Friday, October 14, 2011

Rough Puff Rustic, the Director's Cut

Another Drooling Tart

 I'll admit it: I make rustic-looking desserts because I don't have the skills to turn out slick ones. My long love of cooking is untutored. While real chefs were in culinary school, practicing technique day in and day out and learning to make things right, I was in art school, learning that "Things right" meant Ronald Reagan, and therefore beneath my interest.

            I'm thrilled whenever the wheel of history twists food design back toward rough-and-ready, as it now appears to be doing. A stampede of chefs (so I read in the NY Times) is interested in foraged foods, foods of Scandinavia, and "real" (ie - homegrown) food. Maybe my desserts will fit right in.

            One that should make any neo-rustic menu is Rough Puff pastry, hereinafter called Rustic Puff. (Sounds like a line from a Monty Python movie, does it not? "He's a lumberjack/a rustic puff.....")

            Rustic Puff is my gluten-free take on a slacker take on the classic mille foile, and despite being many technique steps removed from Elegant and French, is one delicious pile of dough sheets.

            Beginning a month or so ago I became obsessed with puff pastry. It started with crumbly, bitter pie crust. I understand what happened: the chestnut flour I used was stale, and on top of that I under hydrated the dough, so had to add water, re-shape the dough ball, and re-roll the half-rolled crust. But despite the fact that my friends ate the pie without complaint, I couldn't help wondering how to make a real - ie super-flaky and super-tender, crust.

            I recalled a cookbook photo of a chef hammering dough onto several sticks of butter, then folding the results and hammering again. The image entered my dreams, and in them I slaved over an icy countertop with a sledge hammer and kilos of butter, flour flying like sparks from an anvil. I woke up knowing I had to find that picture, see what it really represented, and make the pastry.

            Thus passed one of the last days of summer; in a beach chair at our lake club with a generous stack of cookbooks. Results: A) the pastry was called puff pastry; B) the technique did not involve hammering; C) it was nonetheless very difficult; D) traditionally the chef did not develop gluten in the dough; ergo; E) I had a decent chance of making this stuff gluten-free.

            You'd have thought my unconscious would have let go at this point but, no. That night I dreamed again of making puff pastry, only this time, because the cookbooks all said things like The master pasty chef's penultimate challenge I sweated over a too-hot counter, trying to fold buttered batter that kept melting.

            I woke up vowing to make the damned pastry and put nightmares to rest.

            Fortunately, I went on-line first. "No!" many home bakers averred, "don't do it the traditional way. Do what the pros do. A shortcut. Rough Puff."

            I'll spare a paragraph of misspelled quotes and cut to the chase. With Rough Puff, anyone who can chop butter and push a rolling pin can make passable puff pastry. It helps to have a kitchen scale, I saw one today in CVS for $10) though you can get by with my weight/volume table (click here), and you'll need to be scrupulous about temperature control, but the truth is, Rough Puff is easy.

            And Rustic Rough Puff, AKA I Dont Give A *bleep* About Pretty, is easier still.

Mise en place: water, flour, butter, work table, cutter, plastic and roller
            You start with equal weights unsalted butter and GF pastry flour, like Bette Hagmans Featherlite Blend, ice water in an amount @ 2/3 the weight of the butter, plus some white rice flour for surface dusting, and some plastic wrap. Chill the flour in your refrigerator and, if you have the space, chill your work board and your bench knife (or table knife) too. 

Cut the butter to this size
When everything is <40F, put the butter on the board, chop it into 1/4 thick slices, sprinkle the flour over this, randomly chop the butter through the flour, making no piece smaller than 1/2 X 1/2, then press down on the individual chunks of butter with a thumb tip to flatten them. Whey you get all the butter chunks flat, scrape everything into a mound, create a cup depression in the mound top, and pour the water there. Wait a moment, then, using the bench scraper, work the flour and water together until the dough just adheres. Toss this around on the work bench and youre ready for the next (and last!) step, making layers.
dust with flour

Chop butter into largish chunks

Press chunks flat

Pile of "dough" ready for first roll

  Roughly shape the very shaggy dough into a rectangle. Dust this with rice flour, lay a sheet of plastic atop it, then, tapping with the roller, bench scraper of side of your fist, make the rectangle @ 3/4 thick. Stop tapping and peel back the plastic to be sure no butter is sticking to it (if any is, peel away from the plastic, dust with rice flour and toss back on the rectangle). Re-dust the rectangle (or plastic), re-cover with plastic, then roll the rectangle until it is @ 1/2 thick.

Starting the first fold.

            The plastic comes off again, and now the dough (it wont look like dough, but more like turkey stuffing) gets folded in thirds, letter style. This forms a smaller rectangle that gets treated just like the last one. Youll notice that the dough is now smoother and easier to work. You also might discover that your work surface is warming slightly if so youll want to shift the rectangle to a still-cold part and do a pound-roll-fold again (a third time).

After three rolls

            The fourth pound/roll should go much smoother, since the flour has fully absorbed all the water. This time youll want to make the rectangle as neat as you can, because you want to extend the long dimension and restrict the short one to set-up geometry that can make a four-layer fold, not a three-layer one. When youve made the fold, wrap that plastic around your now-finished puff pastry and stick it in the fridge until youre ready to make something delectable.

Finished and ready for refrigeration

            Theres a problem with this basic recipe, however its rather bland. While perfect for supporting cream-painted fruits, it doesn't fulfill the qualities I seek in a dessert any more, namely, such terrific tastiness that two bites are all one needs. So I've begun straying from basics (Surprise! Remember that stuff about art school? What do you think they taught us? Stay on the straight and narrow?) My goal is to rescue Rough Puff. Take it out of a supporting role and make it a star in its own right.

            My first experiment used buckwheat flour. (That's why the dough in all the photos is so gray - that's buckwheat for ya.) The dessert I concocted was 2 X 2, 1/4 thick, brushed with maple syrup, and topped with a few crumbled walnuts. Alas, I underhydrated the dough, which meant 6 or 7 folds, not 4. The results were tasty but far from puffy (Oh, well, that gives me material for another blog, and still another excuse to not do a recipe containing eggs). Its rather like buckwheat shortbread, just not quite as good.

The buckwheat flaky thing

            We can all see where this is going, right? 1/4 stick of butter, a trial blend of flours, ice water and pounding and OMG how many more of these are we going to have to eat?

            Obviously youll see more in my next post.

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