You can prep nearly all of this recipe well ahead of time. Make the filling up to a couple days in advance, and be sure to make the pasta dough at least one hour in advance. You can cheat by...
Puff pastry is perhaps the holy grail of baking. It takes practice, patience, and time. I completely and totally understand why most people just buy it frozen. Making puff pastry at home, especially if you're strapped for counter space, is a little bit much. I'm not going to ask you to make puff pastry (although the feeling of making it successfully is pretty great), but I will introduce you to one of my new favorite things: rough puff pastry.
I wish I had been the one to come up with this because it's truly brilliant. I can almost imagine the circumstances under which it was invented. A harried pastry chef in some windowless, sweltering kitchen somewhere is asked (or told, which is more likely) to make a puff pastry dessert for service that night. Or, just as likely, a chef somewhere wanted puff pastry for a beef wellington or for vol-au-vent, and roped the pastry chef into doing it. Rather than making a traditional puff pastry with the butter block and endless turns and running back and forth to and from the walk-in, my fabled pastry chef made an extra buttery tart dough, then laminated the dough as if it were puff pastry.
The resulting dough doesn't have quite the same finesse as real puff pastry, but it's surprisingly good. I'll wager that unless you've spent a lot of time working with real, honest to goodness handmade puff pastry, you probably won't even notice the difference.
However, as easy peasy as this is, there are still some helpful pointers to keep in mind.
· The butter you use needs to be cold. If your kitchen is warm, after you cut the butter into cubes, put it on a plate and stick it in the fridge for 15 minutes or so to firm back up. Butter softens rather quickly and benefits from being re-chilled. If you're in the habit of storing butter in the freezer, you can just grate the frozen butter directly into the flour.
· Add just enough water to bring the butter and flour together, but no more. You don't want a sticky dough. Also bear in mind that the dough will continue to hydrate as you work with it and let it rest, so if it seems a teensy bit on the dry side at first, that's okay. It will become smooth.
· When rolling the dough, make sure it isn't sticking at all to your work surface. Check it constantly and throw more flour underneath if it starts to stick.
· Don't worry about how rough the dough looks at first. When you mix the flour, butter, and water together initially, it will look like chunks of butter barely held together by dough. However, as you roll it, the dough will become much smoother.
· If at any time you think the butter is starting to get soft or melt, pop the dough back in the fridge to firm up. Melting butter in a puff pastry dough is just no good--you will end up with a greasy, dense end product if you allow the butter to get too warm. This is one part of the technique that you can fudge a little if you have a cooler kitchen. As long as the butter is firm, you can do multiple turns back to back without having to chill and rest the dough as often. But you have to pay attention to the dough. If in doubt, chill it.
· For this puff pastry, I'm using a double fold technique to make it even quicker. Rather than doing the usual tri-fold (like folding a letter into thirds), with a double fold, you fold both of the short ends to meet in the center. Then, you fold it in half again. See the photos if you're having trouble envisioning this technique.
Rough puff pastry dough can be used in any of the ways that you would use normal puff pastry. Try making cheese straws or cinnamon sugar sticks with it, simple fruit tarts, or using it to top a chicken pot pie. You can also make this dough ahead of time and freeze it (wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and then placed inside a plastic bag). Just be sure to thaw it completely before rolling out.
Combine in a bowl:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Add and toss to coat with flour:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes and well chilled
Pour in a little at a time:
Stir the mixture with a spoon until it just comes together, adding water as needed.
Shape into a square and wrap in plastic. Chill for 10 minutes.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator.
Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the dough into a rectangle. The size of the rectangle isn't important, but be sure to roll out the dough until it is quite thin. The first time you roll the dough out it will be very chunky. Just make sure it isn't sticking at all to the work surface.
Fold one short edge in to the center.
Then the other.
Then fold in half again.
Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Give the dough two more double folds, chilling between folds if your kitchen is warm and the butter starts to soften.
Chill the dough. At this point it is ready to use or you can keep it for up to 3 days in the fridge. If the dough is very cold and stiff right after you take it out of the fridge, allow it to soften at room temperature until it is pliable. If you try to roll it out while it is very cold, it will crack.