Cooking School Journal: Puff Pastry the Magic Dragon


I can’t even remember where I left off. As most of you may know, I killed my computer. An entire glass of Jepson Sauvignon Blanc tipped over (that’s what I get for drinking sauv blanc) after my last journal and killed my computer.  Yes, I suck. Everything is gone. Joe’s not happy.

But, due to popular demand, I am writing the next cooking school journal from our ancient iMac in the upstairs “office”. Let’s see how far I get before the children find me.

Let me begin by saying that I have had two glorious weeks off from school. I didn’t miss it one friggin’ bit. I never knew how great Monday nights were until these last two weeks. Monday nights rock! As long as you’re not standing in a hot, crowded kitchen filled with people constantly judging every nuance of your existence, Monday nights are completely underrated.

As I last left you, it was time to break off into groups and I picked Lance. We would be making puff pastry. Everyone in the room agreed that almost all home chefs and many professional chefs go the Pepperidge Farm route. That is, instead of making puff from scratch, which is time-consuming, many buy frozen pre-made puff pastry like Pepperidge Farm. A better alternative is from a company in NY called Dufour. While Pepperidge is made with imageshortening, Dufour is all-butter making it a much superior product. (I’ve also heard, but not tried Trader Joe’s puff pastry, which is inexpensive and also uses all-butter).

However, we were told that we needed to know how to make it ourselves. It’s a basic, classic and essential culinary skill.

Chef gave us a step-by-step demo, and then it was our turn. It was cool really. You make a classic pastry dough and roll it out into a perfect rectangle. Then you plunk a “Butter Block” on the center. Puff Pastry is all about layers.

So basically you fold your dough over a block of butter and roll it out. Then you fold it again and again, turning it each time. You need to make sure that each fold is a perfect rectangle.

The big trick is that you have to fridge it after every two folds…otherwise the butter gets too warm and you screw it up.

It can take a day.

When you are done you have a 1/4 inch thick sheet of puff pastry. When baked, the water in the butter turns to steam causing the dough to rise and separate into layers.

Think about a croissant which is made from a similar pastry dough. Notice how the croissant separates into layers of flaky goodness? Well, that’s like puff pastry.

And that’s also why we’re all fat.


So, when the day was done…and literally done ( it was midnight when I drove home with my pear tart and creme brulee), I had survived the pastry course. Working with Lance was easy. He took charge of the initial rolling out so that I didn’t lose my mind with sticky dough stuck all over the board and pin. He was quite liberal with the flouring I must say, and he didn’t hesitate at all. I gotta learn that.

Rolling, blocking, folding, rolling, blocking, chilling. There was a method to the madness. And while the dough chilled, so did I. I got a chance to chat and began to feel more comfortable with my classmates (with a couple of exceptions).

I am not a pastry gal (or as Arthur pointed out my typo last round “a pasty” girl). I am a meat girl.

Luckily, the next two sessions are about meat. Wellington-done that. Filet-own it. Reduction-done it. Veal stock-yep. Sauce Bernaise-oh, yeah.

Bring it on.

The most important thing I’ve learned so far is “just do it”. No, I’m not sponsored by Nike (although open to any offers),  but I spend a lot of time in my small life worrying that I’m going to do it wrong. I have spent too much time in this class afraid to make a images2mistake. I apologize for errors I haven’t even made yet.

It’s time for me to let myself do it wrong and learn to do it better. Or maybe I’ll surprise myself and do it right.

Although I’ll miss my awesome Monday nights at home, I am, to be honest, looking forward to getting back in the kitchen next week.

Bring on the meat!