Puff Pastry Ideas

There’s a concept in aesthetics called The Uncanny Valley, where a person’s affinity for human replicas increases up to a point, then demonstrates a sharp drop as the lifeless lifelikeness becomes unsettling.

Eddie Izzard has a similar concept in his Circle of Cool: if you’re not careful you can end up circling too far round and you start looking like a d*ckhead.
Circle of Cool

I have my own version regarding food. I haven’t got a name for it yet, but I know it when I see it. In Izzard terms, you have average looking food, nice looking food, tempting looking food, aaaaaaand then we tip over into offputting: Example 1, Example 2, Example 3.

Banoffi Pie versions are especially guilty. It’s not a complicated dessert, it’s a pastry shell, caramel filling, banana, coffee cream.

“Oh but what if I just make the base out of crushed digestives, or, no, hang on, chocolate digestives!? Mixed with sugar. And butter, of course. And then make it sweetened whipped cream on the top, or maybe replace it altogether with a layer of chocolate ganache, with a little drizzle of chocolate sauce, and a bit of caramel sauce as well, and then sprinkle some…”

So yes. You don’t need to throw a hundred things at a dish to make it taste nice. Sometimes less really is more.

Which brings me on to this week’s post. Puff Pastry. Aaaaand that’s pretty much it. A bit of sugar, but basically it’s just a celebration of the simple pleasure of puff pastry: the crispness, the flakiness, the buttery crunch. You don’t need a lot else. The classic French patisserie item of Palmiers is precisely this, and they have retained their popularity for decades. I’ve decided to look at what you can do with a batch of puff pastry. And by batch I mean a roll of pre-rolled puff pastry from the supermarket.

*gasps and clutches pearls* You know you were going to do it – I thought I’d get in there first.

Make it yourself by all means. Have at it. Fill your boots. Me? I’m too busy and life is too short. Oh,  I’ve made puff pastry myself in the past, and no doubt will make it again in the future, but there are no medals going for three days work – yes, three days, because if you were going to make it from scratch you’d want to make it properly, wouldn’t you? And I can’t be doing with ingredient snobbery. You’ll find no organic/free-range/grass-fed commandments on this blog – that choice is between you, your bank balance and your family. It’s none of my business and I wouldn’t dream of preaching. All the pastries you’re going to see in this post were made with supermarket puff pastry. And not even the all-butter one! And yes they are delicious.

So, ranting aside, with a little imagination, you can celebrate the glorious layering of puff pastry in a number of ways by baking it in shapes that take advantage of the way it transforms in the oven. Each of the following can be enjoyed as is, in the manner of palmiers, but you can also add just a couple of ingredients to dress them up: fresh fruit, whipped cream, icing sugar, ice-cream.

The designs that lie flat (toasts, fans) have slight differences between each side and can be used with the reverse side showing if a level surface is required. The shapes involving twists in the pastry are best displayed as cooked.

  • To make Toasts and Bows, click HERE
  • To make Fans 1, click HERE
  • To make Fans 2, Twists and Butterflies, click HERE
  • To make Flowers, click HERE

I’d love to hear how you get on, if you’d like to pop back and leave a comment, but no pressure.

Most importantly – have fun!


Puff Pastry Flowers

Puff Pastry Flower

These are fairly straightforward to make, involving only a little manipulation once on the baking sheet in order to arrange the ‘petals’. They can be made any size you wish, however the smaller they are, the more fiddley they are to handle.

Also, a word of caution, be sure you cut them the correct way, because if you make a mistake with your initial cut, and cut the wrong edge, the petals fail to be formed and it ruins the entire batch. So, no pressure.

You will need:
1 roll of puff pastry – chilled
caster sugar

  1. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  3. Sprinkle the work surface with caster sugar.
  4. Unroll the puff pastry and lay it onto the sugar.
  5. Sprinkle more caster sugar over the pastry.
  6. Use a rolling pin over the pastry to press the sugar into both sides.
  7. You can make the flowers any size. I suggest starting with pastry that is 20cm wide.
  8. Fold the pastry in half lengthways (to determine the middle) then fold each long side into the centre.
  9. Fold the pastry in half widthways (to determine the middle) then fold each short side into the centre.
  10. Fold the short sides into the middle again, to close the pastry up like a book.
  11. With the folded pastry facing you like a book, with the rounded side to the left and the side with two folds to the right, cut of the right-hand edges and discard.
  12. Cut 1cm thick slices and lay them flat on the baking parchment, with the cut edges upwards.
  13. Press the middle together slightly, then flip one of the ends around forming a twist.
  14. Spread out each ‘petal’ of pastry until they are evenly spaced.
  15. Bake for 12-14 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 7 minutes to ensure even colouring. Don’t be tempted to take the bows out too early – they need to be nicely caramelised.
  16. Cool on a wire rack.

