Puff pastry (Recipe: puff pastry cups filled with sweet potato, apple and nuts)
If I hadn't watched Julia Child on television all those years ago, smearing the butter and folding and turning and folding and turning again, making it all seem so utterly doable, I never would have had the courage to make puff pastry from scratch.
I did make it, and it was rich and buttery, and it puffed.
And it took all day to make.
Then I discovered frozen puff pastry. Someone else does the smearing and folding and turning for you. Imagine that! Puff pastry any time, without devoting an entire day to making it.
What makes puff pastry puff are the many layers of blobs of butter sandwiched between layers of dough that, when baked, rise to several times their original height without any yeast or leavening. When heated, the butter in the dough melts, causing the layers to separate. The water in the butter turns to steam, puffing up the pastry with air bubbles that become trapped to form air pockets.
In the classic pâte feuilletée (pot fay yoo TAY) recipe, made by folding and turning the dough six times, the finished dough has close to 1500 layers of butter and flour. When I made it from scratch, I didn't count. And I've never counted when I bake with frozen puff pastry, either; I take it on faith, and the dough seems to have enough layers for me.
Pepperidge Farm is the most widely available brand in the United States; the little supermarket in my town carries it. Each package contains two sheets, and each sheet comes folded in thirds.
Before you use it, roll the pastry to uniform thickness. If it cracks, as it often does along the fold lines, pinch it together with your fingertips and patch with a tiny drop of water.
To thaw frozen puff pastry, unwrap and separate the pastry sheets and thaw at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.
Puff pastry makes wonderful savory dishes like chutney cheese puffs and puff pastry baskets with artichoke and pesto filling, or the topping for a chicken pot pie, as well as beautiful sweet desserts like palmiers.
It can turn the ordinary into something truly extraordinary.
Puff pastry cups filled with sweet potato, apple and nuts
Have fun fitting these pastry squares into the round holes of a muffin tin; the pastry cups can be refined or playful. Serves 8; can be halved.
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 apple, diced
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Zest of one lemon
1 package Pepperidge Farm puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp of water
Preheat oven to 400°F. Set out two 12-muffin tins.
Place sweet potato cubes in a small sauce pan, covered by a few inches of cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook for 8-10 minutes, until potato is quite soft.
While the potato is cooking, combine apple, nuts, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest in a mixing bowl. Drain the cooked potato and add while hot to the bowl, stirring to combine. The heat of the potatoes will begin to soften the sugar, which is exactly what you want to happen. Let the mixture cool to room temperature while you prepare the pastry cups.
Roll out each sheet of puff pastry, and trim 1/2 inch off the edges all the way around. With a sharp knife, cut each sheet into 4 squares. Fit 4 pastry squares into each muffin tin, being sure to space them out so each has room to expand. Divide sweet potato mixture among the 8 muffin cups.
Using a paint brush, paint the pastry with the beaten egg. Place in the upper third of the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes, until the pastry releases easily from the muffin tin. Serve warm.