Puff pastry is a delicate, flaky, and versatile dough that is often sold pre-made in grocery stores. This commercial dough can take much of the work out of making puff pastry desserts, but it must still be handled with care. When preparing these types of sweets, the baker must keep the dough very cold, cut it with only the sharpest instruments, and make sure the oven is very hot before baking. Depending on the kind of dessert being made, the cook must also avoid crushing the edges of the pastry. Tarts, beggars’ purses, and turnovers feature crimped edges out of necessity, but layered puff pastry desserts should be left free to puff as much as they can.
Most ready-made puff pastry comes frozen, making it too stiff to work with right away. The cook should typically place the box in the refrigerator to thaw for up to 24 hours before use. Care must be taken to avoid putting anything on top of the pastry, because crushing it this way may prevent it from rising later. Once completely thawed, the cook should unwrap the pastry and spread it out on a cool surface, such as a marble, glass, or wooden cutting board. A wax paper-covered counter also works well.
When slicing the puff pastry, the tools should be very sharp, ensuring a cleanly-cut edge. Tools which aren’t sharp enough may press the layers inside the puff pastry together and prevent it from rising. A freshly-sharpened paring knife or pizza slicer generally does the trick. The sheets of pastry may be cut into small squares to make layered desserts or into squares 3 inches (about 6 cm) and larger for dessert ravioli, turnovers, and miniature beggar’s purses.
Fillings for puff pastry desserts should either be room temperature or slightly chilled. Warm fillings could melt the butter in the dough, which would fuse the layers of pastry together. The cook should make stewed fillings, like compotes and fruit glazes, ahead of time so they can cool for several hours. Some might even make these fillings the night before and chill them in the refrigerator. Another option involves making a cold filling, like whipped cream cheesecake or chilled fruit macerated in sugar.
The cook should typically spoon the filling onto the center of each pastry shape. Those making layered puff pastry desserts should spoon a little filling onto a puff pastry square and then gently place a second square on top of the filling. The edges must not be crushed, allowing the entire dessert to rise evenly.
The edges of tarts should be gently rolled to create a lip around the perimeter of the dessert. Puff pastry squares for turnovers and ravioli must be filled, then folded over and gently pressed along the edges. Gentle pressing should keep the edges together without expelling all of the air. Beggars’ purses are little pastry pouches with the corners twisted together at the top. The corners here are crushed together out of necessity, and the rest of the pastry should puff slightly, but will not be as light as other puff pastry desserts.