A discourse on puff pastry, learnings about baking powder, and Dan Lepard’s Sausage Rolls

It has been a few months since I was rolling puff pastry day in day out so I was rather looking forward to this week’s Sausage Rolls from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet.

Puff pastry is pretty straightforward and extremely satisfying to make. It’s the type of pastry that perhaps appeals to bakers more than p√Ętissiers: the extra strong flour, the kneading flour and water, the letting it rest for the gluten to develop, and the rising in the oven. I love the ritual, the gentle pace, and the tidiness of the repeated fold, turn, roll, fold, turn, roll, rest,…

Typical puff uses the following ratio of flour:butter:water 1 : 1 : 0.6, and the marginally lighter alternative — half puff — is made in the same way but with half as much butter. Puff is for the more extravagant french desserts (millefeuille, tarte tatin), whereas half might be used in fattier rustic dishes, or if you’re running low on butter! In addition you might add a little salt for flavour, and a drop of lemon juice or vinegar to help the gluten strands develop. The basic premise is to make a dough from the flour, salt, water and a little melted butter. This is rolled out, covered in butter, and folded into three, and rolled again. After many rollings and foldings you end up with close to 1,000 very fine layers by my calculations (yes, millefeuille is correct).

Rough puff, which – in my straw poll of 3 – first came to the attention of the British public during the Great British Bake off 2011, and is similar to puff or half puff except the butter is cut into cubes to disseminate the butter more quickly, and ‘roughly’, meaning it needs fewer folds and rolls.

So, this Friday, home for the first Friday in many months, I settled in with Radio 4, several bags of flour, and a kilo of butter. Truly, the most satisfying part of puff pastry is in the making. It is a creature that will cure all ills. I had a pretty shitty Friday, yet felt a great sense of calm and peace after the neat ‘blanket folded’ piles were safely labelled and stowed in the fridge. And that wellbeing is without any of the eating!

Basic puff pastry recipe (start at least 3 hours before you need it, enough for an 8″ tart tin)
250g flour (preferably strong flour)
250g cold butter
150ml cold water
8g salt

Mix flour, water, salt, and roughly 60g of the butter (melted) together, and knead for a few mins. Wrap dough in cling film and put in fridge to rest for half an hour.

Take remaining butter out of fridge. Once it has softened just a little, place the remaining butter between two pieces of cling film and bash with a rolling pin until a few of millimetres thick, and roughly rectangular. Return this to fridge for 10 minutes if you have time, so it is a similar temperature to the dough.

Lightly flour kitchen surface, remove dough and butter from fridge, and roll out dough until it is larger than the butter. Remove butter from clingfilm and rest on top of dough, rotated by 45 degrees in relation to the dough, and fold in the corners. It will resemble a postcard sitting in an envelope (see below – dough would have been better slightly smaller, so less overlap, but is still ok).

Roll a little in one direction to form a larger rectangle. Then do the ‘blanket fold': place long side of pastry parallel with edge of kitchen work top, and fold one third in from the right hand side, and one third in from the left hand side. Now roll this out in front of you, rotate by 90 degrees, and repeat the fold and roll. Rotate again by 90 degress, fold and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Take out and repeat two more times. After the final rest, roll out pastry to thickness you want – 5 millimetres or more for a vol au vent(!), two millimtetres for a puff pastry straw (brush with egg cut into thin strips, sprinkle with parmesan) – and leave to rest in the fridge for a final 30 minutes. Without this resting and refrigeration the pastry will shrink/change shape after rolling, and the fat will either ooze out or the layers won’t form because the butter has mixed into the dough mixture.

Basic Rough Puff Recipe (can be made just 1 hour before)

Use the same ingredients as above. Cut all the butter into 1cm cubes and mix with the other ingredients to form a lumpy dough. Roll out (you’ll see distorted squares of butter mixed in with the pastry), and do the blanket fold above. Roll once more, rotate 90 degress, and blanket fold again. Roll out, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. This is now ready to use, though can be folded and rested more if there is time.

You can use the pastries above for almost anything: cut into squares spread with nduja, and sprinkled with a few roasted veg (below); roll out, spread over apricot jam, and finely sliced apples sprinkled with sugar & cinnamon and bake; wrap round a hot dog to make India Knight’s Mummy Dogs; make Ottolenghi’s caramelised garlic tart (amazing!); or use to make sausage rolls…

Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet Hot Crust Sausage Rolls

For the most delicious sausage rolls EVER — perhaps an exaggeration, but I’m not sure what would have to happen to them to make me enjoy them more — you should buy the book and make these rolls. Actually, don’t buy the book. You do not want these in the house. Really, unless you run marathons or live with 12 people, you should NEVER make these. That said, it is unlikely that I will host any party in the future without them.

The pastry recipe is part way between puff and rough puff pastry. The butter is cut into cubes as for rough puff, but the pastry is folded, rolled and rested several times, making it more similar to puff pastry. In addition, a touch of baking powder is added to give more volume and crumbly airiness. Milk (which is acidic) is then added instead of the water in the recipe to react with the baking powder (alkaline) and create the ‘airy’ carbon dioxide bubbles (0.5tsp to 150ml of milk). Plus the pastry is flavoured with a little chilli, paprika and cayenne pepper.

The baking powder makes a great difference. I tried another recipe from the book – the spelt puff – which was similar but used half as much baking powder and milk (this time using half milk half water), and there was a noticeable reduction of crumbliness. Basically, baking powder is a nice addition, but go easy on it if you want the pastry to be structurally supportive*, or have very distinguishable layers (millefeuille). The spelt puff is probably better for pies, tart bases, etc.

To make the sausage rolls, roll pastry and divide into three long strips. Removed casings from a pack of sausages, and mix the sausage meat with chopped parsley, and a finely diced onion (plus sage if it isn’t in your sausages). Divide into three and form mix into a long sausages to place down the centre of each piece of dough.

In the recipe, it states the quality of sausage doesn’t matter. I am not sure – mine were pretty good sausages with reasonable texture; I think Walls would have given an inferior collection of rolls. Roll, snip and bake. Mine were overdone after 25 minutes rather than the specified 40 minutes. Probably because I set the temperature too high… though still delicious!

* UPDATE Some suggest that baking powder has no weakening effect on pastry. Is this right? Similarly milk should add additional flavour and colour. Can you tell through the butter/oil? Would love to hear your thoughts…