Puff pastry from scratch
Puff pastry is also the ultimate convenience food for me. I can't bring myself to buy pre-made pie shells, even though my homemade pastry isn't that great, but the mille feuilles ("thousand layers") of puff pastry always made it seem far too complex to make at home, so I felt no guilt buying the "little yellow box" version. I was even more excited when I learned that President's Choice had released a butter puff pastry, thereby cutting down on the amount of shortening I would consume (although margarine is listed among the ingredients). Not to mention that it was conveniently prerolled into thin sheets.
Then I came across a couple of blog posts talking about how easy it is to make your own, and how much better the end result. Then I was browsing through Jacque Pépin's Complete Techniques, and saw his instructions for making it...
...and I thought, I could do that. I might need to set aside a whole day, but I could do it.
So I did. I cleared last Sunday's schedule and planned to make chocolatines out of homemade puff pastry.
The basic instructions are really quite easy: take equal weights of flour and butter, make a flat block out of the butter, make a dough out of the flour, and encase the butter in the dough. Then roll out, fold over, rotate, roll out, fold over... rinse and repeat. You can see something of the process here, though it's in French. The details are a little trickier than that, and there are a few things to watch out for, but the core process is simplicity itself.
It seemed to go quite well. I did get tripped up by a couple of the problems I was warned about, notably that I ripped the dough in places, causing butter to leak out. (Note to self: flour the board heavily.) The dough also became quite elastic, presumably either because I overrolled it or because I was using all-purpose flour rather than pastry flour. After I was done making it, I chilled it in the fridge for half an hour, then rolled it out to make my chocolatines.
Ah. Here was a problem. It had become too elastic for me to roll it out properly: I couldn't get it to the 1/8" thickness I've seen recommended for absolutely everything that uses puff pastry. I rolled it as thin as I could manage, and cut into wide strips for my chocolatines. As you can see in the photo, I didn't do a very good job at cutting it into even strips, but it worked nonetheless. I then threw some chopped Callebaut semisweet chocolate into the centre of each one, rolled them up, flipped them over, brushed with an egg wash, and popped them into a 425-degree oven for about 20-25 minutes.
They puffed up quite nicely, which pleased me tremendously. They also leaked large volumes of melted butter all over the sheet pans. But they smelled wonderful. I found the pastry to be just a bit brittle right after the came out of the oven, which could again be a result of the type of flour or me overworking it, but they softened somewhat as they cooled, and I found the slightly chewy texture they developed after a night spent in airtight plastic containers to be quite pleasant. Some of them weren't as well cooked in the centre as they might have been, which I'm sure was a result of the too-thick pastry.
And the taste? Well, to be honest, I didn't notice much of a difference on the "tester" I ate right away. But then, I haven't eaten "little yellow box" puff pastry in a long time, and I'd never made chocolatines out of frozen pastry before, so I wasn't really doing a true comparison. The next morning at breakfast, however, I was surprised at how sweet they tasted, despite the fact that there was no refined sugar at all in the pastry.
All in all, I will probably continue to buy frozen puff pastry for the convenience factor. It's easy to make your own, and the flavour is probably superior, but it is time consuming. Next time, I will definitely make a full batch (I only didn't one pound of butter this time, which is half the batch size in Pépin's book), and freeze part of it for future use. But this experience has done nothing but strengthen my love affair with puff pastry.