Monday, May 23, 2016

Rough Puff and the Great British Bake Off

It has been far too long since my last post. Although I've continued my cooking and baking adventures during the past three years, this blog lay silent as nothing more than a testament to the food of yesteryear. However, I could no longer ignore the legions of adoring fans who clamored for the blog's return. So, in all its (hopefully existent) glory, here it is.

I've wanted to start this back up again for a while and was just waiting for that final push to get me in motion. I finally got that push a week ago when I visited my best friends from law school in Chicago. Not only did I have one of my top three meals of all time while there (keep a look out for my upcoming post on Roister), but my friends and I spent an entire afternoon binge watching the first season of The Great British Bake Off. The actual first season, not what Netflix calls the first season.

Both of these experiences reminded me how much I love the process of making food, maybe more so than eating it, and made me want to continue sharing my modest attempts. At Roister, we sat at a counter immediately overlooking the tiny kitchen creating our entire meal. For the first half of the meal, we did nothing more than marvel at what the chefs were doing. After that we were too consumed with the actual food itself to keep watching, but being able to see them perform was part of why the food was so captivating. The same can be said of the GBBO--the final products on that show are impressive enough, but watching the process and the amount of work that goes into those final products really blows me away.

However, as impressive as it is to watch people perform at the top of their game, it also helps you realize that anyone can learn these techniques and accomplish amazing things at home. Not everything will be perfect. And you will throw away dozens of eggs and pounds of butter on failed attempts. But you will continue to grow with each of those failures and, when you do succeed, you get to experience one of the best feelings ever: watching people enjoy something you created.

That ability to connect with other people through food is why I love cooking and baking, and I hope this blog can serve as some semblance of that. Although I cannot share an actual meal with you, I will share with you some of the things I love and, through that, attempt to share a small part of myself.

The picture above appears to be a fairly unassuming piece of dough--what you cannot see is the hundreds of minuscule layers of dough and butter that will expand in the oven to create layers and layers of flaky and tender pastry (as seen in the baked goods the dough transforms into).

This magical dough is called Rough Puff (as in, a rough puff pastry). I have been obsessed with puff pastry since I first learned about it years ago. Since then, I've watched dozens of videos on how to make this dough at home but had never attempted it myself. I found it much easier to just run out to the store and buy a pack of frozen puff pastry because making it at home was basically a multi-day process. You would have to make a dough and then place a block of butter weighing approximately as much as the dough itself into the middle of the dough. You could then fold the dough over the butter and roll it out. Then you would fold the dough over itself and roll it out again. Then you would repeat that process again. And again. Throughout this whole time, you had to be absolutely sure that your butter remained a solid block and did not melt into your dough. This meant that your kitchen either had to be in the middle of a corn field in Illinois in December, or that you had to refrigerate the dough for hours at a time between each step.

As much as I wanted to, I was just not going to attempt that. Then, the GBBO taught me about the poor man's puff pastry--the rough puff. Although not easy when compared to boiling water, much easier than the full laminated puff pastry described above.

Rough Puff Pastry

225g / 8oz Flour
Pinch of Salt (mixed with flour)
200g / 7oz Butter
125ml / 4oz Cold Water
Squeeze of Lemon Juice (mixed with water)

(Recipe makes enough for one big tart or a couple dozen pinwheel cookies. I made a triple batch in the pictures below.)

You start off with the same basic ingredients as a pie dough or a laminated puff pastry. However, cut the butter into much bigger cubes than you would for either of those recipes (about 1 inch cubed). I stuck these in the freezer for a good 30 minutes.

Then take your hard pieces of butter than roll them around in your flour/salt mixture. After the butter is coated, start breaking it down into smaller pieces. I used a dough blade, but you can use your fingers.

Normally for a pie crust you would break down the butter until it is the size of small peas. Here, you actually only want to break up your pieces until they are about 1/2 the size as when you started. Then, add the cold water and continue cutting in the butter. The dough will slowly start to come together a tiny bit.

When the dough is just barely starting to come together but there are still really large pieces of butter, turn the dough out onto your counter. With your rolling pin or the heel of your hand start to press the dough onto itself. You will think you did something horribly wrong and it will feel like it is never going to come together. But as you roll it down you will see the butter starting to turn into thin layers and it will start coming together more. When this happens, start to shape it into a rectangle and continue rolling until it looks like the middle picture.

A bench scraper is pretty essential during this process so that you can make sure the dough is not sticking to your counter. Add a tiny bit of flour if needed to keep it from sticking. Using your bench scraper, fold the bottom and top quarters of the rectangle into the middle of the dough, and then fold it in half. This is called a book fold.

The dough will still be shaggy and pieces of butter will be sticking out a little. Turn the dough and continue working it with your rolling pin, making the dough longer but not wider. Fold one more time using the book fold. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Once the dough is thoroughly chilled, unwrap it and once again roll out your rectangle. Do one more book fold and turn (this should be your third one total). These turns will be enough to give you a good amount of layers and flakiness. But, I decided to be a rebel and went for a fourth turn/book fold.

As you can see, by the end your dough has really come together and has some really nice lines. Wrap it one more time in plastic wrap and chill it overnight. That dough should now have hundreds of flaky layers, and in the next few posts I will show you three different uses for it.

Although it is not quite as perfect as a homemade laminated puff pastry, the fact that you made it yourself will make it so much better than any store bought puff pastry you've ever had.

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Welcome to my blog, where you can join me as I revel in my love of food. Eating it, cooking it, baking it, watching it on TV and even learning about it. If it has to do with food, I am probably interested.

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