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.


Dacquoise Sandwich Cakes

Dacquoise Sponge Sandwich

Wotchers!

The recipe I have for you this week is more a set of guidelines that can be adapted to whatever takes your fancy or whatever you have to hand in the cupboards.

These individual cakes were inspired by a picture I saw of a Swiss cake, the Zuger Kirchetorte, which looked delightfully neat and elegant, as one might expect of the Swiss. I tried several recipes, but became increasingly frustrated by my own ham-fistedness in reproducing the elegance: the sponge was too thick, or the meringue too thin, or too soft or too fragile. In addition, it had a LOT of alcohol in it, which is nice for a special occasion but a bit much during daylight hours.

So I abandoned that idea for something smaller, which owes its composition to the Zuger Kirchetorte, but is also much more adaptable: you can dress it up or down, depending on whatever is to hand, even improvise with ready-made components if time or patience is short.

Essentially, these individually-sized cakes are sandwiches, with a dacquoise (hazelnut meringue) as the ‘bread’ and sponge cake as the ‘filling’, all stuck together and decorated with the sandwich ‘glue’ of your choice. The look substantial, but are very light to eat.

The possibilities for variation are endless:

  • Meringue: I’ve used a hazelnut dacquoise but you could swap those out for pistachios, almonds, walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts. You could even use plain meringue, or meringue shells from the supermarket. Alongside this, you can choose to flavour the meringues by adding in freeze-dried fruit powder to complement your other ingredients.
  • Sponge: literally any sponge will do, plain vanilla, rich madeira, moist almond, fatless, genoise, joconde, flavoured however you like.
  • Syrup: to make your sponge luscious and tender, you can soak it in a syrup of some kind. If you don’t want to have too many flavours, then a simple sugar syrup of half sugar, half water is fine.  Or you can add flavouring to the syrup such as coffee, tea infusions, fruit juices, spirits such as Kirch, Maraschino, Disaronno, mead, madeira, rum, brandy, etc.
  • Filling: I’ve used a dark chocolate ganache, to be honest, because I had some in the fridge left over from something else, but milk, white and caramelised are all good choices too, as are all flavours of buttercream. For simplicity, you can also use chocolate hazelnut spread, peanut butter (smooth or crunchy), spekuloos spread, even thick, smooth jams or fruit spreads.
  • Garnish: for the outsides of the cake, something that will stick on easily and match your other flavour choices. I chose nibbed and toasted hazelnuts, because I used them in the dacquoise, but you could use flaked or slivered nuts, feuilletine, crumbled biscuits, freeze-dried fruit, chocolate sprinkles, meringue crumbs, chocolate shards.

I used baking rings made from small tinned food tins (5cm diameter tins from mushy peas, in case you’re wondering) opened at both ends, but these quantities will also make one large, 24cm cake if you prefer.

Dacquoise Sandwich Cakes

Makes 8 individual sandwiches or 1 large 24cm cake.

For the Sponge

You can choose your own favourite sponge recipe if preferred. This fatless sponge recipe also happens to be gluten-free.

2 large eggs
60 g of caster sugar
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp hot water
50 g Green & Black’s cocoa
30 g of cornflour

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line your tin(s) with baking parchment. Butter the parchment.
  • Sift the cocoa and cornflour together.
  • Whisk the eggs, sugar, water and salt together over a saucepan of hot water for 3-4 minutes, until light and frothy.
  • Remove from the heat and whisk until billowy and increased in volume (about 5 minutes).
  • Gradually fold in half the cocoa and cornflour, then add the remainder and fold in.
  • Transfer to your tin(s), filling each about half-way.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes (20-25 minutes for a large cake) until firm and springy and slightly shrunk from the sides.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

For the Dacquoise

You can grind the hazelnuts finer, but I like the texture the slightly larger pieces give.

2 large eggwhites (80ml)
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbs cornflour
60 g chopped, toasted hazelnuts

  • Turn the oven to 120°C, 100°C Fan.
  • Draw 16 circles using your baking rings as a guide onto a sheet of parchment, 2 for each sandwich.
  • Turn the paper over and lay onto a baking sheet.
  • Whisk the egg-whites to soft peaks, then sprinkle in the caster sugar and whisk until the meringue is firm and glossy.
  • Sift the icing sugar and cornflour together and fold into the meringue.
  • Sprinkle in the nuts and briefly mix.
  • Spoon the dacquoise onto the prepared baking parchment and spread into the marked circles. Make sure it at least reaches the edges of the circles. It doesn’t have to be too accurate, as they can be trimmed after baking. Smooth over.
  • Bake for 1 hour.
  • Switch off the oven and allow the meringues to cool in the oven for 15 minutes, then prop the oven door open and allow to cool completely.
  • When cold, remove from the parchment and store in a ziplock bag until required.

