Herewith, Jacques Pepin's recipe for classic puff pastry (feuilletage classique). I have bogarted it from his classic tome yclept "La Technique," and even he--the embodiment of the courtesanal requisite of "sprezzatura"--cautions that puff pastry is "the hardest dough to make, and it has its pitfalls even for professionals," so don't come barking at me if yours is a flop.
"La Technique"'s introduction to the subtle art is a bit lengthy; I attempt here--and probably fail--to encapsulate the crucial bits.
Round up the following ingredients:
two pounds of butter
two pounds of flour*, with some extra for rolling
two cups of water, or two and a half cups of heavy cream
two teaspoons of salt
*--Monsieur Pepin points out that American AP is relatively glutenous--relative to French flour, apparently--and that one may incorporate about one fifth cake flour to tone down the resilience of the dough, or just use pastry flour, which, he says, "is more akin to the French flour."
On with the recipe:
Put the butter on your work surface and flatten it somewhat with a rolling pin. No need to go nuts with the flattening procedure--just put dents in it. Sprinkle over it three quarters of a cup of the two pounds of aforementioned flour, and then proceed with a pastry scraper or bench knife, and your invaluable hands, to mix it all together until it's smooth and mixed well, which results in a thing called "beurre manie."
Squish yon beurre manie into a square-oid, and refrigerate.
Now, put the remaining flour into the bowl of your Kitchen-Aid, if you have one, or someone else's, if you haven't. Failing that, dump the flour onto your work area. Make a wee well in the center of the dumped flour, and pour in the water (or cream, if you have opted for it), and the salt. "Mix carefully into a homogenous and shiny dough," he says. "Do not overwork."
Now take a knife and cut an X on top of the dough, and spread/roll out the four sections to make a kind of large clover leaf--quite flat; a quarter of an inch or so.
That being done, put the butter that you had refrigerated onto the center of the dough, and fold the edges of the dough up on top of the butter. This is not rocket science, so don't panic. Centuries of French housewives made this stuff in their spare time, and if it were that difficult --despite les bons mots of Maitre Pepin-- they wouldn't have messed with it. The flour and the butter aren't going anywhere; take your time.
Get a grip on your trusty rolling pin, and flatten the thing out into a thickish rectangle. Do it somewhere between "vigorously" and "gently"--I imagine that the canny French have a word for it--"doucement"?--but I think that you know what I mean. Be firm, but loving.
Now place the resulting flour-encased butter in your icebox for at least half an hour. This pastry version of study hall gives the butter and the flour an opportunity to cozy up and arrive at an equitable temperature, which will make your life easier when it comes time to roll out the dough.
And now, magically, that time has come. Roll the dough--doucement--into a rectangle about three eighths of an inch thick. As soon as you get to that point, stop--over-rolling leaves you with rubbery rubbish. In the words of JP: "Be careful in this first rolling as the dough is at its most delicate and can easily open letting butter squish through."
I don't know why there isn't a comma between "open" and "letting," but hey--I'm not at an editor.
Funny that he knows the word "squish" but not the vaguaries of punctuation.
Anyway . . . .
Fold the dough back up onto itself, so that you wind up with a point about two-thirds up the rectangle. I know that it's hard to learn it from words, but if you take your time and think about it, it'll make sense. Honest. Just look at it and flop it up.
What you want to do now is to roll the folded part of the dough a bit, just to get it evened out.
"Holding your rolling pin at the edge of the folded dough, strike the single layer with the pin to make a depression in the dough. This will make a 'hinge.'"
I, personally, have yet to master the depressing and striking hinging maneuver, but, apparently, it's possible. I've made an absolute mess of it, but have forged ahead nonetheless, and I encourage you to do the same:
You should have a single layer now; fold it back onto itself. That leaves you with a three-layered package, known as a "turn." Plop that turn onto a largish cookie sheet, cover it with a towel, and stash it back in your icebox for fifteen or twenty minutes.
That being done, take your slab o' dough and orient it so that the narrow, or open, end is facing you--on a floured board, of course. Take your pin now and roll and push that mass of dough, all the while remembering that excessive rolling results in a dough which is simultaneously contracted and elastic.
During that process, it's important that your board is well-floured, so that your dough gets to be all slippy-slidey. A sticky dough, at this point, is an indication of grief to come--grief in the form of leaking, bleeding butter, which is the bane of every puff pastry baker.
We're not done yet!
Sweep or brush the residual dry flour off of your board before folding, as dry flour trapped between the intended layers results in a dry and tough pastry, which no one wants. If your dough at this point isn't excessively elastic, you can, if you want, give it another two consecutive turns. Otherwise, let the dough rest for another fifteen or twenty minutes before the next turn.
Tip to the hip: use your fingertips to imprint the number of turns onto the surface of the dough, so that you don't forget. It sounds silly, but it's surprising how easy it is to forget about that kind of thing.
Classic puff pastry--feuilletage classique--gets six turns. If your dough gets to be too elastic, or hard to work with, or if you're just fed up with this experiment, abandon ship after five turns, and cover it and refrigerate it. When you need a hunk of dough, cut it along the dough's width, and you can smoosh together the trimmings and whatnot, into a ball, and freeze the lot.
The balled-up oddments--"demi-feuilletage," or "half puff paste"--are good for tarts, fleurons and other garnishes, sausage or pate en croute and miscellaneous hoo-ha along those lines.
I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted, and when I recover, I will try to remember to post JP's "feuilletage rapide," or fast puff paste--which makes me wonder why I post something simple in the first place.