The season of hurrying and scurrying is upon us! There are programs and concerts to attend; gifts to purchase and send; and trees and stairway banisters on which we will bend our favorite garlands. And what would the holidays be without having a few friends and relatives visit? Lest this thought provokes a bit of anxiety, I have a suggestion for you.
Puff Pastry, found in the freezer section of your grocery store, is here to save the day! It is one of the most versatile items in the market, one of the most easy to use, and yet yields very special results. It can be used for everything from appetizers to desserts.
This product is a rich, flaky dough made by placing chilled butter between layers of pastry then folding and rolling it multiple times to create many layers. It can be made at home without much difficulty but what you purchase at the store is good enough that it really isn’t worth the trouble. When you buy it frozen, you can keep it on hand for several months so it is ready to use at the spur of the moment.
In our local stores you can typically find puff pastry sheets and puff pastry shells. The sheets are more versatile and come two sheets to a package. There are six shells in a box.
The shells make an attractive and tasty holder for main dishes (Chicken a La King), brunch items (eggs, cheese, and ham), or dessert (berries and cream). The ingredients you can add to the shells are limitless, but they are designed to be a container. They’re attractive and make a great presentation.
On to the sheets. You need not use both of them at the same time. Once the package is opened, wrap securely to guarantee shelf life is not compromised. If time allows, thaw the dough in the refrigerator. Dough will be much easier to handle. The sheet is folded in thirds, leaving you with two creases. Use a rolling pin to make the thickness of the dough even, pinching the creases together if necessary. Trim the edges to square them unless your finished item has no particular shape.
A few tips:
- Bake the dough in a preheated oven.
- Use parchment paper on your pan.
- If brushing the surface, as with an egg wash, be careful to keep the liquid off the cut edge of the dough or you may inadvertently seal the layers and inhibit rising.
- If time allows, once the item has been shaped, chill again for a few minutes to ensure the best rise.
A few easy ideas for use:
Breadsticks: Cut a sheet of dough into strips (each third into ten or twelve pieces) and brush with milk or cream. Sprinkle with a mixture of finely grated parmesan cheese and paprika (or garlic salt). Twist each strip twice before placing on baking sheet and bake until golden. These are a fancy version of a breadstick – tasty and crispy. Alternatively, brush the strips with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. They make a great accompaniment to ice cream or can be served at brunch.
Croutons: Cut the dough into small squares, bake and use as croutons to top a creamy soup. One large crouton could top a bowl of French Onion Soup.
Tarts or turnovers: Cut the dough into larger squares, top with thinly sliced apples and a light apricot glaze. Bake until golden. Cut into even larger squares, fill with fruit and fold into triangles to make turnovers.
Cookies: To make Palmiers, use a full sheet of dough sprinkled with a savory mix of finely grated cheese and savory spices or a mixture of your favorite sweet spices. Pick up the left edge of the dough and bring to the center of the sheet. Do the same with the right edge of the dough. Fold the dough once more, in half, as if you were closing a book. Slice the roll into about one-half inch slices. Place the slices cut side up on parchment paper and bake until golden. For extra crispy cookies, turn them over mid-way through the baking process.
Main Dishes: Top a Shepherd’s Pie or Chicken Pot Pie with a layer of puff pastry to create a crispy, flaky crust. Or, roll your meat filling up in a sheet of pastry jelly-roll style to create a strudel-type dish.
Wraps: An elegant twist on Pigs in a Blanket can be made using puff pastry and cocktail sausages. Wrap an olive or shrimp for a tasty appetizer.
There are so many wonderful recipes online that will provide you with specific temperatures and times. Check out epicurious.com, Ina Garten on the Food Network, and PuffPastry.com. The latter site is prepared by Pepperidge Farm, the most popular manufacturer of the frozen puff pastry; it contains a wealth of recipes and tips.
If you’ve not used puff pastry before, you are going to be so pleasantly surprised! If you have, check out some new recipes online to broaden your repertoire, impress your guests, and streamline your holiday entertaining.
Pam Vukelic is an online FACS (Family and Consumer Sciences) instructor for the Missouri River Educational Consortium.