If you can make gluten free pie crust, then you can make gluten free puff pastry. And you can make pie crust. I promise. There are a few basic principles to keep in mind whenever you’re making any pastry of any kind. Gluten free or not.
First, everything should be kept cold—but not rock solid cold. That is especially true when it comes to puff pastry, as opposed to, say, gluten free biscuits. The larger the piece of butter you’re working with, the warmer it can be without causing problems. Let me explain.
Puff pastry is made by creating a simple pie crust, and wrapping it around a packet made entirely of 1 whole cup of butter. Once the large packet of butter is wrapped in the pie crust, it’s rolled out into a rectangle. The first “turn” is simply the first time the dough-wrapped butter packet is rolled out into a rectangle and folded in thirds.
After that first turn, the tripled dough is made up of 3 layers of butter surrounded in alternating fashion by 6 layers of dough. When the turns are repeated between 4 and 6 times, the layers multiply exponentially.
In pastry-making, the butter is kept cold before going into the hot oven. Like ice, when butter is cold, it contracts or is made smaller. When it is heated quickly, like in an oven, it expands. When the butter is in many, many layers, and is surrounded on every side by the dough, it pushes out the dough and creates all those flaky layers we love.
Larger pieces of butter can warm, but once chilled will regain their original shape, rather than melting into the surrounding dough. If you try to shape the butter packet when the butter is rock solid, you’ll find it almost impossible to shape.
If you being with slightly warmer butter in creating the packet, you can shape it as you like, and then chill it until it’s firm. It will then retain its proper shape during the rest of the shaping—and during baking.
This puff pastry can be frozen for months (just defrost overnight in the refrigerator before using), and is easiest to work with when it’s been sitting out on the counter for about 10 minutes.
Use it for super easy sweet desserts, like the open apple tart you see above. Or make it savory, like I did by making puff pastry cups. I topped them with the filling from the Spanakopita Bites in my new cookbook, Gluten Free Small Bites. They’re also lovely just filled with pastry cream or whipped cream and some fresh berries.
Gluten Free Puff Pastry
For the dough
2 cups (280 g) all purpose gluten free flour, plus more for sprinkling (my Better Than Cup4Cup Flour work best here)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your blend already contains it)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons (56 g) unsalted butter, diced and kept cold
1/2 to 3/4 cup (4 to 6 fluid ounces) cold water, iced (ice doesn’t count in volume measurement), plus more as necessary
For the butter packet
4 tablespoons (35 g) all purpose gluten free flour
16 tablespoons (224 g) cold unsalted butter
First, make the dough. In a large bowl, place the 2 cups flour and salt, and mix or whisk to combine well. Add the chopped unsalted butter and toss to combine. Press each chunk of butter flat between your thumb and forefinger. Create a well in the dry ingredients, and add 1/2 cup of ice water to the center. Stir the mixture to combine. Add more ice water by the tablespoon until the dough stays together when pressed. Press the dough into a ball, place it onto a piece of plastic wrap and wrap tightly. Place in the refrigerator to chill until firm while you make the butter packet.
Make the butter packet. Dust a sheet of parchment paper or bare flat surface with 2 tablespoons of flour. Place the two sticks of butter, side by side and touching one another, in the center of the flour. Sprinkle the butter with the remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper (or not), and pound the butter with the rolling pin to begin to flatten it and to press the two sticks of butter together. Remove the top sheet of parchment, fold the butter in half, and cover once more. Pound again until flat, and repeat the process until you have a butter packet that is about 4-inches square. Wrap the butter packet tightly in plastic wrap and place it in the freezer to chill for about 5 minutes, or in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes, or until beginning to firm.
Combine dough and butter packet. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, and place it on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle lightly with more flour, and press and roll the dough until it is smooth, folding it over on itself as necessary. Press it into about a 6-inch round. Unwrap and place the chilled butter packet in the center of the round of dough. Lightly score the perimeter of the butter packet, and set the butter packet aside.
Dust the top of the dough once more with flour, and roll out the dough from the 4 scoring marks and out, away from the center of the dough, to create 4 flaps. Dust with more flour as necessary to prevent the rolling pin from sticking to the dough and move the dough frequently. Place the butter packet back in the center of the dough, and fold the 4 flaps onto the butter like you would the bottom of a cardboard box. Press the dough around the butter packet to seal it in.
Complete the first “turn.” Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, and roll the dough away from you into a long rectangle that is about 1/2 inch thick and about 3 times as long as it is wide. Shift and turn the dough frequently to prevent sticking. Starting at a short side, fold the rectangle into thirds as you would a business letter. Beginning from a long side, roll the dough again, into another long rectangle, the same size and shape. Fold in the same manner, once again, starting at a short side and folding into thirds. You have just completed the first “turn.”
With a floured knuckle, make one single impression on the dough, to represent the completion of one turn. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until firm, about 15 minutes.
Once the dough is firm, remove it from the refrigerator, flour the outside and once again, with a long side of the folded dough facing you, roll away from you and into a long rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Fold once more, and mark the dough twice with your knuckle, to represent two completed turns. Refrigerate until firm, and repeat the process of rolling, folding, marking and chilling for at least 4, and up to 6, turns.
After the final turn, fold the “business letter” of dough in half or thirds to create a smaller packet. Wrap tightly and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use. If you freeze the puff pastry, defrost overnight in the refrigerator before using.
Originally posted on the blog in 2012. Video added, recipe clarified, more photos added of Spanakopita Puff Pastry Cups.