PUFF PASTRY, simple yet unsurpassingly difficult, has been the nemesis of amateur pastry chefs for years. It sounds so tempting, a thousand layers of butter separating a thousand layers of gossamer pastry. The lightest most rewarding pastry could be yours if only you could do it right.

No wonder so many cooks place puff pastry at the very top of the "most difficult recipe in the world" list. Just reading the recipe and understanding it can be a feat in itself.

The directions call for a dough made of flour, butter and water to be rolled out and lined with strips of cold butter. The butter is folded up in the dough and rolled out again. It is folded in thirds and turned a quarter turn to the right.This is repeated six times. This military precision and the marking system that tells which step is in progress has been known to drive cooks to the edge of desperation. The entire procedure will require at least two days of effort, before shaping the dough.

And now, the good news! There is a fast method for puff pastry that will produce a dough that rises as high as the classic and takes only 10 minutes to make. Just call it "Shake it and Bake it" Puff Pastry.

It begins by mixing a pound of flour and a pound of diced butter with a cup of cold water in a plastic bag. This new way of mixing the ingredients makes it possible to roll and fold the dough the equivalent of six turns without stopping to rest the dough between turns. This pastry dough must be refrigerated for at least six hours before it can be shaped. It freezes well and may be kept frozen for up to six months. It is used in every recipe where puff pastry is called for. And the ease with which it can be made will encourage you to invent new uses. SHAKE IT AND BAKE IT PUFF PASTRY 3 cups flour 1 plastic food storage bag (1 gallon size) 1 pound butter 1 cup ice water 1 cup flour (for rolling dough)

Place the 3 cups of flour in the plastic bag.

Be sure that the butter is very cold but not frozen. Cut each stick into quarters lenghtwise, and then in half inch sections. Don't worry if the butter breaks a little. But do work quickly, it is important to keep the butter cold.

Add the butter cubes to the bag and shake. This will coat the butter with flour.

Have water sitting on ice cubes in a pitcher. Measure 1 cup, being sure that none of the ice is included. Add the water to the bag and shake well. Use your fingers to knead the bag. You are trying to mix the flour and water. This should take no more than 30 to 45 seconds.

Take 2 tablespoons of the flour used for rolling and spread it on a pastry board or counter top.

Empty the bag onto the board. Scrape any large clumps of dough off of the plastic bag. The pastry will look terrible. Don't worry. Use your hands to lightly mold the clumps of dough into a rectangle.

Sprinkle a little flour on top and begin rolling out to a 15-by-24-inch rectangle.

Carefully lift each end with a spatula and fold it into the center. If there are stray cubes of butter, place them in the center.

Fold this in half again lenghtwise. This will produce a 15-by-6-inch rectangle.

Flatten this rectangle with the rolling pin to make it easier to fold crosswise. Fold each end into the center and fold in half. This produces a very compact cube about 6 inches square. There will be 16 layers.

Immediately roll out abain to 18-by-24-inches. The dough will look more like pie crust and will still be easy to roll.

Fold the dough as instructed above. This produces another 16 layers multiplying the first 16 to make 256 layers.

Roll the dough for the final time to 15-by-24-inches. This time the dough will be very springy and more difficult to work with. If you have worked quickly enough, the dough will still be cold to the touch. If the dough warms up and feels soft or you smell butter, refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Fold the dough again. This will produce 4,096 layers.

Allow your puff pastry to rest in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. If you bake it too soon, the dough will shrink too much.

NOTES: While rolling the pastry, use as much flour as necessary.Remember that this flour was part of the pound needed to make the dough. This dough should be kept in the refrigerator for no longer than 3 days. It will begin to grow mold after that. If you don't plan to use it in that time, freeze for later use. USING PUFF PASTRY

1. Always keep the layers parallel to the pastry board.

2. All edges must be cut for the pastry to rise properly. Even when an edge looks straight, it must be cut because the edges were folded and would produce a hinged or clam effect, instead of the 4,000 layers sitting on top of one another like a deck of cards.

3. For small pastries and appetizers it is important to roll the dough very thin, 1/8 inch. This will rise to about 1 1/2 inches. If the dough is too thick it will rise too high for the size of the pastry.