These can be served as they are, or alongside something creamy like fruit fool or syllabub, so the petals can be broken off and dipped into.


Puff Pastry Fans, Twists and Butterflies

I’ve listed these three designs together because they are all initially made with the same method, varying only with how the cut slices of pastry are subsequently treated.

Puff Pastry Fans showing upper side (top) and underneath (bottom)

 

Puff Pastry Twists (top) and Butterflies (bottom)

You will need:
1 roll of puff pastry – chilled
caster sugar

  1. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  3. Sprinkle the work surface with caster sugar.
  4. Unroll the puff pastry and lay it onto the sugar.
  5. Sprinkle more caster sugar over the pastry.
  6. Use a rolling pin over the pastry to press the sugar into both sides.
  7. Roll out the pastry until it measures 60cm lengthways.
  8. Starting at one end, fold over 5cm, then continue to roll/fold the rest of the pastry until the entire length has been gathered in.
  9. The pastry will end up looking similar to this:
  10. Cut thin (5mm) slices and lay them onto the parchment, cut side facing upwards. Leave a 2cm gap between each slice.
  11. Cut off the end of each slice so that the folded pastry can open out into a fan shape during baking. For each line of fans, arrange the slices so that the cut ends are alternate, as in the diagram below. this will allow for the shapes to open up evenly and not become misshapen if they happen ro spread a little too far.
  12. To make the twists, slightly press the centre of a cut slice together, then turn the un-cut end around 180° to form the twist.
  13. To make the butterflies, cut and remove both ends of a slice and then form a twist as above.
  14. Bake for 12-14 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 7 minutes to ensure even colouring. Don’t be tempted to take the fans/twists/butterflies out too early – they need to be nicely caramelised.
  15. Cool on a wire rack.

Variations

  • You can obviously make these as big as you like, it merely involves rolling the pastry long enough and/or varying the size of the first fold of the pastry, but these are a nice, dainty size, perfect for enjoying with a cup of tea or coffee.
  • You can also sandwich them together with a little smooth jam, preserve or conserve, or use them in place of wafers for an ice-cream sandwich.
  • Another option is to combine them with some fruit and cream, for a delicate dessert pastry.


Puff Pastry Fans

Five piece fans showing top sides (top) and undersides (bottom)

You will need:
1 roll of puff pastry – chilled
caster sugar

  1. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  3. Sprinkle the work surface with caster sugar.
  4. Unroll the puff pastry and lay it onto the sugar.
  5. Sprinkle more caster sugar over the pastry.
  6. Use a rolling pin over the pastry to press the sugar into both sides.
  7. Measure the length of your pastry and divide into three pieces, as per the image below:If your pastry is longer, you can make the pieces larger if liked – For example, for pastry 30cm long you can divide it into pieces 6cm, 12cm & 12cm.
  8. Fold the small piece in half lengthways. Fold the larger pieces in half lengthways (to determine the middle), then fold each of the long sides into the middle. Assemble the pieces as follows:
  9. Cut the pastry into 1cm thick slices and lay onto the parchment, cut sides upwards and spaced well apart to allow for expansion during cooking.
  10. Bake for 12-14 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 7 minutes to ensure even colouring. Don’t be tempted to take the fans out too early – they need to be nicely caramelised.
  11. Cool on a wire rack.

Variations

  • You can obviously make these as big as you like, it merely involves rolling the pastry long enough or using multiple sheets of pastry, but these are a nice, dainty size, perfect for enjoying with a cup of tea or coffee.
  • You can also sandwich them together with a little smooth jam, preserve or conserve, or use them in place of wafers for an ice-cream sandwich.
  • Another option is to combine them with a differently-shaped base, some fruit and cream, for a delicate dessert pastry. In the photograph I have used the slightly larger fan design described here.


Puff Pastry Toasts and Bows

Toasts and Bows are made from the same preparation of the pastry, so you can make both and arrange them in several combinations to create variation.

