Lessons from a Le Cordon Bleu Grad: Puff Pastry
Puff pastry is fabulous. It’s French name is even more fabulous: “pâte feuilletée,” which means layered dough. It’s essentially just layer upon layer of butter and dough, which, in the oven, transforms into a flaky, buttery, golden-brown thing of beauty.
At Le Cordon Bleu, I had a love/hate relationship with puff pastry — I loved eating it and hated making it. That’s because we had to make it from scratch. We had to fold the dough around a huge chunk of butter, roll it out into a long sheet, fold it onto itself and roll it out again. We repeated this process five or six times, each time making sure the butter didn’t burst out of its dough envelope (which would result in a not-so-puffy puff pastry). Only once we had sore arms and a thick, soft pastry (with 729 layers of butter) could we start baking.
That being said, with the convenience of store-bought puff pastry, which even the French chefs admit is delicious, beautiful appetizers and treats take less than 30 minutes to make and are a great addition to any dish.
Here are five simple ways to use puff pastry, as well as tips to make sure it turns out just right:
For all of the following recipes, bake according to the temperature on the box and remove once golden brown and not greasy or translucent.
1. Puff pastry twists
Season a sheet of puff pastry with whatever spices you like. Some good combinations are curry powder and sesame seeds, or Parmesan cheese and a little cayenne pepper. Then cut the sheet into long, thin strips. The key here is not to drag your knife along the dough, but instead press down firmly and cleanly. Finally, take one end of the strip in each hand and twist in opposite directions, and then place on a baking sheet. Serve these tasty twists as a party appetizer or to accompany a bowl of soup.
2. Decorative circles
This is my favorite way to garnish an otherwise simple dinner. Wrap a long, thin strip of puff pastry around a greased, oven-proof cup or circular object. Bake until golden brown.
These bite-sized swirls are delicious with a bowl of ice cream after dinner, or in the afternoon with a cup of tea. Sprinkle a sheet of puff pastry with cinnamon, brown sugar and raisins. Use a rolling pin to push the raisins and seasoning into the dough. Roll the dough into a log and place it in the freezer. It’s important that your dough is cold enough before you cut it, so that it hold its shape. Cut half-inch wide portions and place on a greased baking sheet.
4. Puff Pastry Case
Cut and fold your dough following the steps depicted below. Once baked, remove the inside of the case to create more room for filling (if desired). For an appetizer, make these small and fill them with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, or make them big and fill them with something like chicken stew for a more hearty dish.
5. Stuffed Triangles
Cut your puff pastry into a square and add egg wash to two of the four sides. Place a dollop of berry compote or cooked apple-cinnamon filling in the middle and fold the square in half. Crimp the sides using a fork and poke a hole in the top. Brush with egg wash and bake.
Enjoy and bon appétit!
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