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You can't go wrong with packaged puff pastry dough

Sunday, September 08, 2002

By Marlene Parrish

Puff paste is the queen of all pastries. Without it there would be no strudels, napoleons, turnovers or lady locks. Tons of other desserts, appetizers and entrees would be compromised.

This crisp, light pastry consists of hundreds of paper-thin layers of dough, prevented from sticking together by thin layers of fat -- any fat, but usually butter. While the pastry is baking, steam caught between the layers forces them apart. As the baking continues, the steam evaporates and the fat is absorbed, leaving a high, crisp, flaky pastry.

Bakers will tell you that puff paste is made by a simple mechanical process of rolling, folding and turning dough. Mechanical, yes. Simple, no. If you think about making puff paste from scratch, go lie down on the couch until the notion passes.

Yoy! What a production. Consider the time commitment for dozens of repetitions of the rolling, folding and turning, all the while keeping the dough at just the right temperature. And no rushing is permitted.

When the suits at Pepperidge Farm decided to make puff pastry for use in the home kitchen, they ensured a place for themselves in heaven. Their light, tender pastry that "puffs" into dozens of flaky, golden layers is pre-rolled and ready to use. It is inexpensive and readily available in supermarket freezers.

Purists bemoan the fact that Pepperidge Farm puff pastry contains partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening instead of butter. True, but the taste and texture of the product are surprisingly satisfactory, and the savings of time and energy are priceless.

The butterless commercial pastry is much appreciated by kosher, vegan and lactose-intolerant folks who often must forego dessert because of dairy products.

In the kitchen

Here are some tips for working with ready-made puff pastry.

Thaw frozen pastry sheets at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before gently unfolding. Wrap unused sheets in plastic wrap or foil and return to the freezer.

Always preheat the oven prior to baking as directed in the recipe.

Roll and shape the dough on a lightly floured (or sometimes sugared) surface. If cracks develop along the fold lines, rub with a little water on your finger and press pastry together to seal.

Choose the right baking pan. Know that dark baking sheets may bake pastry faster. Best advice: Keep an eye on the pastry. When it's golden and puffy, it's done.

Don't even think about baking puff pastry in the microwave or toaster oven. It just doesn't work.

Baking temperatures vary. Most pastry chefs agree with the instructions on the box -- bake puff pastry at a high temperature for a short time, usually at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. When the pastry is high and golden brown, it is done. But other chefs bake the pastry at 350 degrees for almost an hour to ensure that every layer is dried and crisp. Height and color are also measures of doneness.

Uses for puff pastry

Try your hand at popular recipe-ettes:

Palmiers. Bakers call these "palm leaves." (But I think they look like a pair of clip-on sunglasses.) Think of them as a good sugar cookie to serve with fruit desserts and ice cream. Sprinkle a sheet of puff pastry generously with sugar. Starting with 1 short side, roll it up tightly, jellyroll fashion, but only to the middle of the sheet. Repeat with the other short side, so the 2 rolls are the same size and meet in the middle. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, press down slightly and chill for at least 30 minutes. Then cut the dough into 1/4-inch slices and transfer the cookies to a sugar-sprinkled baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

Straw Twists. Make savory appetizer twists with Parmesan cheese or sweet dessert ones with cinnamon sugar. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Make an egg wash by blending 1 egg with 1 tablespoon of water in a small dish and set aside. Unfold pastry on lightly floured surface. Cut in half lengthwise. Brush both pastry halves with egg mixture. Top one pastry half with filling (see end of recipe). Place remaining pastry half, egg side down, over filling-topped half. Roll gently with rolling pin to seal and press together. Cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips. Twist the strips and place 2 inches apart on baking sheet, pressing down ends. (For a very even twist, place the strip on the baking sheet, press down one end and twist it 3 or 4 times, keeping the twists even.) Brush with egg mixture. Bake 10 minutes or longer until golden. Makes about 20.

Twist fillings: For Parmesan Cheese Straws, combine 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves and kosher salt to taste. For Cinnamon-Sugar Straws, mix 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon.

Pot Pie Lids. Using a sharp knife, cut pastry a tad larger than the baking dish of the pot pie. Brush with egg wash and bake separately at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until the pastry is puffed and brown. Place the crust on top of the fully-baked pot pie just before serving.

Turnovers. Cut out 4-inch squares of puff pastry. Place a tablespoon or two of sweet or savory filling slightly off-center. Brush the perimeter of the pastry with egg wash. Fold to form a triangle, press the edges together with your fingers, and press down the edges again with the tines of a fork. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle sweet turnovers with coarse sugar and savory ones with coarse salt. Make 1 or 2 slashes on top of each turnover so steam escapes. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

The 17.3-ounce Pepperidge Farm package contains two individual pastry sheets and costs $3.69 at Giant Eagle supermarkets. Six ready-to-bake pastry shells cost $3.29. Keep several packages in the freezer.

Chili-Painted Portobellos in Puff Pastry

This elegant appetizer makes a dramatic first course. The recipe comes from "A Cook's Book of Mushrooms" by Jack Czarnecki of the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, Ore. For the chipotle chilies, whirl a 7-ounce can of chipotles with sauce in a blender until smooth. Measure 1 to 2 tablespoons, depending on desired heat, and refrigerate the remainder. Add a teaspoon of this "chile sauce" to fresh salsa, to mayo or mix a bit with butter for hot-lips corn-on-the-cob.

  • 1 sheet (10-inch square) frozen puff paste pastry (half of a 1-pound package), thawed
  • 2 tablespoons prepared bottled oyster sauce (look in the Asian section of the grocery)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons pureed canned chipotle chilies
  • 4 Portobello mushrooms (3- to 4-inch wide caps, cleaned,
  • stems trimmed flush with caps
  • 1 large egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Unfold puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured board; cut into quarters, each 5 inches square. Roll out each slightly into a 6-inch square.

In a small bowl, mix oyster sauce and pureed chipotle chilies. Brush mixture generously over both sides of mushroom caps, using it all.

Center each cap, gill side up, on a puff pastry square. Fold corners of pastry over mushroom to enclose, overlapping slightly; pinch edges together to seal. Set bundles, seams down and slightly apart, on a baking tray lined with cooking parchment. Lightly cover and chill until ready to bake. This much can be made in advance.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Using a soft pastry brush, lightly coat the pastries with egg wash. With a sharp knife, make a slit in the top of each pastry. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the pastry is puffed, brown and crisp.

Sunset Magazine

Chicken Pot Pies

Deep oven-safe bowls, about 5 to 6 inches in diameter, are perfect for pot pies, as well as for French onion soup or chili. Make pot pies when there is leftover rotisserie chicken and a package of puff paste in the freezer.

  • 1 sheet (10-inch square) frozen puff paste pastry (half of a 1-pound package), thawed

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/4 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup each chopped onions, celery, carrots, white button
  • mushrooms and red-skinned potatoes
  • 1 cup chopped, cooked chicken meat
  • 1/2 cup cooked fresh or frozen peas
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 large egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Unfold puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured board; cut into quarters, each 5 inches square. Roll out each slightly into a 6-inch square.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour; cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add broth, whisking until smooth; bring to a boil. Add thyme, bay leaf, onions, celery, carrots and mushrooms.

Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add potatoes, chicken, peas, salt and pepper. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; cool 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Divide mixture among 4 oven-proof bowls; place bowls on baking sheet.

Brush pastry with egg wash. Brush rims of bowls with water. Place 1 pastry square on top of each bowl, pressing edges lightly onto bowl rims. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Marlene Parrish

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