Puff Pastry 101

Lots of 18th century recipes involve placing sweet or savory foodstuff into pastry — or a paste. Today we would call these crusts, or pie crusts.

Most modern cooks use one or two different crusts on a regular basis. Not so in the 18th century. The variety is vast and eclectic — cold, hot, puff, potato, crackling, good, dripping, standing, for custard, for tarts, light, crisp, for covers, for baskets … and the list goes on.

In this post, we’ll learn  to make one of the most feared of all — The Puff Paste.

Today, most people will give up before they even attempt puff pastry because of the myriad of steps, cooling and number of hours it takes to prepare a light, airy and crisp product.

But it does not have to be that difficult.

By following an 18th century method of preparing puff pastry, you can have a wonderful product made in less than a half an hour.

The keys is to a successful puff paste are:

  • To have all the ingredients ready
  • To be able to work quickly
  • To have a good half-hour to concentrate
  • To use a marble board (optional)
  • To work in a room where the temperature is less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit
  • To do the work on a rainless day

That last comments may seem odd to modern cooks who, in their air-conditioned homes, have never had to deal with the effects of the environment. Here in Tidewater Virginia, something simple as a warm rainy day can turn a light puff pastry into a tough sodden mass.

These photos will show you just how easy it is to make puff pastry in the 18th-century fashion.

Once you have made this you will never buy store bought puff again!


Step 1: Collect your ingredientsPuff_Pastry1

  • 2 pounds of white flour (all-purpose flour is fine, but pastry flour is best)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 pound butter divided — cut 2 ounces of butter from the pound and divide the remaining 14 ounces into three equal parts
  • 1-2 cups of cold water



Step 2: Get cracking

  • Place butter off to the side. In a large bowl crack the two eggs into the flour and mix until incorporated (about 60 seconds)photo 2 puff paste
  • Crumble the 2 ounces of butter into small, pea shaped pieces and drop into flour. Work into flour until you can’t feel any more big lumps (about 2 minutes).
  • Add cold water to make it a STIFF but pliable dough. QUICKLY work into a ball. The dough should be stiffer than a regular pie crust, but not so stiff that you can’t roll it out. How much water all depends upon your brand of flour, how old it is, and the temperature and humidly of the room, but generally no more than more than 2 cups of water.



Step 3: Getting the doughphoto 3 puff paste ready

  • Place dough on cool marble board or table top. Make sure to flour the board well.
  • Note: At any time you should notice your pastry starting to stick to the board or table at any time gently lift up the stuck sections and dust board or table with more flour.



Step 4: Rollingphoto 4 puff paste the dough

  • Roll out dough until it covers the size of your board.
  • Note: Our marble board is 16 x 20 inches.




Step 5: Work in the butter

  • You will now start to work the remaining pound of butter into the pastry.photo 5 puff paste
  • Take one of the three remaining pieces of butter. Break it into small bits and place it on the rolled out pastry. Try to keep the knobs of butter and the spacing even.
  • The butter can be slightly smeared onto the dough to keep it in place; just do not push too hard.


Step 6: Fold

  • You will now start to fold the butter into the pastry. Think of the pastry as a piece of paper that you want to fold in thirds, like a brochure, which you want to fold in half to put in your back pocket. You want to fold this pastry into equal thirds so that they fold up like that brochure.photo 6 puff paste
  • If you prefer, you can mark the pastry in 6 inch sections.
  • Starting on the right, fold one-third of the pastry over the middle section. You should have one third of  the pastry, in which you can still see the butter, the other two-thirds folded over on itself.


Step 7:  And foldphoto 7 puff paste

  • Now you are going to fold the remaining third of the pastry on the left over the top of folded right and middle pastry.
  • Note: You should not see any more butter.



Step 8: And fold againphoto 8 puff paste

  • Now you will do the same, but this time from top to bottom. Fold the bottom third of the pastry up and over the middle section.



Step 9: Watch the dough

  • Fold the top third down over the bottom and middle section. You will now have a plump little square of pastry.photo 9 puff paste
  • You are one-third of the way there. Modern recipes would then have you place the dough into a refrigerator. If you work quickly, and in a cool place, there is no need to do this. But, if at any time your dough starts to soften (you will know it) place it in a refrigerator for about 15 minutes before continuing.


Step 10: Now repeatphoto 10 puff paste

  • If needed dust your board with flour.
  • Repeat steps 3-9 with the  two remaining pieces of butter. This means you will have rolled, dotted and folded a total of three times.



Congratulations! You have now finished your 18th-century puff paste! The dough should feel very silky smooth and you should see the butter through the pastry in small, puddle like sections

You are now ready to use your beautiful, flaky, puff pastry in a wide variety of recipes.

Remember, the more you make puff pastry, the faster you will become, and the lighter and crisper your pastry will be.

Keep your eye out for an upcoming blog and what you can do with your new pastry skills. Enjoy!


« Back to recipe browser

7 Responses to “Puff Pastry 101”

  1. April 11th, 2016

    RoyaTheKiller says:

    This recipe might be hard, but its fun to make, and its soooo good! I loved it, and had so much fun, I reccomend making it, its nice for a rany day!

  2. April 20th, 2016

    kcosta says:

    I’m so glad that you liked the recipe! As long as the rainy day is not hot, then it would be perfect. Hot rainy days are not good for puff.

  3. October 2nd, 2017

    Carlos says:

    This is so good, i baked it for my history clas and they all loved it

  4. January 14th, 2018

    Emily says:

    Well, it’s not real puff pastry – you’re not refrigerating between turns, and there’s no real butter block. This would be called “rough puff” today. It’s nice, I suppose, but a shoddy replacement for real puffy pastry. Quality store-bought puff probably produces a more authentic result.

    • January 17th, 2018

      kcosta says:

      Hi Emily. Thanks for the comment and letting us know there is need out there for more clarification. What this recipe reflects is the true beginning of a puff pastry, not a rough puff. Puff pastry began long before the invent of the modern refrigerator. This recipe can be found exactly as presented in the article in hundreds of cookery books of the time. Not one of them tell you to put it in a cold space, though some do tell you to put the cold butter in a block and roll it instead of the small pieces. The term rough puff is very modern, and is denoted by the fact that you chunk up the butter in small pieces, mix it into the flour and then proceed to roll and turn. Though you can of course use a good quality puff pastry we feel it is not a shoddy replacement for real puff, since to us this is the real deal! Thanks for reading.

      • August 8th, 2018

        Ashley says:

        Excellent response. This is a wonderful recipe. There is huge difference between historic and modern food. You will never find something so authentic in a store.
        Thank you for all you do for this community, providing us with this great resource!!

  5. February 6th, 2018

    Dixie says:

    Do you have any lemon recipes for the puff pastries. I would like to make something for my son’s Colonial Tea that he is having at his school. Also, what is the baking instructions for the puff pastry 101 recipe?

Leave a Reply