Partially reprinted with permission, this is my most recent piece over at Lucky Peach, How To Make Laminated Dough. This piece covers the in’s and out’s of laminating dough, the painstaking process of folding and layering butter and dough to make impressive things like croissants and puff pastry. For the full article click the link to Lucky Peach!
I’m never surprised to hear that home cooks are intimidated by puff pastry. With 729 layers—yes, really—puff pastry can make you feel like you have 729 opportunities to mess up. But it isn’t only amateurs who shy away from the extravagantly layered pastry—puff pastry strikes fear into the heart of professional cooks as well. And with mechanically perfected puff pastry available from the freezer section of most grocery stores (or one from a trusted purveyor, if you’re a professional), it’s easy to avoid ever using the technique yourself.
Classically, puff pastry is made by “laminating” dough. Used to make croissants, Danish, and any other flaky, buttery pastry, laminating dough involves wrapping a block of butter in a lean dough made of water and flour. The layers are created by a series of “turns,” wherein the dough is rolled thin and folded over itself. This process stretches and stacks the butter and dough until there are 729 paper-thin layers.
There are two types of turns performed when laminating dough: a book turn and a letter turn. The book turn requires you to fold the wide edges inward to meet at the center, then fold the dough again over the center line, as if closing a thick book. A letter turn asks that you fold the dough over itself in thirds, much like you would fold a sheet of letter paper to fit in an envelope. The choice between book or letter folds depends on the pastry: croissants, for example, are letter-folded, while Danish are typically book-folded.
I first “learned” how to make laminated dough in baking and pastry school, where I made puff pastry a grand total of two times……….
And don’t forget to check out the recipe for Rough Puff and try your hand a lamination!