Toasts

Puff Pastry Toasts underside(L) and top side (R)

You will need:
1 roll of puff pastry – chilled
caster sugar

  1. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  3. Sprinkle the work surface with caster sugar.
  4. Unroll the puff pastry and lay it onto the sugar.
  5. Sprinkle more caster sugar over the pastry.
  6. Use a rolling pin over the pastry to press the sugar into both sides.
  7. Cut the pastry into four even strips of around 10cm in width.
  8. Stack the strips on top of one another and press together lightly.
  9. Cut thin (5mm) slices and lay two slices close together to form 1 toast, cut edges upwards.
  10. Bake for 12-14 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 7 minutes to ensure even colouring. Don’t be tempted to take the toasts out too early – they need to be nicely caramelised.
  11. Cool on a wire rack.

Bows

Bows

Follow instructions 1-8 above, then:

  1.  Cut 1cm thick slices and lay them flat on the baking parchment, with the cut edges upwards.
  2. Press the middle together slightly, then flip one of the ends around forming a twist.
  3. Bake for 12-14 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 7 minutes to ensure even colouring. Don’t be tempted to take the bows out too early – they need to be nicely caramelised.
  4. Cool on a wire rack.

Serving Suggestions

  • Toasts can be enjoyed stuck together with jam or used instead of wafers for an ice-cream sandwich.
  • For decoration, lay a strip of paper diagonally across the top of the toast or bow, and then sprinkle over icing sugar. Carefully remove the paper to reveal the nice contrast between the browned pastry and the white sugar.
  • Add a little fresh fruit and whipped cream to turn these into speedy and delicious desserts. Use a bow on top of a toast for an unusual and eye-catching combination.


Blackcurrant and Basil Tart

Blackcurrant & Basil Tart

Wotchers!

In food, there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s really difficult to be original. Whatever blinding flash of inspiration you think you’ve had, I promise you that it has been done before; usually better, sometimes worse. If it hasn’t been done before, then that’s usually a good indication that it’s not such a great idea (i.e. it was done before and discarded because it wasn’t fab at all). If it was fab, we’d have heard about it in the last 5000 years. This goes for top-level chefs as well as for the humblest baker.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with tweaking a recipe and putting your own spin on it. Tweak it enough and then you can claim it as your own (and acknowledge the inspirational recipe, but it’s surprising how many people seem to forget this bit).

Example: Ian Dowding and the invention of Banoffi Pie. Except, of course, he didn’t invent it, he readily admits that it evolved by adding bananas to a recipe for Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie brought back from the US by Russell the chef, with whom Dowding worked in a restaurant in Berkshire. Read all about it here.

And so to this week’s recipe. I recently watched an episode of a food show from the US and one of the items shown was a Goat’s Cheese and Blueberry Pie with fresh basil. I liked the unusual combination and re-watched the clip several times in order to jot down what looked like the quantities/ingredients. It took a couple of tries to get the sweetness and texture right, and my overall verdict was: No. The goats cheese was odd. The tart lacked zing. The fresh blueberries were OK, but had no pop of flavour, and so I set my notes aside.

Until I had a brain wave a couple of weeks ago with: blackcurrants! I resurrected my notes and swapped in blackcurrants for blueberries and it was amazing (she said modestly). The fresh basil is very reminiscent of the aroma of blackcurrant leaves and the amazingly tart pop of flavour from the berries was just what had been missing from the original. After guarded compliments from friends after the first attempt, I swapped the goats cheese for cream cheese and found I didn’t miss the lack of tang at all. – it was creamy, but not so dense as to push it into cheesecake territory (although it’s close!). Disliking unnecessary waste, the surplus egg-white from the filling ended  up in the topping, along with butter instead of margarine, which all made for a crunchy variation to the original. Finally, there was a need to balance out the basil: the boldness of the blackcurrant flavour meant a larger quantity was needed in order for it not to be lost in the background whilst avoiding being too heavy handed and tipping it over into a borderline savoury tart. Luckily, the perfect amount was almost exactly the quantity of leaves you get in a 28g pack of fresh basil in the supermarkets.

Interesting Fact: I read recently that blackcurrant is, for the most part, an unknown flavour in the US, due to a ban in the early 20th century when it was thought to harbour a disease harmful to the logging industry. All  can say is: you’re missing out, my friends across the water, and it’s high time you invested in blackcurrant bushes in order to enjoy all the wonderful things you can do with them. Exhibit A: this pie! If you’re lucky, you will be abe to find frozen berries in your supermarkets and farm shops until your bushes bear fruit themselves.

So yes, I did not conjure this fabulous tart up out of thin air, I evolved it from something else. That doesn’t mean it’s not fabulous and you should all rush out and get some blackcurrants immediately.  If nothing else, for the vitamin C, doncherknow.

