Monday, March 15, 2010

in praise of puff pastry

My baking mishaps have been well-documented on this blog. Fugly cakes, runny pies, soggy bar cookies. I'm not a pastry chef, what can I say?

But puff pastry? I'll take that over a layer cake any day. Puff pastry is not hard to work with, even for someone who doesn't have a baker's inherent precision and patience. All you have to do is defrost it, roll it out, brush it with oil or egg, and bake it off. For these small efforts you'll be rewarded with golden flaky perfection. It's not at all like its cousin, phyllo. Phyllo is one temperamental bitch.

Do I make my own puff pastry? I'll let you answer that for yourself. (NO.) I buy it in a box that says Pepperidge Farm and call it a day. Or sometimes in even larger sheets from the nice Middle Eastern grocer down the block.

Puff pastry is fantastic for dinner parties because there are endless ways to use it, both sweet and savory. Like this giant, beautiful specimen. Whoa, right?

This is a chocolate croissant/turnover-like dessert that I created on a whim one night. It's nothing more than puff pastry filled with squares of chocolate, brushed with some egg, and topped with a tiny bit of sea salt. Whipped cream on the side is recommended, but optional.

And then you take your fork and break into the flaky crust and this happens:

It is very, very, very good.

I also like to use puff pastry to make vegetarian tarts, either cut into little squares as an appetizer, or in more generous portions as a main course, usually served with a salad or some other side dish. The roasted tomato and goat cheese tart shown above looks and tastes very French and sophisticated but takes less than an hour to make.

How do you like to use puff pastry? Please share in the comments.

Chocolate pockets
The pockets above are a little huge. I would probably make them smaller next time, or possibly bite-size, which would be adorable. Use this recipe as a guide but play with the size of the pastry if you'd like. You can easily cut the strips of pastry smaller.
(Serves 4 people)

1 sheet of puff pastry, defrosted
12 oz. chocolate squares from your favorite chocolate bar, milk or dark
1 egg, beaten
flaky sea salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Unfold the puff pastry onto another baking sheet. Using a small knife, cut the pastry lengthwise into four equal strips. Place about 3 ounces of chocolate in the middle of one end of each strip. Be sure not to place the chocolate too close to the edges of the strip or it will leak out. Fold the dough over, and continue folding until you reach the end of the strip, creating a rectangular pocket. Brush each pocket with the beaten egg. Sprinkle each one with salt. Bake the four pockets for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pockets are golden brown.

Roasted tomato and goat cheese tart
Adapted from Dave's Dinners. If it's not tomato season, you could substitute strips of zucchini, some sauteed red onions, grilled eggplant, or whatever vegetable you like.
(Serves about 10 people as a starter)

8 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
Olive oil
salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
20 thyme sprigs
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
2 oz. goat cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Put the tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle them generously with olive oil. Toss to coat evenly, then place them cut side up. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the garlic evenly over each tomato. Lay about 12 to 15 thyme sprigs over the tomatoes. Roast the tomatoes until soft but still holding their shape, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Then pinch off the skins, being careful not to damage the shapes of the tomatoes.

Unfold the puff pastry onto another baking sheet. Brush the surface of the pastry well with olive oil. Lay the tomatoes cut-side up over the pastry, creating a 1-inch border around the edge. Fold the pastry edges up, creating a 1/2 inch border. Press the edges to seal and brush with olive oil. Season the tomatoes with a little more salt and pepper and bake until the crust begins to puff and brown, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove the tart from the oven and crumble the goat cheese over it. Return to the oven and bake until the cheese starts to brown and the crust is golden, another 10 minutes. Allow the tart to cool slightly before cutting into squares and serving.


Judy said...

I LOVE puff pastry. Those chocolate pockets combine two loves. Must make them soon. Mostly I use puff pastry for chicken pot pie, but someday I'll make my own pigs in puffy blankets.

martha said...

I want to make some stupid Puff daddy joke, but I'm going to sit tight till the urge passes. Instead, I'll just say how fab that tart looks. Also, Lisa, any thoughts about something that would be sweet and puffy and yummy and not chocolate? ie, some other groovy insides?

Lisa said...

Judy: You should try this sausage roll recipe. It's like pigs in a blanket only fancier and better:

Martha: Ha! I am sure Puffy loves puff pastry like the rest of us. For something sweet that's not chocolate, I'd use cooked fruit with some aromatic spices, like apples and cinnamon, pears and nutmeg, or maybe blueberries with lemon zest? You could also cut the puff pastry in squares, bake it, then top each square with a little sweetened whipped cream and fresh fruit, like strawberries. Or lemon curd? I could go on and on.

Cold Cuts said...

The chocopocket looks amazing. Well done, Lisa!

Larry said...

Pigs in puffy blankets....mmmmmm

Anonymous said...

Also almond paste with chocolate bits,
powdered sugar poof on top.

Unknown said...

Also try almond paste with chocolate bits inside,
powdered sugar poof on top.

Daniel said...

You know what goes great with a fruit-and-puff-pastry square? A little Ciroc Ultra Premium Vodka.

Just saying.

Colin P. Delaney said...

I've always loved puff pastry, but -- not being any any kind of baker -- always steered away (also, my oven is every freezing or burning, there's no in-between.

That said, your post give me courage! Going to try this sooner than later!

Lisa said...

Cold Cuts: Chocopocket! That's genius.

Donna: Yes, almond paste is a great idea.

Daniel: "Ciroc, it's made from grapes!"

CPD: I'm sure you and your oven could manage, it's not that hard.

Janet said...

I have used puff pastry a lot in the last few months. It's so forgiving and so versatile. I've used it in Beef Wellington, encased salmon and pork (not at the same time) and it's brilliant for desserts. I also like to create a bisque (lobster/shrimp), pour the cooled soup into individual oven proof bowls and cover the soup with puff pastry (egg wash the top). Bake in a 375F oven until the pastry is a lovely golden colour. Yum!

Lisa said...

Janet: Love all of those ideas!

Andrea [bella eats] said...

Mmmm...I've been wanting to make an at-home no-fuss chocolate croissant...your chocolate puff pastry dessert looks just perfect.

I love using puff pastry for baked brie. Take a round of brie, cut off the rind (or not), set it on top of a few sheets of puff pastry smeared with some berry-licious jam, fold the puff pastry around the brie. Brush with butter. Bake. Moan and groan as you eat. :)

Lisa said...

Andrea: Exactly! It's more of a pocket/turnover, but it's a croissant in spirit. Don't forget the sea salt!

jc said...

Made the tomato and goat cheese tart with this Eggplant Roll recipe last night.

The tart was great! I definitely need to butter the pan when using puff pastry-was a bit oily. And I need to salt the tomatoes a bit more too--needed a bit more flavor.

But really tasted fresh, light and delicious.


Lisa said...

jc: Nice! Yes, I salt pretty liberally. The coarser the salt, the better. The eggplant sounds delicious.


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