The Paradox of Puff Pastry

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).

The most important step

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.


Choux at La Bedaine


About bakingnotwriting

I'm a writer who is always baking! Or a baker who is always writing...No. Other way around.
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11 Responses to The Paradox of Puff Pastry

  1. Emily says:

    Ah, *more* butter needed if using American butter, was that it? Somehow I thought he’d said it changed the order of addition or something. You see, he was rattling off in French too fast for me!

    I like that you are most interested in the pâte à choux. I love éclairs, too, but I’m most interested in how to make croissants. I will be interested to learn in that lesson how he combines the puff pastry and brioche recipes to make them.

    Funny how you translated my group name. I would probably have translated to “East Bay French-speaking group,” but I’m guessing you intended the literal translation. : )

    Nice blog!

    • I’m glad you liked it! It wasn’t particularly educational, alas, but then I didn’t take any notes while he was talking. I think I was just having fun with the translation of the group name. !!! I would love to make croissants with Earth Balance. I wonder if I could buy a huge, 1 lb. chunk, because that’s what I’d need to do it. He said that if you can’t buy those huge 1 lb. hunks of butter (though my Mom says you can), you have to somehow form individual sticks into the hunk and chill it — which would be a pain!

  2. ruth says:

    yum!!! I have to go get pastries right now.

  3. Emily says:

    Ruth, that made me laugh. Well, I think sticking chunks of butter together wouldn’t be so hard because butter already tends to stick to itself. I’d say, go for it!

    • Emily says:

      Oops… guess I should have said “butter and margarine tend to stick to themselves.” Does Earth Balance even come in blocks or just in a tub?

  4. Yup, you can buy sticks of Earth Balance for baking. I think you’d have to wait to let them get soft and then form them into the giant brick and re-chill. That’s the nuisance he was talking about. I will also need a straight wooden roller that’s about 1 meter long so I can measure 1.5 meters when I roll out the dough.

  5. Emily says:

    Ah, right. I scheduled the Brioche class for March 20, but it isn’t ideal for me school-wise, so I might try to change it. I was thinking if we could get that and the croissant class under our belts before April 18-24 (my Spring break), we could make stuff together at that time!

  6. Emily says:

    eBay or craigslist?

  7. Pingback: When Only Bread Baked by a Cranky Frenchman Will Do | bakingnotwriting

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