Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Laminated dough doesn't come from Kinko's, Part 1

Unless you're a baker, you're probably not familiar with the term "laminated dough."

But if you're an eater, you most certainly know what it is.

Think puff pastry. And croissants. And danish.

After today's puff-pastry session at culinary school, I might tell you that "laminated dough" roughly translates to "pain in the tush." But it actually describes the process of layering dough with butter to create the light, flaky and wonderfully buttery products listed above.

Think of that croissant you had for breakfast. You know all of those delightfully rich, flaky layers? Well, somebody's got to create those. And, today, that somebody was me. Sort of.

I've never worked with laminated dough before. And I was a little intimidated before we got into the kitchen today. Last spring, when I visited Washburne before registering, the class was working on croissant dough. I watched as many groups of students struggled with messy, gloppy blobs of dough that dripped butter like giant ears of corn on the cob at the fair.

I vowed to do better. But I'm not sure I succeeded.

So, we started in on puff pastry. It's the "easiest" of the three laminated doughs because it requires no yeast -- just flour, butter, salt, water and more butter. First you make a basic dough and let it chill for about 30 minutes while you make the butter layer.

We whipped softened butter with a little flour (to soak up extra moisture), spread it on plastic and left it to chill.

The trick to this whole mess is working with butter and dough that are equally chilled and pliable.

You roll out the dough, keeping it as perfectly rectangular as possible. Then, you roll out the butter layer to two-thirds the size of the dough. You put the putter layer on top of the dough and enclose it with three folds, like you're putting a letter in an envelope. Here's the chef helping me and my partner straighten out our edges and enclose our butter:

Chill again. Then you roll out this butter-filled "letter" back to the original size of your dough, taking care to keep the edges straight, avoid tearing it and keep it cold enough (but not too cold!) so butter doesn't seep out. The this dough gets folded, each side to the middle and in half again, like a book. Chill again. And repeat three more times for puff pastry.

It was toasty in the kitchen, so we had to put our dough back in the cooler several times so we could roll it out without making a total mess.

And rolling out a perfect rectangle and getting the edges to line up will take practice. Lots of practice. Our dough started to tear a bit where it had become too thin.

With so many steps and so much chilling time, we'll have to wait 'til tomorrow to see whether our pastry puffs.

I can say this with certainty after today, though. I don't think the folks from Pepperidge Farm have to worry about going out of business. I'm all for from-scratch cooking, but I think I'd stick with the puff pastry in my grocer's freezer section next time I get a hankering for a cheese straw or a Napolean.

Check back tomorrow, though. Maybe I will have changed my mind.


  1. That is the best blog post title ever! Hilarious!

  2. I haven't had success with puff pastry and am anxious to hear about yours...

  3. that is an amazing amount of fiddly work. i always wondered how puff pastry was made.



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