“But  where!? It’s March!” I hear you wail. If you’re not lucky enough to have some in your own freezer from the bounty of last summer, then (in the UK) some supermarkets have them in the frozen fruit section. You can also find them in farm shops that have large chest freezers, alongside other berries and fruits in a kind of scoop-your-own setup.

I’ve opted for a pastry crust, but you could just as easily use a cheesecake-like, biscuit-and-butter crumb instead. Fresh basil is a must – don’t even think of trying to fudge it with dried.

It goes without saying – but I shall say it anyway – that, obviously, you can sub back in all the stuff I took out and try it for yourselves and make it YOUR own. 😀

Blackcurrant and Basil Tart

1 x 20cm shortcrust pastry case, blind baked (or biscuit base of your choice)

Filling
300g cream cheese, room temperature
1 large egg
1 large yolk
60g caster sugar
2tbs cornflour
15g fresh basil leaves, shred finely (from a 28g bunch/pack)
300g blackcurrants – frozen is fine

Topping
50g caster sugar
1 large egg white
50g flaked almonds
50g melted butter – cooled

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Whisk the cheese until smooth, then add the egg, yolk, sugar and cornflour and mix thoroughly.
  • Stir through the shredded basil and the blackcurrants. The blackcurrants can be used frozen, just make sure they’re not all stuck together in a big lump.
  • Pour the filling into the prepared tart case.
  • Whisk the sugar and egg-white together, until frothy, then stir through the almonds. Add the cooled butter and mix thoroughly.
  • Pour the topping evenly over the filling.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes until almost set, and the topping is golden brown. Allow to cool, then chill thoroughly before serving.

In case you missed it:

This week on DejaFood.uk: A super quick, fruity Soda Cake from 1835


Carrot and Parsnip Tart

Golden Root Vegetable Tart

Wotchers!

I’ve decided to go all autumnal this week with this comforting, root vegetable tart. It was inspired by a recipe from 1604 for parsnip pie.

It can make the basis of a light lunch or be served as an accompaniment to a main meal.

Its simple flavours are enriched by generous use of butter, with which both carrots and parsnips become glorious. And by generous, I mean about 50g, less than two ounces in old money, so hardly extravagent either budget or health-wise.

And yes, I’ve hopped onto the current ‘spiral tart’ craze to provide the impressive appearance, but I would argue that it is only a development of the apple rose tart, so neeners!

Like the apple rose tart, and unlike most of the current crop of spiral tarts, this tart also has a filling beneath the decorative vegetable ribbons – the remains of the vegetables carved up for the decoration are steamed and then mashed together with lashings of butter and pepper. They give the tart both substance and richness.

Equipment Recommendation
I don’t usually mention cooking equipment, mostly because my kitchen is too small to have much of anything, but I heartily recommend this kind of saucepan set:

steamer saucepan set

The top two tiers are steamer pans, over a regular saucepan. You can cook all the side dishes for a Sunday lunch in this – potatoes in the bottom and up to four vegetables in the steamer baskets – at the same time, on one burner/ring on the stove, removing the baskets from the stack as the contents are done. I use mine daily.

Other vegetables you might like to try with this recipe: beetroot, turnip, swede, butternut squash, courgette.

Carrot and Parsnip Tart

1 x 20cm partially blind-baked shortcrust pastry tart shell
5 large parsnips
5 large carrots
50g butter
salt & pepper

  • Peel the carrots and parsnips, then cut into ribbons. I find a Y-shaped peeler is best for this.
  • Cook the ribbons in a steamer basket over boiling water for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  • Chop the remains of the vegetables into cubes and steam over the boiling water until tender. The parsnips will probably require more cooking than the carrots, so have them in separate steamer baskets so you can remove them when done. Even though they will be mashed, you don’t want them mushy.
  • Mash the cooked vegetables together. Don’t be too thorough with your mashing – it’s nice to be able to see flecks of both vegetables in the mix, and it gives a mottled, almost marbling effect. Add 30g of the butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
  • When cold, spoon the mashed vegetables into the tart shell and smooth over.
  • Arrange the ribbons of vegetables in alternating circles on top. You can begin in the middle or on the edges of the tart.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Melt the remaining butter and brush lightly over the top of the vegetable ribbons.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, then cover lightly with a foil tent to prevent the vegetable ribbons from burning, and bake for a further 10 minutes.
  • Cool in the tin for 10 mintes before removing and serving.