For the Ganache

300g plain dark chocolate
150ml double cream

  • Chop the chocolate into small pieces.
  • Pour the cream into a small pan and bring to a boil.
  • Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and set aside for 5 minutes.
  • Stir gently with a whisk until the chocolate is fully melted and the ganache smooth and glossy.

For the syrup

50g caster sugar
50ml water
flavouring to suit

  • Put the sugar and water into a small pan and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved.
  • Add any flavouring to taste.

To Assemble

  • Select the eight meringues with the smoothest bases and set aside. These will be used for the top of the sandwiches, for a neat finish.
  • Put the remaining meringues on a tray and spoon over a layer of ganache.
  • Trim the cakes level and set onto the ganache.
  • Soak with the sugar syrup. It’s almost impossible to use too little. You can see from the photograph the syrup I used only soaked a little way into the sponge, so more is better.
  • Add a second layer of ganache.
  • Add the remaining meringues, turning them upside down, so that the smooth bases are uppermost.
  • Sprinkle your decor into a tray.
  • Spread the remaining ganache in a smooth layer around the sides of the sandwiches then roll in your chosen decoration. Set aside. If you’ve made one large cake, then hold your cake on one hand and lift up handfuls of your decoration and press into the sides.
  • When all the sandwiches are coated, transfer to a dish and cover with clingfilm. This will keep the meringues from absorbing too much moisture.
  • Chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours to firm up.
  • When ready to serve, dust the tops liberally with icing sugar and use a hot skewer to caramelise the sugar in an abstract design.

Tomato Soup and a Toasted Sandwich

Tomato soup & Toasted Sandwich

Wotchers!

Simplicity is the order of the day with today’s post – the ultimate comfort food of tomato soup and a toasted sandwich. But just because it is simple, doesn’t mean there should be any compromise on flavour, and these recipes have maximum flavour with minimum fuss. Not as minimum as opening a tin, I grant you, but for just five active minutes of your time, this soup can be supped in just under an hour and is so simple, after the first time you won’t need to refer to the recipe ever again.

But do keep coming back to the blog, because I’d miss you otherwise!

Tomato Soup

This soup is extremely low in fat, gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan.

Tomato Soup and Oatcakes

Tomato Soup and Oatcakes – on a less gloomy day than the top photo!

Makes approx. 1.5 litres

2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes – Aldi ‘Sweet Harvest’ are best for colour/flavour/value
2tbs vegetable oil
1 onion
3tbs concentrated tomato paste
1 litre vegetable stock or water + bouillon
1 large potato to make 300g once peeled/cubed
salt & pepper to taste.

  • Pour the chopped tomatoes onto a shallow ovenproof fish and spread out into a thin layer.
  • Place in the oven and turn the heat to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, stirring thoroughly after 15 minutes, or until no excess liquid is visible.
  • While the tomatoes are baking, peel and chop the onion.
  • Add the oil to a saucepan, then add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. The object is to concentrate the flavour through evaporation, without allowing the onion to caramelise.
  • When the tomatoes are done, scrape them into the saucepan with the onion, and add the tomato paste, stock and cubed potato.
  • Cover and simmer on medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until the potato is cooked.
  • Use a stick blender to puree the soup.
  • Rub through a fine-meshed sieve for extra smoothness.
  • Return to the pan and warm through.
  • Taste & add salt and pepper as liked.

Variations

  • Add garlic: peel up to 6 cloves of garlic and toss them in the oil. Lift out and stir into the tomatoes to roast in the oven.
  • Spice it up: red pepper flakes, cayenne, paprika or herbs such as rosemary or basil.
  • Crunch time: Make some sippets by dicing bread into 1cm cubes and either frying them in a pan with oil or bake in the oven until crisped and brown.
  • Meatify me! : Make some little meatballs from beef or lamb mince, fry them in a pan, drain on kitchen roll and add to each bowl before serving.
  • Creamy: Add a little double cream or creme fraiche if liked, but in all honesty, it doesn’t need it.
  • Fast Forward: If you need this even more quickly, this can be ready in as little as half the time. Once the tomatoes are in the oven, put everything else in the saucepan and simmer while the tomatoes bake. When the tomatoes are ready, stir everything together and blitz smooth.

Toasted Sandwiches

Regular listeners will recall that over the winter I was without my oven, which included the grill I used for making toast. Yes, my kitchen is so small, I can’t afford to sacrifice the counter space for a toaster. So I used this method to make toast in a large non-stick pan, which makes delicious and perfect toast if you are prepared to wait the 10 minutes it takes to brown.

