It seems that over the past year whenever we had guests that offered to make a pre-dinner nibble to have with cocktails, they decided to craft something using frozen puff pastry dough. Given that each of these folks brought a fresh box of pastry sheets with them, and used only half a box to make their appetizer, we recently discovered that we had 83 half used boxes of puff pastry in our freezer (no wonder we're running out of room there).
As I was starting to panic, wondering what the #@*& we were going to do with that many pastry sheets, my wife found this simple but delicious recipe in our latest issue of Bon Appetit. This recipe is for little cherry pies, using a combination of fresh and dried fruit, but any type of fruit would work. Beware though, if you're using a really juicy fruit you may need to up the amount of cornstarch used in order to guarantee a nice thick filling for your pies. I'm thinking fresh apples and dried cranberries would be lovely, or how about peanut butter with a fresh strawberry compote, or dare I say, Nutella with some orange marmalade? Oohhhh…..
Confession time. I've never cooked with pre-made, frozen puff pastry before. Why? It's hard to say, but I think its probably due to the fact that I learned how to make puff pastry from scratch when I was a student at Le Cordon Bleu, and in the process became a bit of a puff pastry snob. Not sure how many of you have had the pleasure, but those who have made your own know that while it can be a bit of an ordeal to master, there is NOTHING you can buy in a store that compares to a homemade pâté feuilletée.
Of course, now that I think about it, I haven't made it from scratch since I left school either, so there's more than just the snob thing going on here.
Yes….. my relationship with puff pastry is quite complex.
You got a minute?
You see, over the course of making probably ten different batches of the stuff at LCB, I had two very different experiences, and each is to blame for why I love and hate puff pastry. The process of making your own is pretty straight forward, but does take some time. In a nutshell, it is made by encasing a big slab of cool butter inside an envelope of dough, rolling it to an even thickness, then folding it in thirds so that it resembles a business letter. Then it is rolled and folded again a total of six times to create about 730 thin layers of butter inside the dough. Along the way the dough is rested multiple times in the fridge to relax the gluten and cool the butter so that it doesn't melt and ooze out all over the place. When finally formed and baked, the countless layers of butter release steam that create the thin, flaky layers that make puff pastry so amazing.
Aside from learning the proper technique of making the dough (which really isn't that hard), there is a condition that must be met in order to keep you from slitting your wrists when trying to make pâté feuilletée. You MUST be working in a cool kitchen.
Lucky for me, my pastry sessions when I was first learning "feuilletage" were held in a kitchen where we were the first students of the day to use it. The room and counters were cool, making the turning, rolling, and folding of the dough relative child's play. Sure we had to chill it occasionally to rest the dough, but when we were actively working with it, our pace was deliberate and calm and we worked with a zen-like focus. It was during these sessions that my inner puff-snob was born and I swore that I would NEVER buy a pre-made dough…not when I was able to craft such delicious dough with just a few flicks of my zen master wrists.
Later in my time at LCB we revisited puff pastry, though this time my pastry sessions were held later in the day, and we had to work in a kitchen that had been through the ringer already that morning. Can I tell you something? When the ambient temperature of the kitchen is approaching 524 ℉ it is practically impossible to make puff pastry dough, as the butter starts melting and leaching from the dough as SOON as you pull it from the fridge. Zen is not a word that comes to mind when I reflect back on these classes, they were more like a scene from some war epic where the medics are trying to save a fallen soldier from bleeding out while mortars are exploding all around them. It was during these sessions where I swore that I would NEVER make pâté feuilletée from scratch ever again….nothing was worth that pain in the @$$!
So now you understand my dilemma, yes? I had both sworn to never buy pre-made and to never make puff pastry from scratch again…..so for years I've been living without puff pastry in my kitchen.
Well, that was stupid.
It's been too many years of working without this workhorse of a pastry dough, and I must say I've it missed it terribly. Thank goodness I'm now on the road to recovery, having had a totally satisfactory experience baking with a frozen pastry dough (we used Pepperidge Farm brand, btw). These tasty hand pies provided the perfect excuse to jump back into working with puff pastry again, they are easy, terrific and quite versatile. Who knows, maybe I'll throw caution to the wind and make pâté feuilletée from scratch again soon for you all to see.
But just to be safe….don't hold your breath.
Cheers – Steve
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 cups fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted, or about 12 ounces frozen pitted cherries, unthawed
- 2/3 cup dried cherries
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 14-ounce package all-butter puff pastry (preferably Dufour), thawed in refrigerator
- Flour (for dusting)
- 1 large egg white
- 1 1/2 teaspoon raw sugar
- Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Stir cornstarch and 1 1/2 tablespoons cold water in a small bowl to blend. Combine fresh cherries and next 4 ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cherry juices are released, about 5 minutes. Add cornstarch mixture; bring to a boil, stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
- Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface to an 18x15" rectangle. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut dough into nine 6x5" rectangles. Whisk egg white and 1 tablespoon water in another small bowl for egg wash.
- Working with 1 pastry rectangle at a time, place on a work surface and brush edges with egg wash. Scoop 3 tablespoons cherry mixture onto one side; fold dough over filling so that short ends meet, forming a 5x3" packet. Crimp edges with a fork to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut a few slits in top of pie to vent. Place on prepared baking sheet; repeat with remaining dough and filling.
- Brush tops with egg wash, then sprinkle with raw sugar. Chill for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake pastries until tops and bottoms are golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on baking sheet. Transfer to wire racks; let cool completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Let stand at room temperature.