Easy Puff Pastry


Like puff pastry–except easy!

It’s easy because we’re going to use self-rising flour (or your favorite baking mix). The salt is already in the self-rising flour, along with baking powder, which gives a slightly different result than if you started with all-purpose flour. Flaky layers, with a bit of rise. The texture with self-rising flour will be a more biscuit-like puff pastry. What is puff pastry? We often buy this at the store in paper-thin sheets, made from paper-thin layers of dough rolled with butter. When it’s rolled out, all those paper-thin layers rise as the liquid in the water and butter evaporates. All that butter rolled between the layers makes it flaky and crispy.

If you can make biscuits, you can make puff pastry–and if you can make croissants, you’re a shoe-in because puff pastry is like a cross between croissant technique and biscuits. You can use this dough for the flakiest biscuits ever, or use it to make turnovers or all kinds of little appetizer-type treats wrapped with fillings, as a “cup” base with fillings (for tarts or mini tarts)–and so on! Because this is easy puff pastry, we’re not going to make paper thin layers (which dry out quickly and can be difficult to deal with) but layers that are more like 1/4 inch thick. Once you’re ready to cut out the dough to bake, you can make it as thick or thin as you like, depending on your end purpose for the dough.

Here’s how you do it. Double or triple as needed.

Easy Puff Pastry:

2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup water (approximately)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

Place self-rising flour in a medium mixing bowl. Add water gradually, stirring until you have a pliable dough that isn’t too dry and crumbly, but not too wet either. The amount of water you’ll need will vary depending on the humidity in your kitchen, so add it slowly, stirring gently with a spoon. If you need a little less than a cup, or a little more than a cup, that’s okay, just do it slow. Once you have a pliable dough, lay it out on a floured surface and roll out into a rectangle. Don’t worry about the size or being a perfect rectangle–just roll it about 1/4 inch thick and you’ll be fine.

Spread the butter evenly as possible over the whole top surface of the dough. You can do this a few different ways–freeze the butter and grate it over the dough, or soften it by pounding it (what a hassle) or just warm the butter a bit to make it soft enough to spread easily. This last one is my preference. As with croissant dough when doing this same technique, cold butter is the standard, but you’re going to chill this dough here in a minute and I find that 1) it makes no difference to the end result if you’ve taken the easy path here, and 2) it’s EASIER. And we’re making easy puff pastry, so. Now you’re going to do the letter fold and roll it out again and again. And again.

The letter fold means folding in thirds. Fold one third over toward the center. (Don’t be confused by the lack of butter on the surface in this photo. I forgot to take letter-folding pictures until later.)

Then fold another third over toward the center, over top the first.

Letter fold!

Put it in an envelope and mail it to me and I’ll give you a grade. Ha.

Roll out the dough again, flouring your surface and the surface of the dough as needed if it’s sticking. (Use all-purpose flour for your rolling flour, not self-rising.) Letter fold. Do it again. And again. Now you’ve rolled it out four times, counting the first time when you spread the butter. I think. If you lose count, it’s not that important! Just do it a bunch.

Now you want to chill the dough. I wrap it in a plastic bag and stash it in the fridge. You can make puff pastry ahead by getting to this step and leaving it in the fridge overnight. If you need it sooner, leave it in the fridge for at least an hour.

When you take the dough out of the fridge, now you’ve got cold butter in the layers. (You want cold butter because warm melty butter will run out of your puff pastry too fast when it gets in the oven.)

Roll out and letter fold three more times. Or four if you’re feeling ambitious. Place the dough back in the fridge for at least another 30 minutes before your final roll and cutting/shaping so you’re working with cold dough going into the oven. (Again, this is a point where you could stash it in the fridge overnight if you want.)

See all the layers in there?

That’s the magic–so many, many, many layers.

When you’re ready to bake, take the dough back out of the fridge and roll as thin or thick as you like, depending on what you’re making, and cut/shape as desired. Bake at 425-degrees–in the 5 to 10 minute range, again depending on what you’re making and the sizes you’ve cut out.

Here, I’ve cut the dough in triangles. These can be used to make the flaky, delicious little mini sandwiches.

These are cut out with a small biscuit cutter.

Have a perverse liking for canned biscuits because of the million flaky thin layers? These are like homemade canned biscuits.

This is a simple breakfast treat or appetizer–the dough is rolled a little more thinly and wrapped around ham.

Your options are limitless for shapes and fillings, savory appetizers or sweet treats!

Note: To make a more traditional puff pastry, use all-purpose flour instead of self-rising and add a 1 teaspoon salt per 2 cups flour; roll thinner layers.