More usually, I use this method for toasted sandwiches because kitchen….small….no counter space…..etc, etc. but also because the toasted sandwiches it make are so much nicer than the ones I see made elsewhere AND it gives me a chance to have a bit of a rant, so here goes.

  • Butter on the outside of the bread.
    So greasy, and so messy too. I mean come on, people, we’re living in the 21st century with all its wonderful technological advances and more kitchen gadgetry than you could shake a stick at, which includes non-stick pans! There’s simply no need to go slathering on great schmears of butter on every available bread surface. Lay a slice of bread in a dry non-stick pan over heat, and it will brown, no fat needed.
  • Squished bread
    Whether by panini press or, if you’re old like me/in the UK/ both, by those electric sandwich makers, I’m just not a fan of bread being compressed and then welded together by melted cheese the temperature of LAVA. If you need industrial equipment to force your sandwich down to a manageable height for your mouth, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Squished fillings
    I like to savour every one of the additions to my melty cheese sandwich filling, which is tricky to do when it is squirting out the sides from being squished by some gadget.

The good news is, you don’t have to suffer any of the above with my patent-pending, counter-space-saving, practically-foolproof method of toasty sammich creation! The outsides of the sandwich are crisp, browned and free from grease and the insides are warm and melty. And so without further ado, on with the method!

The Non-Gadget Toasty Sammich Method

  • Put a clean, dry non-stick pan on medium-low heat to warm up.
  • Take 2 slices of your bread.  Now it can be artisinal sourdough, or pre-sliced from a bag, no judgement here. This method will work beautifully with all types of bread.
  • Lay one slice on something that will help you transfer the sandwich to the pan – a palette knife if your balance skills are good, a cake lifter if they’re not.
  • Add a layer of butter onto the bread (optional). You can use other things such as mayonnaise or chutney if you prefer.
  • Whatever cheese you’re using, add half in a layer over the bread. Either cut it in thin slices or dice it in 5mm cubes. The smaller/thinner the cheese pieces, the more easily they will melt.
  • Add any additional flavourings. Purists maintain there is only ever cheese in a toasty cheese sammich (see top photo) but I am of the opinion that cheese is merely compulsory, not exclusive. There are some suggestions below for fillings that pair well with tomato soup. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
  • Finish with the rest of your cheese. When this double layer of cheese melts, it will gently cradle the rest of your sandwich ingredients and hold them together so that your sandwich doesn’t fall apart, even when cut.
  • Add the final piece of bread, buttered or not, as you like, and press down gently.
  • Transfer the sandwich to the pan.
  • To help melt the cheese effectively, cover your sandwich with a lid, preferably one that doesn’t press down upon the sandwich itself. If you non-stick pan has a lid, then use that. Personally, I use a lid from a small saucepan that sits snugly over the whole sandwich but is deep enough not to compress it. Ensuring the cheese is mostly melted before you turn the sandwich will help keep your filling where it is supposed to be – inside the sandwich. A lid will trap the heat underneath, effectively making a little oven and help to melt the cheese faster.
  • When the underside of your sandwich is browned, (depending on the heat of your pan, around 5 minutes), slide under your utensil of choice and gently turn it over. If the cheese is melted, then you can leave off the lid, which will also keep the toasted top of the sandwich from becoming soggy through trapped moisture.
  • Toast for a further 5 minutes until the underside is browned, then lift out of the pan.
  • Cut your sandwich with either a pizza wheel, or with a sharp, serrated knife: don’t saw at it, make a sharp, forward-and-downward motion with the knife. You can see from the picture below, how beautifully crisp, dry and unsquished the toast is, and how the filling is melted but still held between the bread.
Toasted cheese sandwiches

Smoked Brunswik Ham, Apple & Vintage Cheddar on Overnight Bread (L), Allinson Wholemeal Sliced Bread with Cheese & Brine Pickles (R)

Sandwich Suggestions

  • Overnight Bread, vintage cheddar. If you’re in the UK, I can recommend (black pack) Collier’s Welsh cheddar, Wyke Farms Vintage cheddar (in a green pack) or a newly-discovered favourite Welsh slate-cavern aged cheddar from South Caernarfon Creameries, available at Sainsbury’s deli counters.
  • Overnight Bread, diced Brunswick Ham, thinly-sliced Jaz/Braeburn apple, vintage cheddar.
  • Sliced wholemeal bread, mix of finely diced mature cheddar  & Gouda, thinly-sliced pickled cucumbers/gherkins. NB For best results, be sure they are brined and not in vinegar.
  • Bacon or Bacon Jam, mature cheddar, de-seeded, diced tomato (not pictured).
  • Cheese and chutney (not pictured).