I love making French desserts because they are exacting. Perhaps the convoluted technique is what makes most French desserts artisan edibles. Sometimes they are so pretty that you almost don’t want to eat them. There are measurements and techniques, and an intuitive pinch of sugar here and salt there more often than not doesn’t work. Essentially, the French have a way of complicating their food, desserts in particular, like this young pastry apprentice named Claudius Gele. Many years ago, when Gele’s father fell ill, he was prescribed a diet with nothing but flour, butter and water. So Gele invented the arduous technique of rolling and turning a butter encased dough several times, which when cooked, transformed into a billowy piece of bread with a thousand layers in between. This is the legend behind the almighty puff pastry (or should I say pâte feuilletée?) which forms the base of many a sweet and savoury delicacy.
No ordinary, kneading-and-rolling pastry, this. I slammed 4 sticks of butter using my heavy-duty rolling pin. I deftly rolled the dough with the slammed butter sitting inside, so the butter moves as one with the dough. I completed the full 6 turns and chilled it in the refrigerator as many times. I was done for the day but I didn’t know if I was still entitled to whatever bragging rights I wish to claim as Dorie Greenspan encouragingly wrote in her book Baking with Julia. I wanted to test it and hence decided to make a galette out of pears and dates. It worked and how! 🙂 As the sweet smell of butter was wafting through my home, the edges of the puff pastry had risen into voluptuous bubbles. When I cut the golden puff, I saw deep air pockets and layers within layers. When I bit into it, there was the beautiful sound you always want to hear with puff pastries, the delectable “crunch”, and I heard it. Today, with the close of my travails; of creating something so spectacular, I continue to bake thinking – if I can make puff pastry, I can do anything. And so, dear reader, can you! 🙂
Ps: I read somewhere that Gele’s father’s serum cholesterol hit the roof in the years to come. But that hasn’t stopped the French from making puff pastries or using as much butter as they do. For them, butter was, is and always will be a religion.
For the puff pastry
- 2 1/2 cups all-pupose flour
- 1 1/4 cups cake flour (1 cup of cake flour = 84 g all-purpose flour + 15 g corn flour)
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 1/4 cups ice water
- 453 g butter (4 sticks)
For the Galette
- 300 g puff pastry dough
- 1 pear, cored and sliced into thin vertical strips
- 4 dates, cut into chunks
- 2 tbsp honey
- Flaked almonds, to sprinkle
- 1 egg, beaten, to glaze
- Combine both the flours and salt in a food processor. Add the cold water continuously into the dough, while it is still processing. Once combined, take the dough out and leave it on a working surface. You should have a fairly wet, pliable dough, of clay consistency. Make the dough into a ball, slash a tic-tac-toe symbol on the surface of the dough, wrap it in cling film and refrigerate it.
- Now have your butter cold at all times. Get the butter in between two sheets of cling film and start pounding it so that you have a rough square of butter of 1-inch thickness. Remember, it is necessary that the dimensions of your butter is kept intact. It should be either a square or a rectangle and not an amoeba. Wrap the flattened butter with cling film and refrigerate it for a bit.
- Now get your dough from the fridge. Dust your working surface with flour (to prevent sticking). Place the dough on the surface and roll it out to a 10 inch square. Begin again form the center of the square, rolling out over each corner, so that you have a thick center surrounded by 4 flaps.
- Take the butter out, unwrap it and place it on the center of the square. Deftly, pulling all the four flaps towards the center, encase the slab of butter. It has to be fully covered. You must have an 8-inch square parcel now.
- Using your rolling pin, gently press the dough up-down and left-right. Now if at any point you find that the butter is oozing out, wrap it in cling film and refrigerate it. You can stop and start at any point.
- Now, roll the pastry square gently into 3 times its size (24 inches). Keep moving the pastry around to prevent it from sticking. If it sticks, thrown more flour on the work surface. Don’t bother with the width of the dough, as you roll it out to 24 inches, everything else will work out.
- Brush the excess flour. Fold the bottom end of the dough, 2/3 way towards the top end and fold the top end over the bottom end. Now turn the rectangle such that the closed end is to your left and the folded side is to your right (just like a book). You have finished 1 turn.
- Now, roll the rectangle again to 24 inches. Repeat the 2/3 way folding process. You have finished turn 2. Now refrigerate for an hour. Continue rolling and folding till you finish 6 turns and refrigerate for an hour after every 2-turns. (So the dough will go into the fridge thrice in between rolling and folding).
- You can freeze the puff pastry dough for a long time. Thaw it when you want to use it.
- For the galete, preheat oven to 180 C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll out a 300 g puff pastry dough into a rough rectangle, leaving the sides to be a little thicker than the center. Place on the sheet. Combine sliced pears, dates and honey in a bowl. Place them on the rolled out puff pastry sheet . Pour over the remainder honey. Sprinkle flaked almonds on top.
- Brush the sides of the pastry with the beaten egg for the golden hue.
- Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden and bubbling away.
Note: You can always buy ready made puff pastry if you don’t want to go through the labourious process of rolling and folding, and of course, waiting.