Flaky Puff Pastry Dough

makes 3 lbs of dough

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups milk; very cold
1 lb butter; very cold

In a large bowl, mix 3 1/3 cups of the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the milk and begin tossing with the flour. Smear the flour and milk along the sides of the bowl to blend well, then incorporate into the mixture. If the moisture is absorbed too quickly by the flour, add another tablespoon or so of cold milk. Mix well but don't over mix. Sprinkle a little bit of flour over it and then flatten the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Pour the remaining flour onto a clean surface. Remove butter from refrigerator and place onto flour. Keep the butter covered with the flour while cutting it and kneading it with a pastry scraper; make sure there are no cold lumps. Add more flour if necessary to properly soften the butter without melting it. Form into a square. Scrape down the work area again and toss on some fresh flour. Place the chilled dough onto the flour, but don't handle too much. Roll out the dough corners into thin flaps, which you will use to enclose the softened butter. Place the softened square of butter onto the dough. Lift each flap snugly over the butter, making sure to overlap the corners and seal the bundle.
The dough is now ready for the first of 4 double folds. Start by pounding the dough gently in one direction. If you begin rolling, make sure the dough doesn't stick to the work surface. Roll only in one direction and not past the far end. Rolling past the end will pinch and smear the layers at the edge. Roll and manipulate the dough into a rectangle about 20 inches long and 8 inches wide. Press hard on the handles of the rolling pin to form the rectangle, then brush off any excess flour from the surface of the dough. Bring both ends toward the center like a book. Then, fold in half, closing the book. Wrap the pastry dough in plastic and refrigerate it for at least 45 minutes. The dough has been turned once, and now has 4 layers.
Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface so that the spine of the dough becomes the long side of your rectangle. Begin again by pounding gently. Make this rectangle about 12 X 18 inches. Fold and turn in the same way as before, first forming a rectangle that measures about 10 X 14 inches, then folding the 2 sides into the center with a little gap in the middle. Fold in half, making sure the spine of the dough becomes the length of the rectangle. Rest the dough after turn number 3 for about 1 hour in the refrigerator.
On the fourth and final turn the dough should be smooth and elastic. Try to form well defined corners with neat edges. Fold and turn once more in the same way, then chill for at least 4 to 5 hours before using.

1. Work in a kitchen that is about 70 degrees (at 80 degrees the dough will begin to melt.)
2. Keep a pastry scraper and a bowl of flour handy at all times.
3. You may have to change the amounts of butter, flour, or milk slightly in order to get the right texture.

Storage suggestions:
I usually cut my dough into three 1 lb slabs. If I am not using the dough, I immediately wrap in a large plastic garbage bag and place in the freezer. Puff pastry is best when used within the next 3 days of being in the freezer.

To learn the best tips and tricks of pastry techniques check out The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

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