Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Puff Pastry Obsession Continues Unabated

To be honest, when I said in a previous post that you could get all-butter puff pastry but it would run you $40 a pound, I hadn't done any research. I was relying on lindy, who had given the high price as a reason for wanting to learn to make it herself. I didn't bother to do any fact checking because my source was highly reliable (i.e., all of her recipes work), but I started to wonder about the economics of making your own feuilletage, and the $40 figure sounded like a rounded number to me, so I surfed on over to Williams-Sonoma, and I discovered that $40 was actually a conservative number. W-S is actually charging $42.50. Here's what their website has to say about the product:

Dufour Puff Pastry Dough

Internet/Catalog Only

Making puff pastry from scratch takes more time and patience than even the most seasoned home cooks are willing to devote to the task. Fortunately, New York’s award-winning DuFour Pastry Kitchen has done the work for you. This buttery dough produces the lightest, flakiest puff pastry imaginable. Professional pastry chefs consider it the best premade dough on the market, so we’re especially pleased to offer it to our customers for baking restaurant-quality creations at home. Following a classic French recipe, the dough and butter are meticulously rolled out into hundreds of ultrathin layers that puff up in the oven during baking. The dough arrives frozen, ready for transforming into savory or sweet delights from soupe en croute or beef Wellington to tarts and napoleons. Baking instructions are included. The dough will keep for six months frozen, unopened. 14 oz. (one 14" x 11" sheet.)

To ensure freshness, perishable items are shipped overnight from the supplier. Orders will be delivered within one week.

For Halloween delivery, please order by 10/21 - 10/24.

This item cannot be gift wrapped.

That's right. Fourteen ounces for $42.50, and they won't even gift wrap it for you. I mean, really, if you're the sort of person who can drop $42.50 for less than a pound of puff pastry, aren't you the sort of person who'd want to give it to someone else, perhaps as a stocking stuffer, and aren't you further the sort of person who can't be bothered to wrap it yourself? I suppose that the W-S people figure that you'll just have your staff wrap it, or that you'll order two, and use one to make some Napoleons for Santa who, in a gesture of gratitude, will wrap it for you.

But it doesn't stop there, readers. Because that $42.50 includes neither shipping nor tax. Unsurprisingly, frozen puff pastry dough is something that needs to be delivered with some rapidity, and you'll pay an additional $8.50 for delivery. They were also prepared to charge me an additional $2.14 for tax, bringing the cost of my fourteen ounces of puff pastry to $53.13, a whopping $3.79 per ounce of puff pastry.

Now, of course, you can run out to the supermarket and get more than a pound of puff pastry for not much more than $3.79. And that puff pastry you get out of the freezer at the local supermarket will work admirably for a number of dishes. But here's what you get:

INGREDIENTS: Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid), Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Shortening (Soybean And Cottonseed Oils Colored With Beta Carotene), Water, Salt, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Distilled Monoglycerides (From Hydrogenated Soybean Oil) And Soy Lecithin.

I'm not going to go all health nut on you here; after all, my breakfast often comes from McDonald's. And let's face it, anything with 6.5 sticks of butter in it is not going to be a health food, but if you're going for flavor, you're going to be better off with my butter, flour, salt, and water, than you will be with you-know-who's partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening, high fructose corn syrup, and distilled monoglycerides (though I will be the first to acknowledge that "Distilled Monoglycerides" would make a very amusing name for a band).

There may be times when you (but probably not I) want the flakiness of puff pastry without the butter, and in those cases, you may as well use the stuff from the supermarket. I'm not anti-convenience, after all, and I wouldn't, for example, tell you to make your own phyllo dough.

But the overly easy makes me uneasy. I have no good reason for such a feeling, and heaven knows that when I'm a guest at someone's table, I'm very appreciative of whatever level of effort they've expended to bring the meal to the table. After all, you go to see your friends to spend time with your friends, and if they want to get carry out Thai food or have pizza delivered and pair it with beer, well, if I were to sit here and tell you that I wouldn't gratefully devour either Thai food or pizza (or beer), God would surely come into existence for the simple purpose of striking me dead as a liar who has not even bothered to establish plausible deniability.

But if you like cooking, and when you set a plate of food in front of your friends, you want to have made it yourself, then join me in telling Williams-Sonoma what they can do with their $60.72/pound puff pastry. I made my puff pastry for less than $1.25 per pound, and even if you buy your butter from the supermarket when it's not on sale, you'll spend less than $2/pound. Plus, when your guests say, "This puff pastry is so good; is it [you know who]?" you'll be able to say, "Oh, no, I made it myself," and people will look upon you with the awe that is normally reserved for petulant minor deities. (You may want to make it clear that you frown on live sacrifices, but you should accept other gifts graciously.) As much as I'd like more people to realize that puff pastry is not that hard to accomplish, I'm still entirely willing to accept the reputational benefits of the bakery lobby's campaign of disinformation.


Anonymous lindy said...

I bought myself a pastry marble on ebay, and it's on its way!

It is perhaps not the big, classy marble I covet, but then again (with postage) it cost me less than one pound of W-S puff pastry (not including postage).

4:40 AM  
Anonymous leslie said...

You're making me frustrated that I can't whip up a batch to have in my freezer for Thanksgiving. One of these days I'll be able to stand long enough to do this sort of thing again (recalcitrant broken ankle) - meanwhile I'm living vicariously ;-0

5:28 AM  
Blogger Sangroncito said...

I'm feeling a little puffy from eating too many pastries!

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've looked at the Williams Sonoma catalog and the price for the puff pastry is $42.50 for a SET OF THREE boxes of 14 oz. each, so that's over 3 pounds. $42.50 for one must have been an error. This seems like a good deal for Dufour's all butter dough.

10:58 AM  
Anonymous anapestic said...

I don't know, anon. I just surfed over to the W-S site, and I couldn't find the DuFour puff pastry at all, just some puff pastry hors d'oeuvres that you could pop in your oven and serve. $42.50 for 42 ounces is certainly only one third as unreasonable as $42.50 for 14 ounces, and maybe it's only 28-30% as unreasonable by the time you've factored in shipping. I guess when I can go to a local bakery and get a pound of ready-to-bake, all-butter puff pastry that the baker has just prepared for under $10/pound, then I'll consider it.

Some searching around found independent references to $42.50 for a single package. If it was a mistake, it was a pretty big mistake, and I hope that W-S has made amends.

I did note, during my failed attempt to find the puff pastry sheets, that W-S is selling frozen uncooked choux paste at $38. for two pounds. Considering how easy choux paste is to make, it's hard for me to figure out what the market is, but I reckon the folks at W-S have done their research.

11:43 AM  

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