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Irish Soda Bread


To be a purist or not to be a purist, that is the question–let’s examine it!

Yes, Irish Soda Bread is actually a controversial topic. What is true Irish Soda Bread, and what is not? Soda bread, a traditional product of Ireland (St. Patrick’s Day, anyone?) has a similar history in its most basic concept to my Grandmother Bread. It was developed to suit a setting in which its bakers were poor and/or managing under limited access to ingredients. The ingredients for Grandmother Bread are foundational–flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water. Nothing more is needed to create a loaf of bread–you could even do without the sugar if you really had to. But can you add eggs, oil, fruits, nuts, and all kinds of other things? Of course you can! If you’re not living up a holler and can get to the store, go for it. (I have lots of recipes to do just that right here.)

Now what about Irish Soda Bread? It was also created by people who were poor and/or had limited access to ingredients. Baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) came to Ireland in the 1840s, though it’s been known to man a lot longer. A similar form of soda was used by the Egyptians to make mummies. (And we want to bake with it?!) It was not until the 1840s that a British chemist developed bicarbonate of soda as an alternative to yeast, and Irish Soda Bread wasn’t far behind. It was traditionally baked with the simplest of ingredients–flour, baking soda, sour milk (to activate the soda), and salt.

Why sour milk? (Slight sidetrip.) Sour milk is acidic, and acid is required to release the raising power of the soda. Buttermilk used in soda bread is a modern spin–in ye olde Ireland there was plenty of sour (old) milk from the family cow to go around.

Soda bread was popularized in Ireland due to its basic ingredients, with its rustic round shape defined by the open hearths in their homes that required baking on flat griddles or in iron pots. The cross cut into the top was to ward off the devil. (Don’t let the devil in your kitchen!) The resulting bread was tender inside, contrasting to a hard outer crust, along with a sour flavor and dense texture.

And there’s nothing wrong with that! If you’re a purist, this is what you’re after, four simple ingredients–flour, baking soda, sour milk, and salt. This recipe structure is going to be a bit rough on shelf life, however, so be sure to eat it right away, before it turns into a brick.

However, as with Grandmother Bread, if you’re not living up a holler with a pony as your only transportation, or say, you’re not living in a cottage in 1800s Ireland, and you’re not completely knackered by all this historical detail at this point, I’ve got my updated Irish Soda Bread to share, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. And if you’re a purist, you’d better leg it because it’s not pure. But it’s traditional just the same, quite delicious, and has a shelf life longer than five minutes.

Additional ingredients to the core recipe include baking powder (extra rise), a small amount of butter (slight richness), egg (again, richness, and fluffier texture), and a bit of sugar (contributes to tenderness and shelf life). As with anything else, even in ye olde Ireland, those not living in an isolated cottage with limited resources would have done the same, even in the 1800s. In case you haven’t noticed by now, soda bread is quite similar to a biscuit–not our Southern biscuits–British biscuits, aka scones, which makes these additional ingredients quite organic to the place and time of this recipe’s birth. (We’re ignoring for the moment that the British don’t even call biscuits biscuits in order to avoid confusion. Biscuit, in British terms, is what we call a cracker. But now I’m confusing the point, so let’s ignore that again.)

How to make Irish Soda Bread:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons butter (or margarine)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup currants or raisins (optional)
1 additional beaten egg for brushing over the top

Preheat oven to 375-degrees. Combine dry ingredients in a medium size bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Combine egg and buttermilk or sour milk; whisk and add to the flour mixture along with currants (or raisins, if using). Stir just until moistened. Turn out on to a floured surface and knead gently several times before shaping into a round disc-type shape. Place on a greased baking sheet and, using a sharp knife, cut a cross into the top. Whisk the second egg in a small bowl and brush the top of the bread for deeper, richer color. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 25 minutes.

And there you have it, Irish Soda Bread, in all its traditional glory albeit updated–and quite tasty! Now you’re all ready for St. Patrick’s Day! Or any day, because this is a delicious quick bread any time you’re in a pinch and don’t have much time to put something amazing on the table. And yeah, this simple bread is surprisingly amazing. The Irish, they’re the full shilling, eh?

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The Slanted Little House

"It was a cold wintry day when I brought my children to live in rural West Virginia. The farmhouse was one hundred years old, there was already snow on the ground, and the heat was sparse-—as was the insulation. The floors weren’t even, either. My then-twelve-year-old son walked in the door and said, “You’ve brought us to this slanted little house to die." Keep reading our story....

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