With its feathery, airy yet impossibly buttery layers, puff pastry seems like one of those complicated kitchen projects best left to professionals.
Even avid home bakers who think nothing of whipping up a pie crust at the first windfall of summer blueberries will generally buy puff pastry rather than attempt an exacting recipe that takes all day to make. But between the crunchy flakes of a homemade pie crust and the ethereal rise of traditional puff pastry, there lies yet another option.
Called quick, or rough, puff pastry, this shortcut dough may not bake up with the multitude of even layers you’d get from a classic puff pastry recipe. But it still billows and browns into golden flakes, making for a stunning crust.
Quick puff pastry isn’t much harder — or much more time-consuming — to put together than regular pie dough. Anyone accustomed to making pie can ace it on the first try. And even pastry novices with a little patience will end up with something enticingly delicious, even if it doesn’t puff up as much as it would with a little practice.
The key to getting those billowing layers is to fold and roll the dough over itself several times, without letting the chunks of butter melt. Those butter chunks release steam in the oven, which gets caught in the folds of dough, lifting them into gossamer layers. Using frozen butter helps the cause. So does having the confidence not to overwork the dough before you begin to roll it out.
In essence, you’ll start with what seems like an impossibly shaggy, floury mass of butter cubes. But fear not: As you roll it, it will coalesce into a manageable dough. Just don’t give in to the urge to add much more water as you go. That will weigh it down. And do flour the rolling pin often so it doesn’t stick to the pieces of butter.
This recipe makes enough dough for two crusts. Use one for this tarte Tatin-like peach pie that’s imbued with caramel and baked in a skillet.Then freeze the rest of the dough, maybe to use for a fruit galette later.
Or pull out the extra dough during the holiday season when you’re looking to impress.Even at its quickest and most rustic incarnation, homemade puff pastry will give you bragging rights — not to mention a fabulous dessert.
Caramel Peach Skillet PieIngredients
For the quick puff pastry:
1 ¼ cups unsalted butter (cubed) 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour 3/4 tsp kosher salt For the filling:
9 cups sliced peaches or nectarines, or a combination 2/3 cup sugar plus 1 tbsp 2 ½ tbsp quick-cooking tapioca ½ tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean, scraped ½ tsp ground cardamom or cinnamon Pinch of sea salt, cinnamon sugar for sprinkling 1 tsp lemon juice or to taste (optional)
Total time: 2 ½ hours Yield: 8 servings
Prepare the puff pastry: Cube 1 cup of butter and place in the freezer while you measure out remaining ingredients. In a food processor, pulse to combine flour and salt. Add remaining 1/4 cup butter, pulse to combine. Add the chilled butter cubes from the freezer and pulse twice, 1 second or less for each pulse.
Add 1/3 cup water, pulse very quickly once, then add another 1/3 cup water and pulse once. The dough will still look dry and floury in spots, but it should look as if some areas are starting to clump together. But it will not form a ball. If the dough looks very dry, add another tablespoon or two of water. Do not overpulse; the butter must remain in distinct large chunks.
Turn out the floury dough crumbles onto a lightly floured work surface and press them into a rough rectangle. Roll rectangle out until it is 1/2 inch thick (about six by nine inches). The dough will be dry and still very crumbly in spots, but that is okay.
Use a spatula to fold the top third of the dough down, then the bottom third of the dough up, so it’s folded like a letter. Press rolling pin on top of the layered dough several times to seal it, then roll into a rectangle that is 1/2 inch thick, always rolling from open end to open end. Continue rolling, folding and turning until the dough looks smooth, about four 90-degree turns.
Fold the edges of the dough rectangle like a book. To do this, fold the top and bottom parts into the center of the rectangle, so their ends meet. Then fold one half over the other. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill it for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cut peaches with 1 tbsp sugar and let sit while you make the caramel.
In a nine-inch ovenproof skillet, combine 2 tbsp water with the remaining 2/3 cup sugar and cook over medium heat, swirling the pan, until very dark amber brown in colour.
Pour the peaches into the skillet and cook until they start to soften. Stir in tapioca, vanilla, cardamom and salt. Taste and add one tsp lemon juice, if necessary.
Using a sharp knife, cut chilled puff pastry in half. Then, roll out the other half on a lightly floured surface into a round that is 1/4 inch thick. Prick the round all over with the tines of a fork. Place the pastry on top of the peaches in the skillet, tucking the edges in. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
Put the skillet on a rimmed baking pan and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until top is golden brown and has puffed, and juices are bubbling, about 20 more minutes. Let pie cool for at least 20 minutes before serving from the skillet, preferably with ice cream.