Category Archives: Laminating Dough

“Roll” Laminating

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!

Filed under:  Pastry, Rolling | 27 Comments

How to Laminate Dough

Every laminated dough, be it puff pastry, croissant or Danish, begins its life as a thick slab of butter encased in a dough “envelope”. This 3-layer dough-butter-dough package is then flattened and folded however many times it takes to get the number of layers the maker is after. A folded flaky pastry for say, a galette, can have as few as 27 layers. Croissants often have 81, Danish 243, and puff pastry can have as many as 2187 (though I prefer the less flaky version of 729).

What these oddly specific numbers have in common is that they’re all factors of the number three. 243 is three to the fifth power which is what you get when you “turn” (i.e. execute a letter fold on) a three-layer dough five times. Pretty neat stuff that requires nowhere near the work you’d think. So let’s begin then, shall we?

laminating dough it actually a pretty straightforward affair, requiring only the most rudimentary tools, primarily this:

A club. Actually a Chinese rolling pin, but the overall effect is the same. Next we need a some butter, large pieces, ideally left out of the fridge for about 20 minutes. Below is about a pound and a half of it sitting on a double layer of plastic wrap. It’s the minimum I usually work with, since I figure if I’m going to the trouble of rolling pastry, I’d like to have some left over to freeze. Notice there’s flour on top. That helps the butter maintain its consistency longer, which is important for reasons you’ll soon see. Add about three tablespoons per pound of butter.

So now all we do is cover the butter and flour with another double-thick layer of plastic…

…and apply Club A to Butter Pile B.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Feel good? You bet it does. And if your spouse and/or children aren’t running into the room looking terror-stricken, you’re not hitting hard enough. Keep letting out your pent-up frustration until it looks rather flat.

Shore up the sides of the slab every so often with the side of your pin.

When it’s less than an inch or so thick peel back the plastic wrap (don’t worry if you’ve beaten a couple of holes in it)…

…and pile the butter up again.

Repeat the merciless beating.

What’s it all for other than stress release? Good question. You’re working in the flour while at the same time softening and shaping the butter into one giant pat. What you’re shooting for here is a butter consistency rather like play dough. Not too firm, since you want it to spread as you roll the dough out. But then not too soft either, since if the butter actually melts it’ll soak into the dough and ruin the layering effect. What you’re after is a plastic texture that isn’t at all greasy looking or feeling. If the butter starts to shine, it’s too warm. Put it back in the fridge for half an hour and start over with the tension release (hey, why not?).

The magic texture may take only one good pounding. It all depends on the temperature of the butter and the room. That consistency looks like this: a pale, dull powdery-looking surface.

Once you’re there you want to again shove it back into the shape of a big butter pat, using the side of your club, like so:

When that’s done set it aside for just a moment. Now is the time to fetch your dough. Set it out on the lightly floured board.

Roll it a little in one direction…

…then the other until it’s a little larger than the butter pat.

Put the butter pat on top like so…

Peel off the plastic and begin to fold the dough packet up:

As you’re doing this you want to pull the dough up around the corners and edges to make sure it’s as taught as reasonably possible.

Next squeeze the all the holes and seams closed (use a little water if you like):

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So now what do you think is next? If you guessed more of this:

…you’d be right. Because when making pastry, violence is always the first resort. You want to start by hitting the dough square in the middle and working your way out to one side, then the other…about three hits per direction. The idea here is to drive the softened butter as far as possible to the edges of the packet.

Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat.

Smack it some more, then rotate the package again a couple of more times. Smack, turn. Smack, turn. Smack, turn. Along the way if you see any conspicuous mounds of butter push up in the middle, give them a smack for good measure (no need to discriminate). A minute or two of this and the dough should be starting to flatten out, which means it’s time to start rolling. I use a smaller pin at this point since the dough is usually pretty soft, but you can use a big one if you prefer.

If you’ve beaten the envelope with sufficient ferocity, there should be butter within half an inch of all the edges.

If not it’s not the end of the world. Just grab a knife or bench scraper and trim off the un-buttered lip of dough until you can either see a thin layer of butter, or you can feel it close to the edge. Then give the dough a couple of more firm rolls with the pin until it’s about a third longer than it is wide.

Now it’s time for the first fold. Brush away any flour that you see on the sheet, then fold the outside third of the dough inward like a letter…

…and repeat with the other side.

Done! Slip your hands under the dough and transfer it to a sheep pan. Put on the plastic wrap and put the whole thing in the fridge for an hour.

Once the dough has chilled repeat the rolling and folding process again, only this time since the dough will be a good deal stiffer you’ll want to use the largest pin you have for leverage.

Roll it out again into a rectangle.

Should you see any medium-to-large bubbles along the way, slip them with a sharp knife and let the air out. This one is pretty small and not real worth worrying about.

Fold the dough once again like a letter.

And put it away in the fridge once again for about an hour

Having crested this hill it is now time to crack a celebratory beer, because it’s all smooth sailing going forward (whatever that curious mixture of metaphors means). All you have to do is pull the dough out every so often and give a turn or two depending on the dough you’re making, puff pastry, croissant dough, Danish dough, whatever.

In the early stages of a dough-rolling project, I find I can get away with two turns between chills. But judge for yourself. If the dough is feeling extremely limp, you find that you’re tearing layers just by handling it, or butter oozes out looking shiny, give it more fridge time. Alternately, if as you roll you notice that the butter just under the surface of the dough is rigid and is breaking apart like icebergs off the Antarctic ice sheet, give it a little less.

If I’m making puff pastry (which requires six turns minimum), I can usually do two turns at a time early on. Much past four turns though, and the dough begins to get a.) elastic and b.) warm. So I let the dough chill a full hour before the fifth and sixth turns, and sometimes even more for the seventh (if I’m doing one).

Once it’s all done I typically roll the dough into a long strip, cut it into roughly pound-size pieces, and freeze it in bags. Boy does this stuff ever come in handy.

Filed under:  Folding, Laminating Dough, Techniques | 137 Comments