It Huffed and it Puffed ….


Friday, 5/25/2007

12:00 pm

What is it about making puff pastry that strikes a chord of dread even in the most seasoned baker? Is it because of the time and effort one puts into it? Is it because it could get temperamental and you could potentially waste half a day for nothing? Is it because the store-bought puff pastry might turn out better than your homemade one thereby doing a number on your kitchen confidence. A combination of all the above is what elicited remarks from some of my friends who think I was crazy for wanting to make my own puff pastry. “Why make it, when store-bought is just as good!” Really now.

            This month’s Daring Baker’s challenge is reminiscent of the January croissant baking gauntlet (sounds medieval does it not?) It involves the use of laminated dough, the puff pastry in particular.

            But wait there is more. Aside from making the puff pastry, we have to make pâte â choux to make cream puffs, pipe a diplomat (otherwise known as Bavarian) cream into those little buggers and finish it off with caramel.

“Good Grief!” you might say “What in the world is this pastry?!”

            It is the Gateau Saint Honore, so named after the patron saint of pastry chefs and bakers (I did not know they had a guardian saint.) I hear it is the ultimate test for pastry school students before he/she is allowed to graduate.

Am I crazy? No. I think that honor belongs to Helen and Anita of Tartelette and Desserts First respectively, the joint hosts of this month’s challenge, and the ones wicked enough to cast this gauntlet.  I think they took our group name, Daring Bakers, to the extreme.

Before I proceed further let me explain very briefly a couple of items in this entire process:

            Laminated dough is made up of a dough and a roll-in fat. The dough is made up of flour, water, salt and can be yeasted for croissants or unyeasted for puff pastry. The roll-in fat, sometimes known as the butter block can consist of a little flour or can be totally devoid of it. Personally, I think it is better to have some flour in the butter to help it incorporate better into the dough package.

The lamination process starts when you cover the butter with the dough and start rolling it to a specified length and width. Then you fold it like a business letter or depending on what is called for in your recipe, refrigerate it and repeat the process for a couple of more times. This folding of the dough is called a turn and it is this act that increases the layers of fat and the dough.

Call me geeky but I made a rough computation of the possible layers per turn of a three-fold puff pastry.

For this recipe I am doing 6 turns. There are dough layers and fat layers involved. When I enclosed the butter in the dough I consider this already 2 layers of dough, and 1 layer of fat. After rolling it out and folding it into a business letter fold, I calculate 6 layers of dough and 3 layers of fat. The formula I came up with is simply :

Dough = 2(3 ^n)

Fat = 3^n

where n= number of turns


Dough layers

Fat layers



















            Disclaimer:  I  just wanted to find out how they concluded that a puff pastry is made up of at least a thousand layers. I drew the process on paper and came up with the above formula. I might have overlooked something in my calculations so whoever can correct me, I would greatly appreciate it.

Pâte à choux is the dough used for cream puffs, gougéres, éclairs and profiteroles. It is made by combining water, flour and butter until it becomes a paste. Then you beat some eggs into it until it is thoroughly combined. It creates a hollowed pastry that you can fill with pastry cream.

Diplomat /Bavarian Cream is a basic pastry cream used to fill tarts and cream puffs and is made by heating milk, yolk, flour and sugar until it gets really thick. It is usually further thickened with gelatin or cornstarch.

So now you know the components I can give you a gist of the assembly of the Gateaux Saint Honore. You first form a base with the puff pastry, then you lay circles of pâte à choux on top, apply a layer of cream and then attach the filled cream puffs onto it with caramel. Then you can proceed to further decorate it with spun sugar.

            You might be wondering why am I typing this post ahead of time before making this month’s challenge. Just in case you all don’t hear from me again after this weekend and I have gone into seclusion after swearing off all flour and butter, I thought I could leave some sort of explanation regarding my disappearance before I lose all sense of coherence.

            Kidding aside, I am so pumped up for this challenge! I’m making the puff pastry tonight (I like to give myself some time allowance just in case I mess up.)


         6:00 pm

            Scene: Veronica pounding the butter into submission with a rolling pin

                        “Come on my little pretty yellow……… da** it flatten already!”

          7:00 pm

            Scene: Veronica rolling out the package for the first time

                        “Hmmn… it did say 9X … Crap ! where did the instructions go?”

