Wonderfully light and flaky, puff pastry is used in a variety of special creations such as croissants, Napoleons, Chicken a la King and Beef Wellington. It's one of the most delicate and time-consuming doughs to make as it must be layered with chilled butter, rolled out and folded six to eight times. But most would agree this painstaking process is worth the work and the wait. When baked, steam from the butter causes the dough to puff and separate into hundreds of delicately crisp golden layers.
Puff pastry is also called "leaf pastry" or mille-feuilles in French, which means "1,000 leaves." Its invention is often credited to Claude Gelle, a 17th-century landscape painter and amateur cook. However, some say puff pastry was first created by Feuillet, the chief pastry chef of the Grand Condé, while the Italians claim Florence as its birthplace. With references dating back to 1525, puff pastry was served at the wedding of Marie de’ Medici and Henry IV.
Puff pastry can be made from scratch, but if you're short on time or just beginning to work with this delicate dough, opt for pre-made. Look for packages in your supermarket's freezer case (Pepperidge Farm is a popular brand). Frozen puff pastry is usually available in two varieties: sheets or shells.
Keep pre-made pastry dough in the freezer. To thaw, only remove the number of sheets or shells needed and wrap the rest in plastic or foil and return to the freezer. Be sure to follow thawing instructions on your package. Typically, a whole box will be ready to use after thawing in the refrigerator for six hours. Fewer sheets will thaw in about four hours and they may be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days before using.
To quick thaw, separate the frozen sheets and cover each with a piece of plastic wrap. Thaw at room temperature for 30 minutes.
• Work with one pastry sheet at a time, keeping the rest in the refrigerator.
• Unfold sheets on a lightly floured board or countertop.
• Handle the sheets as little as possible. If the pastry becomes too soft to work with, put it back in the refrigerator for a few minutes.
• Cut sheets with a sharp knife, pizza wheel or pastry tool. Make decorative edges with ravioli or cookie cutters.
• Many filled pastries can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen. Then bake just before serving.
• For a deep golden brown color, brush pastry with a mixture of one egg yolk and one teaspoon water before baking.
• Add flavor and texture by sprinkling the pastry with chopped nuts, seeds, ground spices or shredded cheese.
Try one of our favorite puff pastry recipes:
Brie en Croute
View BigOven's puff-pastry recipes