Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Puff pastry: It's magic

Puff can make just about anything go poof

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    The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth
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    Jelly doughnut.

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Jelly doughnut.

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Call it Puff the Magic Pastry.

To use an overused buzzword of the moment, puff pastry is a one-size-fits-all menu solution. It is perfect for savory foods such as vegetable tarts or as the golden cap to a chicken pot pie. And nothing is better for sweet foods and desserts -- cover it in ice cream and chocolate sauce, or fill it with fruit or a pastry cream.

That soft crunch is irresistible, the satisfying sensation of biting through hundreds of layers of the finest, most delicate pastry.

And the taste. What makes puff pastry taste so magically good?

In a word: butter. Other than flour and a little water, that’s all there is to it.

When it is made the classic way, puff pastry is a simple dough of flour and ice water and just a little salt that has been covered by butter and then folded over. Then it is folded over again. And again. And again. Before long, there are dozens of layers, or even hundreds of layers, that each bake to a delicate crisp.

This unique texture comes about when it bakes: Steam from the butter causes each individual layer to lift and separate, even while the pastry holds together as a single unit. A well-made pastry will puff up to as much as eight times the size of the original dough, or even more.

That’s part of the magic.

And of course, you don’t have to go through all that rolling and folding yourself. Just about every grocery store in America sells it frozen, two sheets for a few dollars. All it takes is 40 minutes to thaw, and you can have a bit of elegant luxury for about 30 cents per serving.

And what can you do with it? Anything you want. Potential uses for puff pastry are only as limited as your imagination. You can put a few chocolate chips in the middle of a small square, bring together the corners, and make a little baked sack of melted chocolate. You can use them for strudel or even as a delicious crust for pizza. You can wrap the dough around a wheel of brie and bake it for the classic baked-brie appetizer. Put the dough around a beef tenderloin and foie gras, and you’ve got the famous Beef Wellington.

Prompted by the availability of ripe peaches and blackberries, we created our own recipe for a fruit tart. Knowing that the cooked fruit would be a bit sloppy, even after we drained the juices, we decided to bake the tart shell first and then fill it with the fruit. Before we baked the puff pastry, we poked a few holes in it with a fork, so that the steam could escape and it didn’t puff up too high. And here is what we learned: A few holes won’t do it. If you’re going to bake the puff pastry on its own, either poke it with a great many holes or weight it down a little, as with pie weights.

Next up was jelly doughnuts. Usually, doughnuts mean deep frying, but with puff pastry it is a snap to make them. No muss, no fuss. And because they aren’t fried, they taste lighter than regular doughnuts. But they’re made with puff pastry, so let’s face it e_SEmD they’re not exactly low in calories.



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Sopapillas, those great Mexican desserts, were even easier. Once again, they are baked, not fried. All you have to do is cut out small rounds of the dough, bake them, shake them in a bag with sugar and cinnamon, and drizzle them with honey.

And of course we had to make palmiers, those simply sophisticated cookies that are the epitome of French pastry. They’re also known as elephant ears, because that is what they sort of resemble, and you can even dip them in chocolate if you want to be naughty. Just brush the pastry with an egg wash, dust it with sugar, roll it up into two scrolls, chill it so you can slice it thin, and bake it.

After all those sweet preparations, it was time for something savory. A great appetizer is smoked salmon blini puffs, which can be as simple as soft cream cheese and smoked salmon on top of a small round of puff pastry or as exquisite as creme fraiche, smoked salmon, a few leaves of dill and an accent of caviar.

And puff pastry is as excellent a base for savory tarts as it is for dessert tarts. We made a simple yet scrumptious tart out of caramelized onions and kalamata olives. And for good measure, we made one of our favorite dishes, a delicious tomato and mozzarella tart, bursting with the flavor of summer.

It’s sort of like a pizza, but with more magic.

Contact Daniel Neman at or 419-724-6155.


Jelly Doughnuts

1 egg

1 teaspoon water

1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed

4 tablespoons (12 teaspoons) raspberry or strawberry jam

1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 400e_SDgr. Beat the egg and water in a small bowl with a fork.

Unfold 1 pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Using a round 3-inch cutter, cut the pastry sheet into 8 circles. Repeat with the remaining pastry sheet.

Place 8 pastry circles onto a baking sheet. Spoon 1½ teaspoons jam in the center of each one. Brush the edges of the pastry circles with the egg wash. Place the remaining pastry circles over the filling. Press the edges firmly to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut a small slit in the top of each pastry.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes. Sprinkle lightly with confectioners’ sugar.

Yield: 8 servings

Source: Adapted from Pepperidge Farm


1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

¾ cup sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 400°. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Cut the sheet into 25 (2-inch) squares. Place the sugar and cinnamon in a paper bag and shake to combine.

Bake the pastry squares for 15 minutes or until they are golden brown. Add the hot pastries in batches to the bag and shake until coated with the sugar mixture. Drizzle with honey before serving.

Yield: 25 servings

Source: Pepperidge Farm

Smoked Salmon Blini Puffs

? cup creme fraiche (see cook’s note)

1½ teaspoons grated lemon zest (see cook’s note)

? teaspoon black pepper (see cook’s note)

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

2 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut into 12 pieces

12 sprigs fresh dill (see cook’s note)

3 teaspoons black caviar (see cook’s note)

Cook’s note: For a simpler, down-home version, substitute 3 tablespoons soft cream cheese for the creme fraiche, lemon zest, pepper, dill, and caviar.

