Given the festive nature of the holiday season, cooking can veer towards the elaborate, so it helps to have some quick and easy dishes that impress without a ton of effort. As such, I recommend that everyone keep a stock of puff pastry in their freezer, and use it liberally to whip up appetizers, snacks, and desserts.
Puff pastry, a prepared, frozen sheet of dough, works in all sorts of applications from savoury to sweet and puffs up into a delightfully flaky and buttery pastry that just begs to be rolled around delicious fillings. Here are a few of our favourite easy -- yet stunningly delicious -- ways to use the stuff.
Roll Up Some Pretty Palmiers
Puff pastry palmiers have a very favourable impress-to-stress ratio. All you really have to do is fold or roll some dough. To make palmiers, simply spread a thin layer of your filling of choice over a sheet of thawed puff pastry, fold, and bake at 205ºC until golden brown (about fifteen minutes.)
The video above, from Pepperidge Farm, can help you perfect your folding technique, but all you'll really need to do is fold the ends toward the center, leaving a quarter inch of space in the middle, then fold one side on top of the other, creating a layered rectangle. Cut that rectangle into slices, set those slices on a prepared baking sheet, and flare the ends slightly before popping them in the oven. Alternatively, you can skip the folding altogether and just roll the ends toward the center.
Flavour-wise, palmiers can be savoury hors d'oeuvres or delicate desserts, it's just a matter of what you fill them with. There's no wrong way to fill a palmier (save for some extreme examples like, I don't know, toothpaste), but here are some ideas to get you going:
- Cinnamon and Sugar Palmiers: Sprinkle puff pastry with a couple of tablespoons of cinnamon sugar before rolling. Marvel at how something so simple can be so delightful.
- Goat Cheese and Sundried Tomato Palmiers: Combine four ounces of chevre with ten sundried tomato halves (oil drained off) in a food processor until smooth and spread it evenly across your dough. Roll or fold and bake.
- Pesto Palmiers: Brush a couple of tablespoons of prepared pesto on top of dough. Extra credit if you sprinkle some whole pine nuts in there as well.
- Raspberry Jam Palmiers: A thin glaze of sweet, sweet jam (it doesn't have to be raspberry) makes the rolled cookie feel a bit more special.
- Garlic and Herb Palmiers: Roast five cloves of garlic, and mash them up real good with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a couple tablespoons of fresh, chopped herbs, such as oregano, thyme or sage. Spread this glorious mixture all over the thawed pastry, fold, and bake.
- Nutella Palmiers: Chocolate hazelnut spread + frozen puff pastry = the easiest, tastiest, two-ingredient dessert of all time.
- Parmesan and Prosciutto Palmiers: Sprinkle four ounces (or more) of freshly grated Parmesan and four ounces of chopped prosciutto over your pastry for a very salty and satisfying snack.
Though it may be tempting to go crazy with flavour combinations, but you don't want to overwhelm the delicate, buttery pastry with too many fillings -- or too much liquid -- so stick to one or two add-ins.
Bake Some Tasty Tarts, Pies, and Bites
Puff pastry is -- first and foremost -- a dough, and it can (and in some cases, should) replace regular pie pastry. Pretty much any type of pie -- slab pie, hand pie, even pizza-esque savoury pies -- can be made with puff pastry, and here are some of the best around:
- Pastry Bites: I'm pretty partial to the Beef Wellington Bites from Delish featured in the above video, but you can make bite-sized delights with almost any filling. Just roll out some thawed dough, place a spoonful or two of filling every couple every couple of inches (one sheet should give you about twelve bites), cut into squares, and fold the corners up around the filling, collecting them in the center and pinching to seal. Place the bites on a baking tray, seam side down, brush with an egg wash, and bake at at 205ºC until they're golden, puffy, and crispy. (Beef wellington is a delicious place to start, but my favourite pastry bite is filled with a little chunk of brie, some sweet and tart jam, and a pecan half.)
