step 1: Make the Dough
To make a blitz puff pastry, mix the dough and then incorporate chunks of semi-frozen butter. Semi-frozen is necessary so that the butter doesn't melt into the dough.
Step 2: Shape into an 8 x 10 inch Rectangle
Shape the dough into an 8- by 10-inch rectangle. You should be able to see the large pieces of butter.
STEP 3: Roll it Out
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a larger, thinner rectangle (10- by 20- inches). You will still see large chunks of butter, but now you are beginning to flake them into the dough.
Tip: Use just enough extra flour on the work surface so that the dough doesn't stick. Adding too much extra flour will make the dough tough. It's also really important that you don't skimp on rolling the dough out to less than the dimensions stated. If you make a smaller, thicker rectangle, the dough will end up too thick after folding it together and it'll be impossible to roll out. Trust me.
Step 4: Make a 4-Fold
Now we do what is called a 4-fold. Starting at a short end, fold it over just shy of a third of the way.
Fold the other piece of dough over to meet the first. You should have a seam that is just off center.
Fold the dough in half.
Step 5: Rest, Relax, Fold
You should see 4 layers of dough. Gently wrap up the dough and chill for 15 to 20 minutes. This will allow the gluten in the dough to relax so that you can roll it out again. It will also keep the butter nice and cold. When ready, roll out the dough again to a 10- by 20-inch rectangle and give the dough another 4 fold. You've now completed 2 folds! You're half done. Give yourself a pat on the back and then press 2 indentations into the dough to remind yourself how many folds you've completed. Wrap and let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Step 6: Roll Out, Fold, Chill
Roll out the dough again to 10- by 20-inches and give the dough another 4 fold. You should start to notice that the butter is becoming incorporated into the dough and it's looking less shaggy. This is normal. Poke the dough with 3 marks, then wrap and chill the dough for 15-20 minutes.
Step 7: Final Fold
Roll out the dough to 10- by 20 inches and give the dough its final 4 fold. Mark the dough 4 times and congratulate yourself. The dough should look much, much smoother now. Wrap and let the dough chill for at least an hour before using it. Depending on the recipe, you'll be rolling out the dough to about 1/4-inch thick.
If you cut through your dough you should be able to see the beautiful layers of dough. This means flakiness!