In fine pastry shops and four-star restaurants, puff pastry is made by hand.
It's a process much like rolling out croissants. A piece of cold butter is wrapped in dough and the package is rolled thin. Then it's folded and rolled again and again, creating scores of layers.
With neither the time nor the inclination to make it, most folks head to the store. Commercial puff pastry, made with shortening, can be found in your supermarket freezer, usually near the frozen pie crusts.
When it's baked, the dough crisps. Inside, moisture in the butter or vegetable shortening boils into steam, forcing the leaves apart. The layers turn flaky, and the expanded dough puffs up into delicate strata.
From dad to dessert: Puff pastry was invented by a French pastry apprentice around 1645. Claudius Gele was trying to make a loaf of bread loaded with butter for his sick father. He folded in the butter, and kept folding, and was amazed by how high it puffed up. He figured out how to harness the effect in pastry dough, turning his accident into a thriving career.
In this Bon Appetit-inspired recipe, puff pastry is simply scored near the edges to form a low crust, then topped with cinnamon, apples and sharp cheddar cheese for a rudimentary tart. Pears work well too, and some people might prefer bleu cheese. Slice the apples thinly so they have a chance to cook during its brief oven stay.
> Apple Cheddar Tart
2 frozen puff pastry sheets (1-pound package), thawed and opened flat
4 Granny Smith or other baking apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
1/4 cup light brown sugar, plus extra for topping
1 tablespoon cinnamon, or to taste, plus extra for topping
1/4 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese, or more to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a large, unrimmed baking sheet or line with parchment paper (split ingredients between two baking sheets if necessary). Place pastry sheets on pans.
Sprinkle pastry with 1 tablespoon cinnamon. Place the apples in overlapping layers on the pastry sheets, leaving a 1-inch margin on all sides. Sprinkle with the light brown sugar and bake for 15 minutes or until the pastry is puffed.
Sprinkle with the cheddar cheese, and with more cinnamon and brown sugar, including the puffed pastry. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese bubbles and pastry has browned on the edges.