When I first went gluten-free — 5 years ago this week — I thought that I might never eat bread, pasta, or in a restaurant again. I certainly never thought I would eat puff pastry again.
Of course, before I went gluten-free, I had never made puff pastry by hand. Why should I? There are sheets of it for sale in the freezer section of every grocery store. If you can eat gluten, recipes that call for puff pastry are so easy. But making it myself? That seemed like something for a pastry chef. Not for me.
In the past month, I have made so many batches of puff pastry that I have lost track of how many. 8? 10? I don’t know. A lot.
And boy, have I learned.
I have learned that the dough for rough puff pastry should not be a smooth easy ball when I first pull it out of the food processor, like pie dough. It shouldn’t be so wet with butter that the dough gloms onto the rolling pin as I try to work with it. I have learned to not roll over the edges of the dough as I am doing turns, to give it the best chance of puffing and making layers I can. I have learned what the word turns means in puff pastry. I have learned to work with cold dough and cold hands and a cold rolling pin, if I can. I have learned to put a tart dough made out of puff pastry back in the refrigerator before I bake it, so the butter doesn’t melt all over the pan.
I have learned to live with the imperfections of this. I have to learned to love puff pastry.
I have learned that after I publish this recipe, I don’t want any more puff pastry for awhile.
It’s your turn.
Over the last six weeks of making puff pastry at least 3 times a week, I have been guided by wise voices.
My friend Helen and I collaborated on this, via email and in person. She came up with an extraordinary gluten-free puff pastry, made in the traditional manner. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must click on that link and try her recipe. Helen is not only a pastry chef, but she’s also a patient friend, listening to my questions about butter and ratios and rolling out dough. I can’t imagine undergoing this entire process without her.
My friend Jeanne, of the blog Four Chickens, made an incredible-looking gluten-free puff pastry recently too. Have you seen her vol au vents? Her step by step tutorial was so helpful to me. Also, if you have never been to Jeanne’s blog, you should know that she’s an incredible gluten-free baker and kind woman. Go on over to make one of her cakes.
My friend Ashley made an incredible little video on making traditional puff pastry. I must have watched it a dozen times in a row one night, trying to figure out the process. She’s another pastry chef. Why not learn from the best?
However, each of those beautiful women were making traditional puff pastry, with a dough and a big block of butter to work into that dough. It’s really not that hard to make traditional puff pastry — I don’t want to give you that impression. It’s just that Helen and Jeanne had already done it. I wanted to make something different, something a little quicker.
Rough puff pastry.
Rough puff pastry is just that. It’s rough. It’s not nearly as refined as traditional puff pastry, but it’s also not quite as fussy. (And I have learned that most pastry chefs are making rough puff pastry for restaurant service, it seems.) Don’t think, however, that you’ll pull this recipe for rough puff pastry together in 15 minutes. This takes time. It’s a project. This is not the food to make when you are rushing to put dinner on the table.
If, like me, you enjoy a challenge and the feeling of taking nothing but flours and butter, with a little water, and making magic? You’re going to want to make this rough puff pastry.
I found Molly Stevens’ guide to making rough puff pastry on Fine Cooking incredibly helpful.
“When teaching how to make rough puff pastry, I’ve found that the only tricky part is getting my students to believe that the crumbly pile of butter, flour, and scant water will actually become a smooth, workable dough. The temptation is to add more water to bind the dough, but excess water would only make the dough tough.”
Well okay then! Rough and imperfect and even ludicrous looking? I can do that!
Every evening, I was studying recipes and learning techniques, from Ashley’s take on quick puff pastry, and Gordon Ramsey’s rough puff pastry recipe, and a professional pastry chef’s take on puff pastry at British Larder. This post at Kitchen Musings on how to make rough puff pastry showed me that I didn’t need the thousand layers to make puff pastry beautiful. I could do this.
I dove in.
For awhile, I was using variations on Michel Roux’s rough puff pastry recipe, courtesy of Helen. They worked. Most of the photographs you see here are of doughs and treats made with those recipes. I quickly learned that I don’t like tapioca flour in puff pastry — too soft — and I definitely don’t want the bean flours in there. And after a couple of batches of puff pastry that left the Silpat dripping with butter after baking, I realized that gluten-free puff pastry requires less butter than the traditional. That was big.
After one attempt after another, based on French recipes or ones I found on the internet, I felt like I had the feel of rough puff pastry. It really is rough when it begins. Look at that top photo. It’s barely more than an assemblage of flours and butter, marginally held together with ice water. How is that going to become something I can roll out?
It does. Trust me. The first few batches of puff pastry I made began as smooth balls of dough. They ended as overly wet, leaden pastry, with only the faintest hint of layers. It was only when I switched to making this in rough fashion that I started to see air in my pastries and crunch in my teeth.
Then, David Lebovitz’s new book, Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes, showed up in the mail. Oh, David. You save me again. The book is phenomenal (we’ll tell you more about it soon). I trust David with all things pastry. He has a recipe for rough puff pastry that uses 2/3 all-purpose flour and 1/3 whole wheat. This appealed to me, since I like to use a combination of starches and whole grain. I fiddled with the flours and the calculator until I found what I liked.
I found my recipe. And now you have it too.
Now, we can eat palmiers and beef wellington and salmon en croute and chicken pot pies around here. (And oh, have we been. Glad that’s coming to an end, actually.)
In fact, most of the treats we have enjoyed these past few weeks were ones I baked late at night, for the dinners I share with Danny at 10 pm. I threw in the photo of salmon en croute for you here, even though it’s in that hellish yellowy light. The rest we’ll leave up to your imagination.
