I’m a big fan of puff pastry.  I love making it from scratch – I know, some people don’t – but I do, go figure! The texture of the raw dough, the butter, the dimples on the folds to tell you exactly where you are in the process, therapeutic and relaxing.  If you have not made it but fear it, don’t.  It’s just a long process but mostly because of the resting time between folds.  But this isn’t an article on making puff pastry, rather it is an article on what to do with the finished product.

In my opinion this is one of the most diverse products you can find and one of the few that even seasoned Chef’s agree, that it is okay to use a “quality” premade product.  For me, it’s the PC brand of Puff Pastry.  I know what you are thinking, but I was using this brand way before I became a Chef and started teaching in the PC Cooking Schools.  It is my “go to” product and you can look in my freezer at any time and find at least 2 packages of this product there.

Why I like it? First and most important, it is made with real butter, most of the other brands are not. Second, it is pre-rolled, and comes with wax paper – a bonus, this means you can fill the product while on the wax paper and just slide it onto a baking sheet when you are done.  No fuss, no muss!  I remember when we used to buy the block of puff pastry, thaw it out and then roll it to desired thickness awaiting use. My mum thought me how to roll the pastry, even with her arthritic laden hands, it always came out perfect when she rolled it. Me? Well lets just say I’m glad it comes pre-rolled.

What can you do with it?  Fill it with anything from fruit to meat, sweet or savory.  Be creative with your fillings.  Whenever I have left over roast beef/chicken/pork or fish, I will usually give the meat a 1/2″ dice and add it to caramelized onions and Thai chillies, a bit of salt and pepper.  That’s it.  Remember your meat/fish is already seasoned and cooked so it will already be flavorful.  The caramelized onions – well what can I say – delicious. You can also make and keep these unbaked in your freezer for months. Remove from the oven, paint with egg wash, and bake from frozen – 400F for 15 – 17 minutes. You want the pastry golden brown and flaky (no need to thaw them out).

Make patties out of the pastry.  Cut the pastry in half (if using PC brand).  Fill the bottom third of one of the pieces with your filling leaving a 1/2 inch border at the bottom, wet the edges slightly with water and fold the other half on top.  Seal and crimp with a fork (more decorative really), brush with egg wash and bake. For fancier crusts, sprinkle the egg washed pastry with sea salt and cracked black pepper or reggiano, then bake.

My favorite thing to do with these is a seasonal tart – more often than not, apple. I always throw other fruit in the filling – grapes cut in half, sliced peaches or plums, even dried currants that have been soaked for 15 minutes or so. Possibilities are endless. The tart can be free form – much like a galette or more structured like a strudel. For sweet tarts, I prefer to use cream instead of egg wash and I always sprnkle the top with coarse sugar (but in a pinch, regular sugar will also do). As for the filling – here we go, make it tasty! Remember – taste, season and taste again. Add spices such as cinnamon and/or nutmeg to the filling, always use some brown sugar (or white) and lemon juice to taste. Lots of other combinations, too many to mention. You could also cook your fruit for a few minutes – but only if it is hard – I sometimes do this with apples or pears that are harder in texture. A tab of butter in the bottom of the pan to start the process doesn’t hurt either. Don’t overcook your fruit, you want to see apples, not apple sauce, in the filling. Although if some of the fruit is mushy, that’s okay.

A trick I’ve been using for a very long time is to crumble some neutral tasting cookies i.e. lady fingers, into the filling. This helps the bottom crust bake more evenly by absorbing the juices released while baking. You could use cornstarch or flour as well, but if you can add another level of taste and texture to your tart, well why not! More recently, I’ve used crumbled pieces of cake to absorb any of the juices released from the cooking fruit. Just spread the cake pieces on top of the pastry, then put your fruit and any juices (but not too much) on top.

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