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After taking a break during the spring and summer, I’m happy to announce that I have resumed the baking courses that I’m taking at George Brown College as I work towards a Bakery Arts certificate.

As much as I love the classes, my family and my work (including this blog) come first so facing a very busy spring and summer, I decided it was best not to enrol in any classes. When I last I left you, I had completed the Art of Pies course, which is one of six compulsory credits required for the certificate.

Two weeks ago, I began my fourth compulsory credit. The course is called Art of Pastry and covers various forms of pastry and how to use them. During our first class, we focussed on the often intimidating puff pastry.

Having had some experience with puff pastry before, I was familiar with the process of making it. Puff pastry gets its flakiness during the rolling process. As the butter is worked into the dough through rolling and folding, precious layers are being created. When baked, these layers puff up to create the “puffiness” that is so prized in this type of dough.

For me, butter is crucial for a successful puff pastry. Unfortunately, as is often the case with the baking classes I’m taking, we tend to use ingredients that are either less expensive or that will perform better in a very warm class environment.

Our puff pastry session in class began by forming a dough of flour, water, salt and vegetable shortening. After forming a dough with those ingredients, we let it rest for about 20 minutes before rolling it out and adding the fat. We should have used butter but instead we used a product called “roll-in fat”. I’ve used this product before in baking class and it’s essentially an edible oil The product is imported from Germany and looks like butter but has a much different texture. It almost feels like oily playdough.

We use roll-in fat, I’m assuming, because butter is too expensive and also because of the heat in the classroom. It gets very hot in the class and it would be difficult to work with butter. Reminding myself that I’m in class for the experience and to learn, I gamely went ahead.

There are many different ways to add the butter when making puff pastry. In class we used a method where we rolled our dough out into a large rectangle and then spread the fat over two-thirds of the dough. We then folded the dough into thirds and turned it 90 degrees. We immediately rolled the dough out again into a large rectangle and once again folded it into thirds and turned it 90 degrees. This was our first fold.

At home, when I’ve made puff pastry, I would normally put the pastry into the refrigerator between each of the steps to chill it. However, because of the nature of the fat we used we were able to proceed with several of these steps before having to refrigerate the dough.

As a result, we rolled the dough out again but this time we completed a book fold, which means that we folded the dough into the centre and then folded the two halves together. Once again we turned the dough 90 degrees. At this point we refrigerated the dough for about 30 minutes, after which we removed the dough from the refrigerator and proceeded to roll it again and execute another fold.

We cut our dough in half and portioned it out so that we’d have puff pastry for Week 2 and Week 3. At this point, I realized that I made a mistake in the rolling process. After incorporating the fat and folding the dough, I was supposed to do another fold and then a book turn. But I actually did two folds and a book turn.

When I got to class for Week 2, I was a bit nervous as to how my puff pastry would work out after my error.

Our assignment for class was to roll our out portion of puff pastry and divide it. Half the pastry would be used for an apple strudel and the other half would be used for turnovers. I was a bit disappointed in that I’d expected to use fresh apples for the turnover. Instead, we used apple pie filling (mixed with cinnamon and raisin) and cherry pie filling.

Once again reminding myself that I’m in class to learn as much as I can, I went ahead and prepared the strudel by trimming half the dough into a rectangle and cutting long strips down each side. I placed the filling along the centre of the dough and began crisscrossing the dough strips over the filling. I ended up with a very pretty strudel so I’m looking forward to trying the technique at home.

For the turnovers, I divided the other half of the dough into squares and piled filling into the centre of each. I then folded the dough over to form triangles.

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While I’m not thrilled with the fact that we didn’t use butter, the strudel and the turnovers did turn out nicely. My mistake was obvious, however, as my puff pastry did not “puff” as much as that of my classmates. For next week’s class my instructor advised me to roll out the dough and do another book turn before beginning our project.

As for the flavour, it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. While the texture was very flaky, there was a very oily aftertaste from the fat in the pastry.

Taste aside, though, I relished the opportunity to make puff pastry again. The rolling and folding and turning was great experience and I can’t wait to try it at home … with butter!

Ciao!

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