I had to take a cooking class to cure myself. Fear of pastry was only second to the wide variety of choices I faced when buying flour. So I retreated into my own world of denial as I slinked to the prepared pastry aisle of my market. I wanted to hide in shame. The last straw was when I made Portuguese Custard Tarts, using store-bought puff pastry.  The rancid lard taste of the pastry totally ruined the joy of the custard, and instead of memories of being in my beloved Portugal, I was transferred to school-cafeteria hell. Making pastry became my quest.  And believe it or not, it’s not at all difficult!!!!

The key is in the flour. We have a variety of types of flour, and each has a specific purpose:

All-Purpose Flour, Bleached and Unbleached (Also labeled Plain Flour)
All-purpose means you can use the flour in just about anything. If you see the words “plain flour” on the wrapper, it’s the same thing. The rising effect you get with unbleached flour is less than with bleached flour, which is why commercial bakeries prefer bleached – more volume is produced. Bleached flour has a bleaching agent added, which is why it’s whiter than unbleached, which is bleached naturally.

Bread (Strong) Flour
If your market carries it, use bread flour for its higher protein and gluten content. It reacts better with yeast and creates a better rise when proofed.

Cake Flour
This is a complicated flour. It’s used in some cakes because it contains a high degree of starch. If you’re using a lot of sugar in your recipe, use cake flour as it holds the rise of the cake better than other flours.

Self-Rising Flour
Already infused with baking powder, this flour is good for biscuits and breads that don’t need proofing. Don’t use it for anything else.

00 Flour (Italian Flour)
Used for pasta making. Extremely fine-grained and supple, you’ll probably have to order it online, unless you have an exceptional baking supply store nearby. In addition to pasta, use 00 Flour for pizza, flatbreads, focaccia, and crackers.

Storing Your Flour:
Keep your flours in a sealed container or wrap the paper bag in a plastic bag and store in your freezer. The colder your flour is when baking, the better. The freezer also extends the life of your flour from months to years.

Flour Cheat Sheet on the Freezer Door!
Flour Cheat Sheet on the Freezer Door!

I keep a chart on the inside of my freezer where I store my flour. It reminds me of which flour to use for whatever I’m baking.

                                                  ROUGH PUFF PASTRY
There’s always an easier way to make puff pastry then spending the entire day at it, and if time is NOT on your side, try this shortcut. Gordon Ramsay and Michel Roux, Jr. have even been known to cut corners by using “rough puff” as do cooks who don’t have a day to prepare traditional puff pastry. Rough puff won’t achieve the height we adore with traditional puff pastry, but it’s still buttery and flakey.

Mis en Place:
What You Need:
250g strong (bread) flour,
measure before sifting,
plus extra for bench
1 tsp fine sea salt
250g butter, room temp but not soft
150ml cold water

Utensils and Tools:
Measuring cup
Measuring spoons
Large bowl
Plastic wrap
Rolling pin

Flour. Salt.
Sift the pre-measured flour along with the salt into a large bowl.
Break the butter into small chunks and add them to the bowl. Rub into the flour mixture loosely but don’t integrate them completely. You must see the butter in the flour.

Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in ½ of the water. Mix with your fingers, pulling the flour in from the sides to the middle. Keep mixing until you have a firm, rough dough. Add more water if it’s too dry, but not too much as the more water you use, the tougher the dough. When perfect, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Extra Flour. Dough.
Scatter some of the extra flour onto your bench. Remove dough from refrigerator and turn it out onto the floured bench. Knead it gently and then form it into a smooth rectangle. Roll the dough IN ONE DIRECTION ONLY until it reaches about 8” x 20”. Keep the edges straight and even. The butter should achieve a marbled effect.

Fold the top 1/3 of your rectangle down to the center. Fold the bottom 1/3 up to the center, overlapping the top 1/3. Turn the dough packet ¼ turn to the right. Roll out again to achieve an 8”x 20” rectangle. Fold the top 1/3 down to the center and the bottom 1/3 up, overlapping the top 1/3. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for another 20 minutes.

Building layers -- or "lamination." Roll, fold  and turn, roll, fold and turn!
Building layers — or “lamination.” Roll, fold and turn, roll, fold and turn!

Remove from refrigerator, unwrap, keeping the fold of the bottom 1/3 to the bottom before turning the dough ¼ to the right. Roll once again before shaping it for your pastry needs.

Store in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 3 days. It’ll also keep well in the freezer for at least 4 weeks.

Custard Tarts -- as they should be -- using rough puff pastry.
Custard Tarts — as they should be — using rough puff pastry.


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