Laminating via a roll — instead of a series of folds — is a very old technique. It likely predates folding lamination by several centuries. Introduced to Europe by the Arabs sometime around the high Middle Ages, it found favor in the more fashionable courts of Spain and Italy during the Renaissance. Over time it’s mostly faded from view, though it still hangs on in a few odd corners of the culinary world. I think it’s ready for a comeback.
Lamination by roll, just like lamination by folding, takes practice to truly master. I certainly haven’t mastered it, but now that I’ve more or less nailed down a formula and a process I think I’ll be doing it a lot more. I formulated and mixed the dough in such as way as to maximize gluten development. What results is an unusually soft yet elastic dough that can stretch even beyond what’s necessary for most roll-laminated projects. But that extra pliability makes it a lot more forgiving than other formulas I tried, and that’s always a nice feature.
Try this and I think you’ll quickly see the advantages of this method over pasta machines and store bought filo. Not only is this a lot closer to the original Arab technique (and that’s fun from a historical perspective) there’s a lot less fuss and fiddling with machinery. It’s both faster and cheaper than using store bought dough, and delivers a better end product. What’s not to love? To make this dough you’ll need:
16 ounces (3 cups) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
9 ounces (1 cup 2 tablespoons) lukewarm water
3 ounces lard or butter, or a combination of both, soft
about another six ounces of butter and/or lard for spreading on the dough sheet
Combine 14 ounces of the flour — not all of it in other words — and the salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle. Add the water and stir until everything is moistened.
Switch to the dough hook and knead for five minutes…
…until the dough is smooth. At that point knead in the fat ounce by ounce until it’s all incorporated.
A spiral dough hook is really a poor tool for this. If you find that your dough hook is just smearing the dough around on a slippery film of fat, switch back to the paddle for about three minutes until the fat is incorporated and the dough is more or less smooth again.
At that point switch back to the hook and knead in the last of the flour. Why do it this way? Because if I put all 16 ounces of flour in at the beginning the dough would be too stiff to take up the fat easily. Adding it in stages makes the whole process easier.
After about two more minutes you’ll be done. Let that rest at room temperature for an hour. It can really rest all day if you feel like waiting.
When you’re ready to roll, lay a sheet out on a dining room or card table that’s at least 36″ x 36″. Sprinkle flour all around and rub it into the fabric. Yeah you’ll probably get butter on it. Make sure it’s an old sheet. Also, set the 6 ounces of butter and/or lard in a small pan on the stovetop, get it melting on the lowest possible heat. By the time the dough is stretched it’ll be ready.
Plop down the dough in the center, flour it, then get out your biggest pin and roll.
The shape isn’t terribly important, just get it to about 18″ x 18″ before you start stretching it. You’ll find this easy, I promise. In fact if you want to make a double batch of dough, just so you have one batch to play with and destroy first, I highly recommend it. There’s nothing like wrecking something to give you confidence…and this dough is cheap to make.
Reach your hand under, extend your fingers, and pull steadily and slowly from the center. Note that by going very, very slow you get a nice, even stretch. Do this two or three times just because it’s cool.
Pull from the flat sides…
…pull from the corners. As you pull you’ll notice the sheet getting bigger. You’ll also notices variations in color between the very thin regions (whitish) and the thicker regions (grey/brownish) which will give you clues about where to stretch next.
You want your finished sheet to be 36″ long by 32″ wide — or so.
When you’re more or less there, trim off an inch from all sides…which will be thick and doughy…we don’t want those. Don’t press too hard or you’ll put scratches on your dining room table and your wife (or husband) will kill you.
Now for the fun part: the fat. Pour it on about an ounce at a time, being methodical in the way you apply it: first a corner, the a side, then a far corner. The reason is because you want to get a fairly even coat on. If you pour it all in the middle at once and start to smoosh it around you’ll get an extra-thick layer in the center as the fat starts to firm — and the fat will firm unless you’re making this in an 85-degree kitchen. Get it right out to the very edges. You want a good smear of fat on everything, get me? You may not use all 6 ounces, but you’ll want to use at least 5.
Lard is traditional for this sort of laminating, but butter works every bit as well. Combine the two if you want to split the difference. I did and loved it.
Now for the rolling. If you’ve watched YouTube videos of burly Italian guys stretching their sfogliatelle dough while they roll AND smear fat all at the same time…don’t do it that way. That works for an industrial quantity of dough. For a small quantity like you and I will use at home, you don’t want to stretch — at all — after the fat is applied, as that will mess up your layers later. You just want to roll.
So…looking down the dough sheet from the narrow side — the (now) 30″ wide side — make little hash marks every six inches. Then using a long ruler and a pizza cutter, cut the dough into five equal strips. Again, look out not to press too hard lest you have to explain later that you made the mistake of listening to Joe Pastry one day and the result was a ruined table top.
Starting with the first strip, start rolling. It doesn’t have to be crazy tight, so don’t go nuts here. Just…roll.
When you finish with one strip, just pick up the roll and place it at the end of the next one. Don’t try any fancy joinery here, this is pastry, not master woodworking. Just plop it down and roll, damn you, ROLL!
The roll will keep getting fatter, obviously. Don’t stress if the very ends aren’t perfect, that’s normal.
When the dough is all rolled up your log should be 3″ thick, which is just about perfect for sfogliatelle or whatever else you want to make.
So what if you decide you want the layers thinner? Easy, just stretch your sheet out to 38″ instead of 32″. Trimmed, you’ll be able to cut six 6″ strips. For thicker layers, do the reverse. But this dough can get ridiculously thin, just pull slowly and steadily. I got it this thin with very little effort and not a single rip.
I may substitute this for my brik pastry and strudel dough!