Puff Pastry - a pastry dough containing many alternating layers of butter and dough or the light flaky pastry made from it.
Courtesy: Merriam Webster dictionary
And that is one store bought item that every aspiring and already-there home chef should have on reserve in the freezer. It is one of THE most versatile base ingredients contributing to many a sweet or savory dish. At a whim, I can bake up an appetizer or dessert or even an soup and entree, as my fancy leads me. And the best part is that it is readily (and cheaply) available at any grocery store.
I am usually one of those "from-first-principles" people when it comes to the kitchen. The idea of slaving over a lovely meal from scratch is a total turn-on for me! (And with that confession, I have completed my metamorphosis into the homely house-wife. Ouch!). Anyway, even to me, there are some items that are better bought and used at will.
The attributes that tilt the favor from scratch to store are -
1. It should be a laborious process make it at home.
2. It should be somewhat ingredient intensive. (in this case, the amount of butter which I would feel very guilty in adding myself. Ignorance is truly Bliss!)
3. It should be economically advantageous to buy than make.
4. Very importantly, it should taste same or better than made at home.
The puff pastry sheet satisfies all these constraints and has now become a permanent member of the freezer committee and is positioned right next to the Kawan chappatis. Other such items that come to mind are graham cracker pie crusts, pie sheets, dosa batter, gulab jamun mix etc.
The first time I saw this sheet, it brought back memories of the chicken and egg puffs from back home (Adyar bakery in Chennai rocks!). So puffs were the first thing I made with the sheet. They came out perfect and I experimented with other fillings. Ever since, I have moved on to other and more sophisticated uses for it.
Anyway, extending on the store vs scratch philosophy, I decided to make something that was completely semi-home cooked; meaning, store bought, assembled at home and cooked to perfection.
Enter brie, berry jam (already at home), almonds (also ever present) and the venerable pastry sheet. I gift wrapped the cheese, jam and nuts with the puff pastry and baked it. Out came a golden gift basket filled with nutty-sweet goodness! All of this took just 45 minutes and we relished the treat over the rest of the evening. Served on crackers or eaten just as is, each bite brings with it a burst of flavors from the berry and nut filling smoothed over by the creamy cheese! Yumm!
By the way, the idea of brie en croute is generic. So the actual filling can be twisted as per your taste. Ofcourse, the cheese still remains brie (after all, some allegiance to the name :) ). But, you can choose the flavor of brie too. We prefer the milder versions at home, so it does not overpower the other flavors. The stuffing can be savory like mushrooms or eggplant or lobster or even some fresh fruits like apples, peaches etc.
Another favorite semi-home cooked nibble item made with puff pastry is Prosciutto Pinwheels. All you need are some puff pastry, prosciutto slices, basil and grated parmesano-reggiano. Voila! They are perfect finger food for an evening of entertainment. You can keep popping them in and enjoy the combination of the salty, cured meat enhanced by the nuttiness of the cheese and the freshness of basil wrapped in a cool pastry!
There are so many great dishes that you can put together with little work by just creatively integrating store-bought items into your own recipes. It saves a lot of time and everybody thinks you are a simply fantastic cook!
Brie En Croute
1 sheet puff pastry
1 (8 oz) wheel of Brie
1/2 cup toasted almonds (sliced or whole)
1/2 berry preserves or any jam of choice
1 T brown sugar
Preheat over to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, defrost pastry sheet till completely thawed out. Roll it out on to a well floured surface and with a rolling pin extend the sheet about an inch on all four sides.
Shave away the top and bottom rinds of the brie and place it in the center of the sheet. Arrange the preserves over the brie and pile on the nuts. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the assembly. Gather up the edges of the brie, pressing around the brie and gather at the top. Gently squeeze together the excess dough and tie together with a piece of kitchen twine. Brush the beaten egg over top and side of Brie.
Bake the Brie for 20 minutes until pastry is golden all over. Serve on crackers or slices as is.
Note: When you choose the filling, make sure that it is not runny. Puff pastry expands while baking and any liquid inside tends to heat up and leak out of the pastry.