Finding it in the pantry…” Hmmn…don’t remember how it got there. 9x 20 inches. Now where is that  measuring tape!”

          9:45 pm

Scene: Veronica stirring pastry cream furiously over stovetop . “This thing is not thickening at all, maybe I need to turn the heat up.” Turning heat up to medium high. Phone rings. Chats for a minute then suddenly remembers the CREAM…

          10:00 pm

                 “What turn was this?” 

Saturday, 05/26/07

           7:45 am

              Scene: Veronica yawning, trying to wake up. “Need co-ffee.” Kicks “hungry” hubby out of bed instead so he can make the coffee.

            10:00 am

              Scene: Veronica rolling out puff pastry into 1/8 inch thickness and mumbling

“Please.. please… Saint Honore …please make this the bestest puff pastry ever…”




            1:30 pm

                   Scene:  Veronica trying desperately to make spun sugar. But the Caramel Gods were not smiling on her today….

             2:00 pm

                   Scene: Veronica smiling at her finished Gateau Saint Honore. “Hungry” hubby, frowning as he surveyed the chaos in the kitchen.



Cooking Notes:

            One of my experiments during my blogging break was trying to understand puff pastry. I had made it a couple of times before with different recipes, the first few times I ended up with butter pools. The problem could have been caused by a poor recipe, the butter not being properly laminated or the laminator herself – meaning yours truly. The recipe for puff pastry that was chosen for this challenge was by far the best and easiest I have worked with. Working with puff pastry I have come to determine that the following are important:

            The firmness of the dough and butter should be relatively the same. Meaning if you press down on the dough it should feel the same as when you press down on the butter. If one was markedly firmer this will result in a torn dough or tough layers. This is easier said than done. I don’t think I have this down pat yet.

            When rolling the dough do not push down too hard on it or you will ruin the layers. Again, this is easier said than done. I think I am improving in this although I will tell you why I don’t think I have it perfect yet.

             Having a scraper and bench brush handy. Flouring before rolling out your dough is important but too much flour will result in a tough pastry. Always make sure to brush off excess flour with a bench brush.

            My resulting heart-shaped puff pastry was the best I have made so far. It had a ton of flaky layers but there seems to be a dense bottom layer. Now I’m not sure what caused this. I do think I did not roll the dough thin enough and I did forget to prick it with the tines of the fork, but this may also be due to some ruined layers. Or it might be totally something else like the temperature of the oven. More testing should be forthcoming.

             Interestingly enough, pâte à choux was also one of my experiments a few weeks ago. I have made gougères and mango cream puffs during that time. Eggs are what give this pastry its lightness and puff. You must put as much eggs as possible in it but not too much that the batter becomes too thin. Helen said it right when she said that it should be as thick as mayonnaise in consistency. I plan to further tweak the recipe for this and try different flours. Bread flour is considered the best for this application since it absorbs more water thereby allowing more eggs to be used. I also discovered I did not have the right size decorating tips to pipe the cream into them. Mine was a size bigger so I kind of butchered some of the delicate little puffs. So delicious they were (sounding like Yoda.)

             The diplomat crème was very tasty. I think it is important to cook it long enough until the flour taste disappears and it becomes smooth and thick. I nearly messed this up when I was on the phone for what was like a minute. It immediately formed lumps so the lesson is: when the recipe says stir constantly — do so. It looked like a mousse after it got refrigerated. I’m not really sure if I did this part right. All I know was that it was still easy to pipe but I think I added the gelatin wrong or folded-in the eggs wrong.

              Finally, my nemesis is and always will be Mr. Caramel. I think I was a bit intimidated of dipping the puffs in it worrying that the cream would squish out and ruin the caramel that I was too slow and it cooled down before I was done with it. And instead of reheating it slowly   to make spun sugar, I turned the heat to high and it made it dark real fast and I only had a few strands to use …and I do mean a few. Plus, they dissolved pretty quickly…poof! 

            All in all, this was a challenging project that I had a lot of fun doing. The best part was watching the puff pastry expand and grow in the oven, the cream puffs wiggle as they become lighter as they cook, and the revelation of the amazing flaky layers after digging into the cake. And you know what, the store-bought variety just does not compare to the  aroma and taste of homemade puff pastry.