- Fruity Hand Pies: The worst thing about a large format pie is the fact that you're expected to share. To avoid pie-centric confrontations and altercations, make everyone their very own puff pastry hand pie.To make a dozen sweet, fruit-filled hand pies, simply cut two sheets thawed puff pastry into twelve squares (six squares per sheet,) lay half of the squares on a parchment lined baking sheet, and spoon a couple of tablespoons of filling on top of each square. Top with the remaining squares of pastry, and crimp the edges with a fork to seal (it will look kind of like a fancy PopTart.) Brush the pies with an egg wash, sprinkle some coarse sugar on top, and chill the pies for a half hour or so. Then bake in a 190°C-oven until golden brown (about half an hour.) If you need filling recipes, check out this one for cherry, this one for apple, and this one for pecan. If you prefer, you can make one giant slab pie with the exact same method; just cut a sheet a pastry into two pieces, rather than six.
- Tarts: One of the easiest -- yet very refined -- desserts is a puff pastry plum tart. Besides plums and the dough itself, you probably already have everything you need to make it. Just cut the pastry into squares, prick it a few times with a fork, and fan out pretty slices of plums (or any stone fruit). Sprinkle on some sugar, grind some pepper on there, and pop it in the oven for about half an hour at 218ºC. Once the pastry is golden brown and the plums are sweet and soft, remove the tarts from the oven and drizzle some honey on there. Plums (or even fruit) aren't the only things that make a tasty, super easy tart. You can make fresh citrus tarts, heirloom tomato tarts, roasted vegetable tarts, and even breakfast tarts topped with a sunny little egg.
Honestly, you barely need a recipe to make puff pastry tarts. Just unfold the pastry, sprinkle some cheese on there, and top with whatever savoury ingredients you happen to have around the kitchen. Everything looks fancy perched atop puff pastry, even yesterday's roasted broccolini. For dessert, you can bake the crust, spread some whipped cream or creme fraiche on there, and top with fresh fruit and shaved chocolate.
Twist and Wrap Your Way to Savoury Snacks
I love a food wrapped around another food, and I am especially fond of a food wrapped in some sort of bread. Not only does puff pastry taste delicious with pretty much everything, it also looks quite elegant when entwined with a piece of asparagus, and it hugs a cocktail sausage in a most cosy manner.
- Cheese Straws: OK, so technically, you're not wrapping the pastry around anything except itself, but I think this counts, and I'll allow it because cheese straws are a good portion of the meaning of life. Mix a cup of grated, hard cheese (Parm or aged cheddar are both great options), a teaspoon of garlic powder, and a teaspoon of paprika together in a bowl. Cut puff pastry into inch-wide strips and twist to form straws. Brush straws with egg wash and dredge through cheese mixture to coat and bake for about ten minutes at 218ºC until golden brown.
- Pastry-Wrapped Asparagus: Asparagus is already a pretty tasty vegetable, but it becomes even more enticing with thin strips of puff pastry wrapped around it. Just cut a sheet of the thawed stuff into ½-inch-wide strips, wrap it around the glorious green stalks, brush 'em with an egg wash, place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and pop the whole thing in the oven for 20 minutes or so at 205ºC.
- Pastry Pups: Yes, these are just fancy pigs-in-a-blanket, but pigs-in-a-blanket are glorious and I will accept no criticism of them. These things are so easy to make, literal children could pull it off. Just cut a sheet of pastry into triangles and wrap each triangle around a cocktail weenie. Bake at 205ºC for about 10 or 12 minutes, until the pastry puffs and browns. Heck, you can even sprinkle a little cheese in the pastry before rolling it up, but you don't need to.
- Puff Pastry-Wrapped Brie: Grab a wheel of brie, plunk it in the center of a sheet of thawed puff pastry, and wrap that ish up. Brush with egg, and bake at 205ºC for about half an hour. (Extra credit: spread a dollop or two of jam over the brie before wrapping it up.)
Honestly, given the many gifts bestowed on us by puff pastry, you could probably make an entire meal with the stuff and no one would complain. In fact, I just might do that. I have a few sheets in the freezer.
Illustrations by Angelica Alzona.