a buttery tart

It’s 3:30 am in San Francisco. I wait for the city to rise from its slumber. I imagine the bakers who huddle over a round of dough inside a pastry shop lit by the street and a lone car’s fading light. They roll puff pastry dough and brush it with egg wash. We, the city bakers and I, should sleep, but we can’t. We’re thinking about sweet apple ginger fillings to bundle inside this rich and delicate dough.

The dough is shaped into an envelope and stamped with small pats of butter. Yellow gold threads sparkle inside a humble package of flour, salt, and water and rolls out like fine silk. In one bite, the tender dough collapses into a lingering buttery crumble.

Such fine flakes demand time and effort: six rounds of rolling, turning, and chilling the dough. The taste, however, is second to none. After the sixth and final turn, the dough stretches with a smooth grace beneath the rolling pin.

The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan.
I try to use whole grain flours whenever I bake or cook, so for this challenge I substituted whole wheat pastry flour one to one for both the all-purpose and cake flours. Had I not run out of white spelt flour, I would have used it in equal amount for the cake flour to test the results.
Whole wheat pastry flour is similar to white flour given its light density. However light a whole grain flour may be, it still cannot compare to the delicate rise of white flour.
Since we recently bought a half-peck of local apples, I used one-third of the dough to make vols-au-vent and filled them with homemade applesauce flavored with ginger root and maple syrup. The remaining two-thirds of dough turned into an apple ginger tarte tatin, caramelized ginger root and maple syrup sunk into a layer of sliced apples and pastry.
The vols-au-vent and the tarte tatin held the same ingredients, yet the former produced a greater rise while the later, even with small incisions cut into its surface for ventilation, rose and flaked only on its edge. In hindsight, I should have trimmed the dough before I tucked the excess between the apples and the round sides of the cast iron skillet.
Either way, both apple filled versions were worth their weight in butter.

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that’s about 1″ thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10″ square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with “ears,” or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don’t just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8″ square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24″ (don’t worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24″, everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24″ and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you’ve completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.


  1. Audax says

    Tarte tartin wow that is such a great idea. And the filling ginger/apple/maple syrup sounds delicious and the pixs are fab like the outdoor shots. Lovely work. Cheers from Audax

  2. Lisa says

    Oh, wow, you're so lucky you got to attend the BlogHer convention, Next one is in NYC, and I'll be there for sure!

    That said, love your vols au vents, but that apple tarte tatin is a classic beauty..and I can almost take a bite out of that photo right now! Amazing job on the challenge!

  3. bake in paris says

    Besides completing the challenge, you are multitasking into other pastries at the same time. They all look delicious….


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