            So go ahead and visit my fellow Daring Bakers whose links appear at my sidebar.  I am sure they have beautiful pastries to show.


42 thoughts on “It Huffed and it Puffed ….

  1. Your puff pastry rose about 20 times higher than mine – I think I need much more practise with that!! I love the heart shapes too!
    My cream turned mousse-like when I refrigerated it and I had to whisk it again to get it back to a creamy texture before I could even consider piping it. The flavour was awesome though!

  2. Beautiful job, I love the hearts. You are right saying that breas flour allows for more eggs in the cream puff batter, but most pastry baker use a combination of 25% bread flour and 75% all purpose because they don't like and eggy cream puff but yet want to absorb as much moisture as possible.
    That last picture is superb!

  3. Your gateau looks lovely, and I love your chart for the 1,000 layers calculation – so if we did the rolling and folding again it would be over 1,000! Well done.

  4. I just can't believe that I have made a puff pastry of 729 layers! It makes it worth every single turn. Lovely lovely cakes!

  5. Great shapes, I love the hearts. And again, your homemade puff pastry ( been leaving comments all over DB's telling them how I am stunned by theirs….can't help repeat myself!)
    My cream had a mousse like consistency as well, however no clumps I thought it was the amount of gelatine in mine (used sheets of gelatine).

  6. Awww, what a cute heart-shaped gateau! I have to be honest you lost me at the math but I admire your abilities!

    I loved your post Veronica and your gateau is gorgeous!

  7. Beautiful heart shaped cakes! Love the way you explain all of those terms. You obviously did the puff pastry very well…they rose beautifully. Very nice photos, too.

  8. Thanks for all the info about puff pastry, I just pretty much winged mine, and it turn out very good surprisingly.
    And I´m with Helen, that last photo is amazing!

  9. Love the heart shape and raspberries, and I think your spun sugar looks about like mine (which I made by accident while trying to spoon caramel onto my cream puffs, lol).

    You are so dedicated to make puff pastry so many times! I'll keep that same-texture idea in mind if I ever attempt it; I wussed out this time.

  10. Well Sis, it's official.. that brain we share? You, obviously, got the smarter part. Quite impressive that lil math calculation up there! hehe

    I love that you did hearts.. I was hoping someone would. They turned out gorgeous regardless of how many sugary strands you ended up with.

    As per usual – you did an excellent job!


  11. Holy cow that puff pastry rose really, really high! That's so impressive! I love the heart shapes too, very cute. 🙂

  12. I, too thought about how they decided there were 1,000 layers. Cool that you figured it out. Yours turned out beautifully. I love the heart.

  13. Veron, I loved the shape you gave to your gateau. how beautiful and delicate. Also loved reading the notes at the end. I did enjoy making the cream puffs but I am not too sure whether mine had mayo consistency. might have to do it again.

  14. Thanks for all the compliments! I am so tickled. But I want to say thanks again to Helen and Anita for providing this challenge. And to Lis and Ivonne for starting this amazing group that I am so proud to be a part of :).

  15. Veron, I love that you can combine unbelievable pastry making AND complex math all in the same post. How fabulous is that…oh wait that is the engineer in me getting all excited. Great job this month!

  16. Although that heart shaped gateau is gorgeous…I love the chart you made! So amazing how you mathematically charted all the layers 🙂 Gosh you are a genius inside the kitchen and out!

  17. Aww a heart shape. I can see being a DB means I'll have to push the boat a little more. I can take you as inspiration!

  18. Thank you so much for taking the time to record the creation of this gorgeous cake!

    Every Christmas, my mother used to make puff pastry cookies, i.e. puff pastry cut into 1 x 2.5 inch rectangles, covered with a thin layer of meringue. She insisted in using only the European style butter, and working in a very cool room, the same temperature as the dough. I remember her, standing in her winter coat in the foyer of our house, the doors wide open, and sometimes snow drifting in. Her cookies are the tastiest, and flakiest puff pastry I have ever eaten, with just the right amount of moisture caught between the layers, and every bite full of butter fragrance.

  19. GORGEOUS! So light and flaky. Mine didn't rise at all, but I know what I did… I think. Anyway, your's looks beautiful. Congrats and welcome back!

  20. Pingback: Puff Pastry – two ways | Kitchen Musings

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