Quick puff pastry isn’t much harder — or much more time-consuming — to put together than regular pie dough.
With its feathery, airy yet impossibly buttery layers, puff pastry seems like one of those complicated kitchen projects best left to professionals. Even avid home bakers who think nothing of whipping up a pie crust at the first windfall of summer blueberries will generally buy puff pastry rather than attempt an exacting recipe that takes all day to make.
But between the crunchy flakes of a homemade pie crust and the ethereal rise of traditional puff pastry, there lies yet another option.
Called quick, or rough, puff pastry, this shortcut dough may not bake up with the multitude of even layers you’d get from a classic puff pastry recipe. But it still billows and browns into golden flakes, making for a stunning crust.
Quick puff pastry isn’t much harder — or much more time-consuming — to put together than regular pie dough. Anyone accustomed to making pie can ace it on the first try. And even pastry novices with a little patience will end up with something enticingly delicious, even if it doesn’t puff up as much as it would with a little practice.
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The key to getting those billowing layers is to fold and roll the dough over itself several times, without letting the chunks of butter melt. Those butter chunks release steam in the oven, which gets caught in the folds of dough, lifting them into gossamer layers.
Using frozen butter helps the cause. So does having the confidence not to overwork the dough before you begin to roll it out. In essence, you’ll start with what seems like an impossibly shaggy, floury mass of butter cubes. But fear not: As you roll it, it will coalesce into a manageable dough.
Just don’t give in to the urge to add much more water as you go. That will weigh it down. And do flour the rolling pin often so it doesn’t stick to the pieces of butter.
This recipe makes enough dough for two crusts. Use one for this tarte-Tatin-like peach pie that’s imbued with caramel and baked in a skillet.
Then freeze the rest of the dough, maybe to use for a fruit galette later this summer. Or pull out the extra dough during the holiday season when you’re looking to impress.
CARAMEL PEACH SKILLET PIE
Makes 8 servings
For the quick puff pastry:
1 ¼ cups unsalted butter (2 ½ sticks), cubed
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
For the filling:
9 cups sliced peaches or nectarines, or a combination (from 3 pounds)
2/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
2 ½ tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste, or 1 vanilla bean, scraped
½ teaspoon ground cardamom or cinnamon
Pinch sea salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice, or to taste (optional)
Cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling
Ice cream, for serving (optional)
1. Prepare the puff pastry: Cube 1 cup of butter (2 sticks) and place in the freezer while you measure out remaining ingredients.
2. In a food processor, pulse to combine flour and salt. Add remaining ¼ cup butter (½ stick) to food processor; pulse to combine. Add the chilled butter cubes from the freezer and pulse twice, 1 second or less for each pulse.
3. Add 1/3 cup water, pulse very quickly once, then add another 1/3 cup water and pulse once. The dough will still look dry and floury in spots, but it should look as if some areas are starting to clump together. But it will not form a ball. If the dough looks very dry, add another tablespoon or two of water, taking care to pulse it in only once. Do not overpulse this dough; the butter must remain in distinct large chunks, or the dough won’t puff.
4. Turn out the floury dough crumbles onto a lightly floured work surface and press them together into a rough rectangle. Using a floured rolling pin, roll rectangle out until it is ½ inch thick (about 6 by 9 inches) with the short side of the rectangle closest to you. The dough will be dry and still very crumbly in spots, but don’t worry: It will come together as you continue to fold and roll.
5. Use a pastry scraper or spatula to fold the top third of the dough down, then the bottom third of the dough up, so it’s folded like a letter. (Dough will still be crumbly, and that’s OK.) Turn the folded dough 90 degrees, using a pastry scraper to push edges together if they fall apart. Press rolling pin on top of the layered dough several times to seal it, then roll into a rectangle that is ½ inch thick, always rolling from open end to open end. Continue rolling, folding and turning until the dough looks smooth and comes together, about four 90-degree turns.
6. For the final fold, fold the edges of the dough rectangle like a book. To do this, fold the top and bottom parts into the center of the rectangle, so their ends meet. Then fold one half over the other. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill it for 45 minutes (or up to three days).
7. Meanwhile, prepare the filling: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cut peaches with 1 tablespoon sugar and let sit while you make the caramel.
8. In a 9-inch ovenproof skillet, combine 2 tablespoons water with remaining 2/3 cup sugar and cook over medium heat, swirling the pan, until very dark amber brown in color, about eight minutes. To test the color, dribble some of the caramel on a white plate.
9. Pour the peaches and their juices into the skillet; the caramel will sizzle a bit, so stand back. Cook peaches, stirring gently once or twice, until they start to soften, about five minutes, then remove from heat. Stir in tapioca, vanilla, cardamom and salt. Taste and add 1 teaspoon or so lemon juice, if necessary, to bring out the flavor of the peaches if desired.
10. Using a sharp knife, cut chilled puff pastry in half. Wrap half the pastry back up in plastic wrap and freeze for up to three months. Then roll out the other half on a lightly floured surface into a round that is ¼ inch thick. Prick the round all over with the tines of a fork. Place pastry on top of the peaches in the skillet, tucking the edges into the skillet. (Be careful: The skillet may still be hot.) Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
11. Put the skillet on a rimmed baking pan to catch any overflow and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until top is golden brown and has puffed, and juices are bubbling, about 20 more minutes. Let pie cool for at least 20 minutes before serving from the skillet, preferably with ice cream.