With gluten-free rough puff pastry, you can make apple turnovers to surprise your love when he comes home.
“Oh baby!” Danny told me when he saw these. He kissed me for five minutes after the first bite.
Once I had the hang of this — after failing and laughing and being frustrated and finding my way only by doing it again and again — I realized how easy this is. Time. Patient hands. Good butter. The right flours. Waiting.
Then, there were savory palmiers with mustard, cheddar cheese, and black pepper. Lu chomped on these on the back porch on a sunny day, for a snack, then asked for more.
I certainly never thought, when I first had to go gluten-free, five years ago this week, that one day I’d have a child who would eat palmiers made from my gluten-free puff pastry. I sighed when I heard her say, “Yumma!” This is, in the end, why I do this.
Now you can too.
Soon, you can have gluten-free puff pastry dough like this, waiting in the refrigerator. Make up some palmiers or a quick tart for lunch, or apple turnovers. (I’m pretty sure you could use this dough to make homemade pop tarts, too.) Pot pie. Ah, the sound of chicken pot pie.
If you are recently gluten-free, and you feel like the world is closing down on you, think again. Anything is possible.
Gluten-Free Rough Puff Pastry, adapated from David Lebovitz’s Whole Wheat Puff Pastry recipe from Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes
It begins as butter chunks and flour, then ends as a pliable dough, ready to go. It’s magic. Truly.
Now, it’s yours. You’ll notice I have suggested substitute flours in the recipe in case you cannot eat one of these. Bake by weight and you’ll be able to play.
Play and let it be imperfect. Don’t expect to be good at this the first time. I promise you — this is a project you will master eventually. Allow yourself time in front of the kitchen counter, more than just once. And then let me know how it goes.
345 grams (3/4 pound or 1 1/2 cups or 3 sticks) unsalted butter
137 grams (4 7/8 ounces or 3/4 cup) potato starch (or tapioca flour)
137 grams (4 1/2 ounces or 1 cup) cornstarch (or arrowroot powder)
52 grams (1 7/8 ounces or 1/3 cup) superfine brown rice flour (or sorghum)
52 grams (1 7/8 ounces or 1/3 cup) superfine sweet rice flour (or millet flour)
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon guar gum
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
180 ml (3/4 cup) ice water
Prepping the butter. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes. (I slice each stick into tablespoons, then cut each of those in half.) Arrange them on a plate, making sure they are separated. Put the plate in the freezer until the butter is frozen, at least 1 hour.
Combining the flours. Mix the potato starch, cornstarch, brown rice flour, and superfine sweet rice flour together. Whisk the flours together to aerate them. (I like to whirl the flours in the food processor for a few moments, to fully combine them.) Add the xanthan gum, guar gum, and salt. Stir to combine.
Making the rough dough. Put the combined flours in the bowl of a stand mixer. (This batch was too big for my standard-size food processor, or I might have done it there. You can also do this by hand, with the help of a pastry scraper.) Add the frozen butter. Now, this is where you’re going to think that David Lebovitz and I are crazy. When you turn on the mixer, on the lowest speed, the butter will fly and your stand mixer will sound like it is suffering. Keep going. Turn it off and on a few times until the edges of the butter pieces have started to soften. Turn off the mixer. Pour in the ice water and turn on the mixer again. Let it run until the flours have absorbed the water. This dough is going to look crazy ragged and unfinished, like the first photo in that collage up there.
Rolling out and turning. Pour the dough onto a Silpat or piece of parchment paper about the same size as a Silpat. Knead it together with your hands for a moment or two, just enough to bring it together.
I like to put a piece of parchment paper on top and roll this out to a rough rectangle, with a rolling pin. (Aim for roughly the size of a piece of notebook paper, with just a bit more length.) You might like to pat it down with your hands. Roll from the center outward, going both ways. Take care not to roll over the edges. Go gently. At the end of this first rolling session, the dough will look like the photograph in the top-right-hand photograph in that collage up there.
Gently, using the edges of the Silpat or parchment paper, fold the bottom third of the dough toward the middle, then fold the top third on top of it. Eventually, this will look like a book. Right now, it might be hard to distinguish the folds from each other. Have faith. Proceed.
Rotate the dough one-quarter turn to your right (clockwise). You have now completed one turn.
Again, roll out the dough to roughly the same size as a piece of notebook paper, with just a bit more length. Go gently. This will take your biceps and your patience. In these early turns, you’re going to think this is impossible. Keep going. With each turn, the dough will become smoother and more cohesive. Once you are done rolling, fold the bottom third up, and overlap the top third over it. Try as best you can to align the edges.
Rotate the dough one-quarter turn to your right (clockwise). You have now completed two turns.
Follow the same process, rolling carefully, then turning, until you have completed four turns. Believe it or not, by the time you are done with the fourth turn, the dough will look like the photograph in the bottom right-hand corner. (I cut the ragged edges off in that one, to make a nice neat rectangle. You don’t have to do that.)
Wrap the folded dough in plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
Finishing the dough. Pull the puff pastry dough out of the refrigerator. Generally, I let it sit on the counter for about 20 minutes before working with it again, since it will be hard from the cold. Don’t let it sit out too long, however. You want the dough to be cold but pliable. Complete the fifth and sixth turns, following the same procedure as above. Wrap the dough in plastic again and refrigerate for at least another 2 hours.
And there you have it. Rough puff pastry, gluten-free.
This batch makes enough for 2 large tarts or 1 beef wellington or 2 salmon en croutes or dozens of little palmiers. Experiment. You’ll find your way.
This dough does well in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 1 month.