Here are some of the miraculous things you can make with what we call “puff pastry” and the French call feuilletée — or leaves or layers of pastry — which frankly is a lot more similar to what this pastry actually consists of. It’s not that puffy, people, but it is layered.
Last Sunday I watched an actual French chef roll out the layers of layered pastry at a new French bakery on Solano Avenue called La Bedaine.
I know there are lots of good patisseries in Berkeley (and the very fact that I can say that is amazing) but La Bedaine is a welcome addition anyway because it is very authentic. I ate everything on the plate pictured and YUM — it did taste French.
The owner/chef Alain was nice enough to give us a free lesson in pastry making as part of a meeting of the MeetUp Group which translates as “The Group French Speaking East Bay.” He showed us, in French, how to roll out these buttery layers. We learned, among other things, that only old Fogey chefs roll out the dough five times. Everyone else, apparently, rolls out the dough six times nowadays. We also learned that he has to use extra butter to make puff pastry in the US because our butter is so lousy compared to French butter. Which I could have told you.
There was also some fascinating stuff (to me, the lactose-intolerant) about how croissants made with margarine were the only kind allowed to be crescent-shaped in the old days — probably because of some WWII butter rationing reasons.
Apparently, the only hard part about making puff pastry dough is right at the start, when you blend the flour and water (and extra butter if you are using American).
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to rolling things out, I’m hopeless. I’m getting better at it, but still…To do this type of pastry right, you have to have a straight wooden rolling pin, preferably rosewood. Chef Alain Delangle was very adamant that anyone who could do the détrempe right (the initial moistening of the flour with water) could screw up the rolling out part as much as she wanted. If I can find a cheap wooden rolling pin, I might just take him up on that.
What I really want to be able to make is pâte à choux. I’m a fool for éclairs, ever since I saw Babar eating them, and that’s the kind of pastry you have to be able to make to make cream puffs and éclairs.