Preheat the oven to 400e_SDgr. If using, stir the creme fraiche, lemon zest, and black pepper in a bowl.

Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Using a round 2-inch cutter, cut the pastry sheet into 12 circles. Place the pastry circles on a baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Let the pastries cool on the sheet for 10 minutes.

Spoon 2 teaspoons creme fraiche mixture on each pastry, if using. If using cream cheese, spread a small amount of cream cheese on each pastry. Top each with 1 piece salmon. If using, add 1 sprig dill and a small amount of caviar.

Yield: 12 servings

Source: Adapted from Pepperidge Farm

Chocolate-Dipped Palmiers

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

2 frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed

6 tablespoons sugar, divided

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate pieces (1 cup)

Preheat the oven to 400°. Lightly grease 2 baking sheets or use parchment paper or a silicone pad. Stir the egg and water in a small bowl with a fork.

Unfold 1 pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll the pastry into a 16x10-inch rectangle. Brush the pastry with the egg mixture and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar. Starting with the short sides, roll each side into the middle. Brushing the egg mixture between them will help the scrolls stick to each other. Do the same with the other pastry sheet.

Wrap in plastic wrap and put in the freezer for 30 minutes or the refrigerator for 1 hour to make them firmer. With a sharp knife, slice the pastries into ½-inch slices. Place the slices cut-side down on the prepared baking sheets. They will expand quite a bit, so leave a lot of space between them. Brush the tops of the pastries with the egg mixture.

Bake the pastries for 12 minutes or until they’re golden brown. Cool on wire racks.

While they cool, melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in a microwave on low power, stirring frequently. Dip half of each pastry into the melted chocolate. Place the pastries on waxed paper-lined baking sheets and refrigerate until the chocolate has set.

Yield: 24 servings

Source: Adapted from Pepperidge Farm

Fresh Fruit Tart

1 egg

1 teaspoon water

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

4 ripe large peaches

1 cup blackberries OR blueberries

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400e_SDgr. Beat egg and water in a small bowl. Unfold the pastry dough onto a baking sheet and brush the egg ½ inch all the way around the edges. Fold over ½ inch of the dough all the way around, pressing lightly to make it adhere. Using a fork, poke holes all over the dough, but not on the rim. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown, and let cool on the baking sheet.

While the crust bakes, peel, pit, and slice the peaches into thin wedges; cut the blackberries, if using, into halves or quarters, depending on their size.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, and add the peaches, berries, and lemon juice. Heat, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, until the fruit is thoroughly soft. Thoroughly strain the fruit, letting the juice drip into a bowl. Return the juice to the pan over medium-high heat, and reduce until syrupy. Once it is syrupy, transfer to a small bowl to keep it from boiling away.

Spread the fruit over the tart shell, and drizzle with the syrup.

Yield: 6 servings

Tomato and Mozzarella Tart

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (½ cup)

2 medium plum tomatoes (8 ounces), cored and sliced ¼-inch thick

½ teaspoon salt

4 ounces mozzarella, shredded (1 cup)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the puff pastry sheet in the center. Brush the pastry along with edges with beaten egg. Fold over ½-inch of the edges to form a rim. Using a paring knife, make a shallow cut — parallel to the baking sheet — through the center of the folded edges and the corners, all the way around. Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the crust bottom. Poke the dough uniformly with a fork, but not the folded edges. Bake until golden brown and crisp, 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, spread the tomatoes over several layers of paper towels. Sprinkle with the salt and let drain 30 minutes.

Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the crust bottom. Press excess moisture from the tomatoes, using additional paper towels. Place the tomato slices on the crust, overlapping like shingles. Whisk together the olive oil and garlic, and drizzle over the tomatoes. Bake until the shell is deep golden, 10-15 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes and sprinkle with the basil.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Source: The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Caramelized Onion Tart with Kalamata Olives

1 pound yellow onions

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1¼ teaspoons fresh rosemary

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

6-8 pitted kalamata olives, halved lengthwise

4-6 anchovy fillets, optional

Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the onions lengthwise in ¼-inch slices. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and salt, and cook, stirring often and adjusting the heat as needed, until the onions are caramelized, about 35 minutes; they should be soft to the touch and darkened to a golden shade of tan. You may need to add a bit of water to the pan to prevent sticking.

Add 1 teaspoon of the rosemary, and season with salt to taste. Transfer the onions to a plate and cool to lukewarm, at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, unfold the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Roll it out to an 11-inch square and gently place it on the prepared baking sheet. Prick the dough with a fork in several places, but not the rim. Refrigerate the dough until you’re ready to assemble the tart.

Distribute the onions evenly over the dough. Arrange the olives evenly on top. If using, lay the anchovies between the olives. Bake until the crust is golden on top and underneath all the way to the center (lift it up to check), 20-25 minutes.

Transfer the tart to a cutting board and sprinkle the remaining ¼ teaspoon of rosemary on top.

Yield: 8 appetizer servings, 4 main course servings

Source: Knives Cooks Love, by Sarah Jay

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