Chef Mark's Advanced Baking & Pastry class is very structured, not unlike the beginning pastry experience I had with him first semester. Every one or two weeks we explore a different topic: first pâte à choux (which went undocumented for lack of camera), then puff pastry.
It doesn't surprise me that puff pastry is one of the hardest things to get right - puff pastry was always one of my favorites because the puff just seemed so magical. And previous I had been limited only to the commercially-made kind in the freezer section, which, as I learned, is made with shortening and contains none of the real butter taste of real puff pastry.
Making the dough is similar to making the croissant/danish dough from first semester. There's vocabulary that's particular to puff pastry, however. There's the dough part (mostly flour, some butter) called détrempe, and there's the butter part (mostly butter, some flour) called beurrage, and the combination for the finished dough package is called a paton. Here's me making détrempe and looking very happy because I love kneading things:
Here's chef sandwiching the beurrage between the détrempe.
After that the edges are sealed to lock in the butter (there's a number of ways to do this but the sandwich method is the simplest).
This is sheeted long and folded in four for a total of four times (with a half hour rest between each sheeting and folding). Which means that by the time it's done, the puff pastry dough has 512 layers (2 original layers in the sandwich x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4). Butter between each of those layers means that when the dough is baked, butter melts and generate steam (due to high heat, which is why puff has to be baked at over 400 degrees), which leavens the dough naturally and allows it to puff so much.
Chef taught us to many different shapes to make with our dough. He also made a pithivier cake, which is just like the French gallette des rois (king cake) I had in Paris.
Some of the shapes Marianne and I ended up making were in honor of Valentine's Day. Others were just because I liked them (palmiers, which involve puff pastry dough coated with sugar on both sides, the folded up and cut into thin sections). I added cinnamon to the sugar though, as a variation.
The finished product was a little flat. Our beurrage had been too soft, as it oozed out of different spots each time we sheeted the dough. Chef was right, puff is one of the hardest things to make.