5. Patience Is a Virtue
There is a significant amount of resting and waiting when making puff pastry. While one hour is the minimum amount of time to refrigerate the dough between every two folds, you can actually wait up to 24 hours to guarantee that the gluten proteins have had ample time to relax before being repeatedly stretched and folded. Relaxed gluten proteins are much less likely to tear during the lengthy rolling and folding process, and fewer tears mean a more perfect flake on your puff pastry. Ample resting time also ensures you'll get the puffiest results when baking.
After you've finished the entire rolling process, wrap up the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours before moving on to the cutting and shaping phase.
6. A Cut Above the Rest
Steer clear of knives when it comes time to portion out the dough. The long edge of knives, especially duller-edged ones, drags through the many precious layers you've created in the rolling process and will cause the layers to compress. A pastry wheel is your best bet for quick, clean cuts that will preserve the astonishing layers.
Cut the pastry into your desired shape, such as circles to place atop ramekins for potpies, long strips to twist together for straws, or logs to form into sweet palmiers. Once cut, transfer the dough back into the fridge for a quick chill before baking. Chilled puff pastry is more likely to retain its shape when placed in a hot oven. If you start with a warmer dough, the butter melts and oozes out before the water in it has the chance to evaporate and create the layers, which will result in a less-than-puffed appearance.
7. Tour de Glaze
With your prepared puff pastry cut and chilled, it's time to move on to the last step of the pre-baking process: the egg glaze. Much like pie dough, puff pastry dough should be brushed with egg glaze before baking to give it a beautiful sheen.
To make the glaze, whisk together one egg yolk with a splash of water. Use a pastry brush (and a light hand) as you apply the glaze to the dough. Be careful to keep the glaze from running over the edges of the pastry, as any egg glaze that drips over will seal the cut edges of the dough, preventing steam from escaping and thus interfering with the dough's puff-ability.
8. Dark, Dry, Done
Baking puff dough is different from baking other pastry doughs due to the extraordinary amount of steam the butter generates. To measure the doneness of the dough, feel for dryness on the surface rather than simply judging by the color of the crust. While you're aiming for a deep golden brown, the dough should also be completely dry and cooked throughout, without any pockets of damp dough on the surface of the pastry.
Time and patience are the two real keys to reaching puff pastry paradise. But once you make the jump away from the store-bought stuff, you'll discover that there are few foods that afford greater satisfaction than endless layers of buttery, flaky homemade pastry, whether in the form of fruit-filled or savory tarts, potpies, or chocolate-drizzled profiteroles. And with lazy summer days ahead, time is on your side, so harness your persistence, crank up that AC, and let the rolling and folding begin!
Michelle Tampakis is a chef-instructor in the career Baking & Pastry Arts Program at The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York City and the director of the Center for Advanced Pastry Studies program. She was chosen as one of Dessert Professional magazine's Top Ten Pastry Chefs in 2010.