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Laminated dough is created by sandwiching layers of dough between layers of fat, typically butter, margarine or shortening. When you put the dough in the oven, the fat layers melt, creating steam that gets trapped by the surrounding layers of dough. The pressure of the steam builds up and the resulting heat causes the starches in the dough to coagulate, setting off a chain reaction that enables the product to rise.
Of course the secret lies in successfully preparing a product in which those layers remain consistent and intact. There are two folding methods typically used to prepare laminated dough: the simplefold (also called threefold) method, and the bookfold (also called doublefold) method.
Both methods start by rolling the dough into a rectangle and placing a pad of butter (or other fat) over half of the dough. Then you fold the other half of the dough over the butter, forming a triple layer of dough, fat, dough.
For the simplefold method, you again roll the dough into a rectangle. Fold the outer thirds of the dough on top of each other over the center section. Then rotate the dough 90° and run it through the sheeter.
For the bookfold method, bring the outer edges of the dough together, but offset them slightly to one side of the center of the dough. Offsetting the seam ensures all parts of the dough get laminated. Then fold the dough in half again, rotate it 90° and run it through the sheeter.
Each process is repeated, depending on the fat percentage of the formula, until the proper number of layers are created. The dough should rest in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes between foldings to recool the fat layers and maintain the extensibility of the dough.
Each folding method has its advantages and drawbacks. The singlefold method results in a dough with thinner, more refined layers, which is why this method is most often used in baking competitions. But because the layers are more delicate, there's more risk of the butter warming up and melting into the dough, ruining the layers you worked so hard to create.
The bookfold method requires less dough handling and folding to achieve close to the same lamination characteristics. However, the layers are thicker, and because the dough gets an extra fold, it's more elastic and must rest longer between foldings.