Thursday, September 23, 2010
Adventures in Flakiness and Sloth: Blitz Puff Pastry
Making things makes me happy. Friends and family often give me knitting yarn and cookbooks for my birthday instead of sweaters and dinners out. Nothing is more soul-filling for me than watching some useful – and sometimes tasty – object coming into being in my hands.
But last week was one of those rare periods when I feeling too stressed and slothful to make anything. And because the universe is perverse, it’s always at times when I least feel like cooking that I most desperately crave something special to eat. And last week, I really wanted something flaky and sweet.
If I still lived back in Los Angeles or Vancouver, I’d simply go out and find a French bakery that made perfectly authentic pains au chocolat, or a dim sum place with tiny tarts filled with sunny yellow custard, warm from the oven. But I’m not in either of these places anymore. Gainesville has many virtues, but its primary contribution to the culinary world is Gatorade. Enough said.
So if I wanted a comforting, flaky little treat, I’d have to make it myself.
Before dragging my sorry carcass into the kitchen, I thought about what I could make that would be flaky and sweet, yet easy to make. Then I remembered my very favorite dough from cooking school, which I haven’t made in a criminally long time: blitz puff pastry.
Blitz puff pastry is a quickie shortcut variant of regular puff pastry, which is one of the best things a human being can eat. Regular puff pastry forms the flaky, buttery, sometimes puffed-up base for classic French pastries such as napoleons. It’s also used to enclose savories, such as beef Wellington.
The beauty of blitz puff can’t be appreciated without an understanding of its dressier counterpart. When you bite into a treat made with classic puff pastry, you will encounter hundreds of brittle, paper-thin layers of buttery goodness. To make these layers, a baker must spread a dough made from flour and water with soft, but not liquid butter, then repeatedly fold the dough over the butter, flatten it with a rolling pin, and fold it again. Each fold generates new layers of dough separated by butter. The puffiness comes from steam from the melting butter as the pastry bakes: the expanding steam, trapped between the dough layers, separates and puffs up the layers as they cook.
There’s one catch to making classic puff, though. It takes several hours (the dough needs to rest and chill between folds) and a bit of finesse to make. And I was in no mood for finesse. I just wanted something nice to eat. Now.
And that’s where blitz puff comes in.
Blitz puff is an elegant crossbreed between a pie dough and a classic puff pastry, and it has the added advantage of being harder to screw up than either of these. The first part of its production is rather like making a pie dough: you mix flour, water, and pieces of butter together so that the butter stays in distinct, large lumps suspended in the dough. The second part is a speeded-up version of puff pastry production: the butter-lump-filled dough is folded over itself, rolled flat, then refolded several times so that the butter flattens and forms layers within the dough. (As with regular puff, the trick here is to get the butter warm and soft enough to flatten out between the dough layers, but not so warm that it melts into the dough.) Since the dough doesn’t need to rest between folds, a batch of blitz puff can be yours in just minutes – especially if you have a reservoir of frustration that you’d like to vent with a rolling pin.
The resulting pastry, when baked, has the buttery flavor and most of the puffiness of a classic puff pastry, but the flaky, tender texture of a well-made pie crust. It lacks the brittle, articulated layers of classic puff, but takes only a fraction of the time to make.
‘Blitz’ is German for ‘lightning,’ which suggests how fast blitz puff is intended to be made. Back in cooking school, my favorite chef once did a demo on blitz puff: he invited my classmates and I to time him as he made a batch from beginning to end. He was a huge guy, well over six feet and built like a linebacker, and when he worked that blitz dough, he threw his entire 300-pound body weight –BOOM! – onto the workbench. In less than a minute, the one-man rumble was over, and a neat little rectangle of dough sat where a mass of flour, ice water, and butter had been only seconds before..
Then he made the dough into fruit turnovers that emerged from the oven so flaky, airy and light they practically floated off the baking sheet.
It took me more than a minute to make my blitz puff – including the time I needed to measure out my ingredients, it was more like 10 minutes. I used some of the dough to make some turnovers filled with end-of-the-season nectarines, and stashed the rest away in the freezer, wrapped tightly in plastic, for later.
Yes, I know my project would have been quicker still if I had simply used store-bought frozen puff pastry (which can be quite good). But even in the midst of my slothful funk, I knew this pastry was something I needed to make from scratch, by myself. Making things always makes things better.
BLITZ PUFF PASTRY
3/4 cup bread flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup ice water (more or less, as needed)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1. Combine the flours and salt in a large bowl.
2. Add the butter slices. Rub the slices into the flour until large, irregular flakes (just under 1 inch) form. The butter flakes should be soft enough to bend, but shouldn’t be allowed to get mushy.
3. Gradually sprinkle in enough ice water to hold the flour together. The flakes of butter should still remain distinct as you mix the water into the dough. Do not over-mix.
4. If the dough seems rubbery or the butter starts to liquify, cover the dough and refrigerate it for about half an hour. This will make it easier to roll (if rubbery) and keep the butter flakes intact.
5. To roll the dough: Lightly flour your work surface. If you chilled your dough, remove it from the refrigerator a few minutes before rolling. Then roll the dough into a 12-inch by 18-inch rectangle.
6. Fold the two short ends of the rectangle so that they almost meet in the middle. Then fold the rectangle in half at the point where the folded-in ends meet.
7. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and roll it out into a 12-inch by 18-inch rectangle again. Lightly flour the rolling surface or dough if the dough starts to stick.
8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 twice.
9. The blitz puff is now ready to use! If not using immediately, wrap the dough tightly in plastic and refrigerate or freeze.
LAZY NECTARINE TURNOVERS
2/3 batch blitz puff
3 large nectarines, peeled, pitted, and cut into ¼” pieces
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
1 beaten egg (optional)
sugar for sprinkling (optional)
1. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees.
2.Heat the butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. When it sizzles, add the nectarines and sugar. Cook until the nectarines are tender and the sugar is dissolved. Taste as you go and add more sugar if needed. Set mixture aside to cool
3. Roll out the blitz puff on a floured surface into a 12-inch square. Cut the square into four 6-inch squares.
4. Spoon about 2 heaping tablespoons of the cooled nectarine filling into the middle of each square. Fold each square in half diagonally and firmly seal the edges. Do not overfill the turnovers or they’ll leak when baked.
5. Place the turnovers several inches apart from each other on a baking sheet. If desired, brush them lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle the egg wash with sugar. (The egg becomes golden and glossy when baked.)
6. Bake the turnovers for about 20 minutes, or until puffed and browned.