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Michel Roux Jr's Top Tips for the Perfect Puff Pastry

Harriet Worthington21 September 2016

Sausage rolls, cinnamon swirls, custard tarts, sugared palmiers, chocolate and pecan millefeuilles. Not just a list of delicious things I spend idle moments daydreaming about, but also a list of delicious things that start with the same ingredient: puff pastry. 

Crispy, delicate, melt in your mouth and so delightful that I am willing to look past the inevitable avalanche of crumbs that tumble from my mouth and find a new home nestled in the folds of my jumper and the hem of my skirt. Pre-made puff pastry might be the best thing since sliced bread (and Yorkshire puddings), and is available in most supermarkets. Keep a roll of it in the freezer and you’re prepared for entertaining at short notice, these sugared palmiers and Michel Roux Jr’s cheese straws both use ready-made puff pastry and take less than an hour to prepare and cook.

Making your own puff pastry, however, is less difficult than you may think. Much like making your own sourdough, it’s a labour of love that takes time, attention and patience but is ultimately worth it in the end. Follow our top tips to produce perfect puff pastry in no time.

1. Making the dough

Most recipes will call for just two ingredients for the dough: flour and water. They can be mixed together either in the food processor – a method BBC Good Food favours or by hand in a mixing bowl. It’s important not to add too much water or your pastry will start to toughen. Once your dough has come together into something that is fairly smooth and a uniform colour (the French term for this is détrempe), wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

Try not to over work your dough as it will become too elastic and difficult to roll out. Letting it rest in the fridge will relax the gluten in the flour and help make it easier to roll.


2. Creating the butter block 

Butter is really the star of the show with puff pastry and even though it feels like you are using an obscene amount, you’ll soon forget your cholesterol level the moment you bask in the glory of the hundreds of layers of buttery goodness you have just created. The block of butter (known as the beurrage) needs to be kept cold so that it doesn’t melt into the dough when creating the layers, but also needs to be pliable so that it can be rolled without breaking into pieces. It is at this point that you should gather all of your day’s grievances and channel them through the rolling pin. Using cold butter, place it between two sheets of greaseproof paper and flatten and shape the butter into a rectangle. If it is still cold but can be folded in half – it is pliable enough to be used.

Michel Roux Jr advises using the best quality unsalted butter available, it will not only improve the flavour but also the colour of your pastry.


3. Incorporating the butter

After beating the butter, it needs to be incorporated into the détrempe. There are many different methods to do this, Leiths like to roll the détrempe into a rectangle, placing the butter in the bottom half of the détrempe and folding the top half over. Alternatively roll the détrempe into a cross shape and place the beurrage in the centre.

Michel Roux Jr says to try and keep everything cool – from your working environment, to your equipment to even your hands. By keeping everything cool, it stops the butter from melting and merging with your pastry.


4. Rolls & Folds

This is the most laborious stage of making puff pastry – the process of dispersing the butter throughout your détrempe by rolling and folding. This will eventually produce a laminated dough made up of hundreds of layers of dough and butter pressed together. A classic puff pastry needs to be rolled out and folded 6-8 times (known as a tour), but rested in the fridge after every 2 tours to stop the butter from melting, the dough from softening and all your hard work going to waste.

Cactus Kitchens’ chef teacher Bridget Colvin keeps track of the number of tours she has made by making small indentations in the top of her pastry with her fingers – one indentation per roll and fold. Make sure not to press too hard otherwise you’ll ruin the layers you’ve just slaved over.


5. Storing

If you’re planning on immediately making enough cheese straws to see you through the apocalypse, let your dough chill in the fridge for a further 30 minutes after the sixth tour before using. Otherwise, the dough will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days as long as it’s wrapped well in cling film. It also freezes exceptionally well so it’s worth knocking up a large batch and keeping it in the freezer.