4. To roll the dough to an even thickness, use strips of wood or cardboard as guides on either side of the dough. For thicker guides, staple 2 or 3 strips together.

5. Puff pastry is always baked on a wet baking sheet. This means that the pastry is placed on the baking sheet while that sheet is still wet from a thin film of water. You do not have to remoisten the sheet after the dough has rested on it.

6. Puff pastry should always be brushed with an egg wash before baking. This gives color and shine. Mix 1 egg yolk with 2 tablespoons of cream.

Puff pastry must rest for 1 hour after it is shaped. If you do not wait your pastry will shrink. It is best to keep it refrigerated during this resting period.

8. How d'oeuvres and small pastries may be cut, glazed and frozen on baking sheets. When frozen, gather and place in plastic bags. They will keep for 2 months. Bake while still frozen. Larger pieces may also be frozen and baked. The pastry seems to rise higher when baked frozen.

9. Puff pastry is always started in a very hot, preheated oven. Starting the pastries at any temperature lower than 400 degrees will result in little or no rise. It is the rapid expansion of the trapped air and water that lifts those layers of pastry. However, large pastries need a long baking time, and if allowed to continue at the high temperature would burn. Larger pastries are baked at 425 degrees for 15 minutes and then at 375 for whatever time remains.

10. Trimmings from the dough should be saved. These should not be gathered in a ball. They are stacked with the layers parallel. This may be used for lining tart shells. Vol-au-vent (Patty Shells)

To make patty shells you will need two round cutters, one about 3 1/2-inches in diameter and one 2 1/2-inches in diameter. Roll half of your puff pastry to a thickness of 1/4-inch. Cut 8 circles with the 3 1/2-inch cutter. Place the circles on a wet cookie sheet. Cut another 8 circles 3 1/2-inches in diameter. Use the 2 1/2-inch cutter to cut a circle in the center of these. Carefully lift with a spatula and place these circles on top of the ones on the baking sheet. You will leave the cut centers in place. Brush with an egg wash made of 1 yolk with two tablespoons of cream. Allow to rest in the refrigerator for one hour or freeze until needed. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the shells in the oven, after 10 minutes drop the temperature to 375 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes. Just before serving, remove the center, saving the top to use as a lid. CREAMED CHICKEN AND SHRIMP 2 tablespoons butter 2 pounds boned, skinned chicken breasts 1 onion minced 1 pound small mushroom caps 1/4 cup brandy 1 1/2 cups heavy cream Salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste 8 ounces small cooked, shelled shrimp

Heat the butter in a saute pan. Cook the chicken breasts over a low flame just long enough to change color. Do not brown. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, turning once during the cooking. Remove the chicken from the pan and add more butter if necessary. Add the onions and saute until limp. Add the mushroom caps and cook until lightly browned. Cut the chicken in half-inch cubes and return it to the pan with mushrooms. Warm the brandy very slightly in a small pan. Hold a lit match to the pan to light the brandy and quickly pour over the chicken. Shake the pan until the flames go out. Add the heavy cream and seasonings to taste. Simmer gently for 3 minutes. Add the shrimp and bring the temperatures back up to simmering. Serve in patty shells. COCKTAIL HOT DOGS

Buy the minature hot dogs used for cocktail parties. Cut one inch wide strips of puff pastry that has been rolled to 1/16 inch thickness. Wrap each hot dog in a single layer of pastry. Place seam side down on a baking sheet. Brush with egg glaze (1 yolk with 2 tablespoons of cream) and bake at 425 degrees for 12 minutes. Serve with a sauce made by mixing 4 tablespoons of red currant jelly with 4 tablespoons of dijon mustard. SHRIMP TURNOVERS 8 ounces cooked, shelled shrimp 4 ounces of pimiento cheese spread 1/2 teaspoon horseradish 1 green onion minced 1/2 recipe puff pastry

Use your blender or food processor to make a paste of the shrimp, pimiento cheese and horseradish. Add the green onion. Roll the puff pastry to a thickness of 1/16 inch. Cut the pastry into 3-inch squares. Brush each square with egg wash (1 yolk with 2 tablespoons of shrimp paste in the center of each square. Fold over to make a triangle. Press the edges together slightly. Brush again with egg wash. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.