I can be a little naive at times. Or maybe I’m just overly ambitious. Or plain dumb. Whichever it is it typically results in me spending far more time in the kitchen than I had planned, a lot of sighing and a beer at some point to quell my anxiety. A word of caution: puff pastry making is not for the faint hearted.
A long time ago I saw this asparagus tart thing on Vegan Yum Yum. Lately I’ve been seeing all this pretty green asparagus at the store – something I don’t buy often as it’s always too expensive. But my girlfriends and I were getting together to make chocolate and drink wine and I thought this would be the perfect excuse to make the asparagus tart. So I go pick up some asparagus and head on over to the frozen section to grab a box of puff pastry. “Hmm, they only have Pepperidge Farm…” I’m not a big fan of high fructose corn syrup or evil corporations that put it in everything they make, so I decided to walk all the way back over to the natural foods section to see if they had puff pastries over there. Nope. Damn. “I’ll just make it myself.”
This is where you laugh. This is where I should have realized that there’s a reason that every tart recipe I’ve seen online uses the store-bought puff pastries. But I don’t come to this realization – due to one of the aforementioned characteristics.
Being that I’m in culinary school I have this great big text-book on baking. I flip to the puff pastry section and it all seems pretty simple and straightforward. There’s even a step-by-step diagram illustrating the folding techniques; you need at least 1,000 layers in a puff pastry, that’s what makes it puff.
I encountered my first disaster before I even got to the folding. The book says to mix the flour and salt, place it on your work surface, make a well in the middle and pour the melted butter and water in the well. Then you mix it with your hands to form a ball of dough. Piece of cake. Well, I live in this ancient house where nothing is level. If you put a ball on the floor it will pick up speed as it rolls. I have to battle gravity every time I use my rolling-pin as it starts rolling off my work table immediately after I set it down. I didn’t think about this. I start mixing my melted butter and flour and it immediately begins spilling out all over the place and races right for the edge of the table. I lost a bit of the liquid to the floor, grocery bags and my shoes. If you know me at all you can adequately imagine me scrambling, sighing and cursing while trying to salvage as much of the liquid and flour that I can.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. After the dough sits in the fridge for 30 minutes or so you roll it out into a rectangle.
You also take the butter (stick form), and place it between two sheets of plastic wrap and smash it with the rolling-pin then form it into a rectangle as well.
You place the butter rectangle on top of the dough rectangle and start folding the dough over to enclose the butter. Enclose is the key word here. I don’t think the butter’s supposed to immediately squish out of every side it possibly can. Did you know it’s basically impossible to use a rolling-pin on something that buttery? There’s a blurb somewhere in my baking book, that I evidently didn’t read, that says to place the dough in the fridge between folds; I’d suggest that if you ever try this at home.
My book was also very specific about how you fold the dough and how many times you do this. These specifics, as well as my photo tutorial, got canned the second my hands, rolling-pin and table where all slathered in my overly expensive Earth Balance butter. Eventually (like half an hour later) I got it folded about 6 times, threw it in the fridge, ignored the mountain and butter and flour covered dishes in the sink and went for a run.
I think the pastry dough is supposed to be a bit thinner when you go to actually make your tart or whatever it is that you’re making. Since mine had the resemblance of a brick rather than a sheet I had more rolling to do. This is where the pint of beer got poured. I did, however, finally get it thin(ish) and in a decent sized rectangle – though I didn’t think about it shrinking slightly in the oven so my perfectly trimmed asparagus got trimmed again.
So what I had thought would be an hour or two long process basically took up my entire day and drove me to drinking. I guess there’s a reason most people buy the pre-made puff pastries. I’m thinking there might also be some differences in the melting properties of real butter versus vegan butter, which could be part of the reason I appeared to have way too much butter “enclosed” in my pastry. It tasted good though, but it’s kind of impossible for something with that much fat in it to not taste good. I didn’t bother taking a very good (artistic) picture of the finished product because I was frazzled, pressed for time and thought it looked like poop.
Vegan Yum Yum’s recipe calls for baking the tart with the white bean dip and asparagus already on it. I didn’t want to cook the beans so I baked the tart by itself, roasted the asparagus and then put it all together afterward. I used the Provence White Bean Puree recipe from Foodie Family instead of Yum Yum’s pesto. And the asparagus was just roasted for about 12 minutes with garlic, salt, pepper and herbes de Provence. Pretty simple combination but it all worked well together.
So, the moral of the story is: make sure your table is level and do scratch baking the day before you need it.