When I post pictures on Instagram of puff pastry tarts I make, I always get a friend or two who texts me and says, “I can’t believe you made that.” I also talk to friends who are scared of puff pastry and don’t think they can make anything with it at home.
I have a secret for you: You absolutely can. I use frozen puff pastry and it works every time. Puff pastry is one of the simplest ingredients to bake with. It is so easy, but it yields creations that look like you spent hours in the kitchen or years at culinary school.
The trick to puff pastry is to invest in a really good product. I usually buy Dufour from the frozen aisle at Whole Foods. It’s very high quality at a reasonable price point. You might say, um, how is $12 reasonable for a frozen product? That’s fair, but you’re paying for quality. Dufour’s puff pastry is lightly, flaky, and perfectly buttery. It’s basically as close as you can get to the puff pastry that pastry chefs make.
If you don’t want to shell out that kind of cash, you could also try Trader Joe’s frozen puff pastry. I’ve used that a few times and it’s still good, just not quite as good as Dufour.
The next trick to using puff pastry is to let it defrost appropriately. NEVER, and I mean never, let puff pastry defrost at room temp. You will be left with a soggy crust that’s gummy and inflexible. Instead, the night before you’re planning on using puff pastry, put it in the fridge. Let it sit there until you’re ready to use it the next day. The Dufour box says to let the crust defrost for three to four hours, but I like to let it defrost longer than that because sometimes, depending on how cold your fridge is, three hours isn’t enough.
When you’re ready to use the puff pastry, remove it from the box and place it on a lightly floured counter or work surface. Generally, you’ll have to unfold the pastry because it comes wrapped and folded up. Be very gentle when you’re unfolding it because it could rip.
Once the puff pastry is on the counter, you can spread whatever you like on top and put on fruit, veggies, etc. It’s really a blank canvas. I made this Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart from New York Times Cooking earlier this week, and all I had to do once I unfolded my puff pastry was spread some custard on top, arrange asparagus, score the edges with a knife, and stick it in the oven.
Occasionally you’ll run across a recipe that asks for the puff pastry crust to be a bit longer and wider. It comes in a 13-by-11-inch rectangle, which is usually big enough, but depending on what you’re making, you might have to roll it out. Proceed the same way you would with a a pie crust, rolling it out on a lightly floured surface, but just make sure you don’t put too much pressure on the puff pastry with the rolling pin. That’s how it will start to spread too thin and rip.
A couple last pieces of advice: Generally, it’s good to score the tart before you bake it. You can do it around the edges using the tip of a sharp knife, or sometimes you can lightly score the bottom of the tart before you put on the topping. Just make sure there’s a way for some air to get out while the pastry, well, puffs.
Second, once the tart comes out of the oven, let it deflate for about 15 minutes. Don’t try to force it down with a kitchen utensil, even if you’re really impatient or hungry. Like many great things, puff pastry requires time and patience.
Here are some of my favorite recipes with puff pastry. Also, here’s a song to get you started on your puff pastry journey. Enjoy!: