Puff pastry with Michelle Darmody

Puff pastry takes a while to make but is rewarding if you like the satisfaction of creating something from scratch.

There are a few tricks to getting it right. Do not worry too much about combining the flour and butter as you would in other pastry doughs. Here, they will combine in the rolling out of the pastry for better effect. 

The turning the pastry and rolling in one direction are both important for building up the layers that make puff pastry so tasty. These layers expand while the pastry is baking and leave large air pockets creating a flaky, buttery texture.

For the custard tarts, the pastry is used in a slightly unusual way. It is rolled up like a swiss roll, slice into 12 pieces then each of these are rolled flat. 

This traps the layers in different directions, the result is very flaky and when filled with the dense custard, is divine. 

These are very traditional in Portugal, when I first discovered them on a trip to Lisbon, years ago, I had to impose a limit on myself. I could have happily eaten them all day.

I used a little cinnamon in this recipe, you can omit it if you like or substitute it for nutmeg. Another nice variation is to drop a few berries into the pastry case and then spoon in the custard on top.

Piercing the dough before baking, as we are doing for the asparagus tart, will prevent excessive puffing, and the crimping along the sides will prevent layers from flaking away at the edges as well as creating a crust.

Homemade puff pastry

250g of strong flour, sieved

250g of cold butter, cut into cubes

150mls of cold water

Rub the butter and flour together until it forms very rough breadcrumbs, do not combine completely.

Make a well in the centre of the mixture and pour two thirds of the water into the well. Combine until a dough is formed, using more water as needed.

Wrap the dough in clingfilm and set it aside in the fridge for a half an hour.

Roll the dough in one direction, on a lightly-floured surface, until it is about 10in by 20in. Try to make sure it is a neat rectangle.

Fold it into thirds, each flap folding on top of each other. Do not worry if you can see streaks of the butter, this is normal. Give the dough a quarter turn (to the left or right) and roll out again to three times the length and repeat this process two times.

Set aside in the fridge for at least a half an hour before using.

Asparagus tart

250g of puff pastry

1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

a dash of olive oil

100g of ricotta

85g of mascarpone

a small tsp of Dijon mustard

a bunch of chives, finely chopped

a bunch of parsley, finely chopped

100g of parmesan, grated

a bunch of asparagus, trimmed and blanched in boiling water

Heat your oven to 200D and cover a baking tray in parchment.

Roll the pastry to about 6in by 12in, in as neat a rectangle as possible. Place it on the baking tray and prick it all over with a fork. Lightly pinch the sides in to form a shallow crust. Brush the sides of the tart with the egg yolk and bake for 12 minutes.

While it is baking, mix the ricotta, mascarpone, mustard and herbs together with half of the grated cheese. Season to taste.

Press down the centre of the pastry, if it has risen, and fill with the cheese mixture. Lay the asparagus stems across the tart. Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle on the remaining parmesan and bake for 18 minutes.

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