The Diwali fireworks have fizzled, the quilts and coats have come out of their summer hibernation and it’s now or never for one of the most difficult of tasks in the baker’s kitchen. Puff pastry, or pate feuilletée, is the undisputed king of pastries with its hundreds of crisp buttery layers, used to make delicacies like millefeuilles (literally “thousand leaves"), vol-au-vents and palmiers. It is also the trickiest pastry for home bakers to master—all those layers require time, patience and above all, a cool kitchen—something that’s hard to find for most of the year in Delhi.

Classic puff pastry has over 700 layers and involves many hours and much rolling and folding but there is a quicker version that is hardly more labour-intensive than a simple shortcrust pastry. Rough puff pastry is not quite so flaky and doesn’t rise so much as the classic version but it’s still pretty decadent and so much better than any ready-made puff pastry you can buy. As with all baking, though, practice makes perfect and we’ve got from now until Holi to get it right—and once you’ve mastered this, in a few weeks we’ll have a go at the classic version.

There are a few things that will help—along with working in a cool kitchen, your ingredients, work surface and hands should also be as cold as possible. The quality of butter is also important—the best results will come from using unsalted French butter which has a lower water content. It may sound like hard work but follow the instructions carefully and you’ll have a beautiful block of puff pastry ready to transform even humble ingredients like apples and onions into show-stopping pâtisserie.

Rough Puff Pastry

Makes about 500g pastry

Ingredients

250g plain flour (maida)

250g very cold butter, cut into 1cm cubes

½ tsp salt

125ml ice water

Method

Put the flour on to a cold work surface and make a well in the centre. Add the salt and butter cubes. Squeeze the butter cubes between your thumb and fingers into the flour. When the butter pieces have somewhat blended into the flour and are roughly the size of your small fingernail, stop mixing. You are not trying to produce a breadcrumb consistency as you would for shortcrust pastry; puff pastry needs to retain larger pieces of butter to produce the flaky layers. Add the water to the mixture and work it into a smooth dough. If the mixture is very crumbly add a little more water, one teaspoon at a time. Gently knead the dough into a fat disc, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When the pastry has chilled, lightly flour the work surface. Roll the pastry into a rectangle roughly 20x30cm. Fold one-third of the rectangle into the middle then fold the other end over that (as if you were folding a business letter). Brush off any excess flour between the layers. Turn this block by a quarter so the open, layered ends are at the top and bottom. Roll out into a rectangle about the same size as before and fold into three again. Wrap this block in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. Repeat this folding and turning two times (you will have folded/turned four times in total), wrap in cling film and chill again for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Then give the pastry a final two turns and use it as directed in the recipes. The block of pastry will keep for three days in the fridge or a couple of months in the freezer.

Individual Apple Tarts

Makes 4 tarts

Ingredients

200g rough puff pastry

2-3 apples, peeled and cored

25g melted butter

1 tbsp caster sugar

2-3 tbsps apricot jam

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Roll out the pastry as thinly as possible. Cut out 4x4-inch circles using a pastry cutter or a cup. Score a border on each pastry disc with a slightly smaller cutter. Cut each apple into four pieces then thinly slice each quarter. Divide the apple slices between the four discs and arrange the pieces neatly within the borders. Brush a little melted butter over the apples and pastry border and sprinkle the tops with a little caster sugar. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the pastry is well browned and the apples are a little caramelized. Put the jam in a small pan with a tablespoon of water. Boil for a minute then strain through a sieve. Brush the slightly runny sieved jam over the tops of the tarts then put them back in the oven for a minute or so.

Caramelized Onion and Mozzarella Tart

Serves 4

Ingredients

200g rough puff pastry

400g sweet red onions, sliced

50g butter

1 tbsp olive oil

100g mozzarella, torn into smallish pieces

A few sprigs thyme

Method

Melt the butter and olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan over a low heat. Add the sliced onions and cook until they are completely soft and just starting to turn golden. Keep stirring and don’t rush this otherwise the onions will burn—it could take 15-20 minutes. Take the golden melting onions off the heat and give them a good grinding of salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Roll out the pastry until very thin, about 20x30cm. Score a border all the way round, half an inch from the edge. Place the pastry shell on a baking tray then spread the cooked onions on to the area inside the border. Dot the pieces of mozzarella and sprigs of thyme over the surface then bake for about 15-20 minutes. The pastry surface and base should be well browned. Serve hot while the cheese is still melting.

Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at Eatanddust.com.

Also Read | Pamela’s previous Lounge columns

Close