The golden-brown finish on puff pastry
Let’s take a look at the tricky matter of producing puff pastry with an attractive, golden-brown finish. French pastry chefs call this “dorure” (literally, “gilding”).
Behind this quirky term there lurks a real problem (and the solution): when using puff pastry (pâte feuilletée) for a pie, or to prepare a feuilletage for a recipe, how can we ensure that the baked pastry has a beautifully browned crust?
Is this really a problem? Well, yes, as there is no sugar in the pastry – it is just flour, water and butter – so it does not naturally brown well during baking. We need to understand that, even if it is fully cooked, pale and colourless pastry looks pretty unappetising.
To overcome this, pastry chefs/bakers/cooks use a glaze made from beaten egg. They brush the pastry with this before baking.
It is very easy to glaze a piece of pastry with a brush, but it is also easy to make the mistake which can ruin everything: glazing down the cut edges of the pastry as well. This prevents the pastry rising, as it effectively “welds” the edges shut and stops the pastry puffing up into flaky layers.
Simply put, we should only brush the glaze over the top surface of puff pastry, and avoid getting on the sides. This will allow the pastry to puff up as much as possible.
This diagram represents a piece of puff pastry on a baking sheet: brown indicates where to brush the glaze, and red indicates where to avoid glazing (yes, I know, I know – you can see that my drawing skills are somewhat limited).
This is why on a vol-au-vent, for example, the top is always nicely browned, but the sides are still pale – and that is just how it needs to be.
To sum up: For nicely browned puff pastry, brush the glaze over the top, but avoid glazing the sides.