If your winter parties can use a lift, reach for puff pastry. The dough, which rises spectacularly as thin leaves of delicate pastry, can be used for everything from cocktail nibbles to dessert tarts.
Because tissue-thin layers of dough are spliced with innumerable lines of butter or some other fat to give that signature lift in baking, puff pastry has always seemed hard to make, the province of experienced cooks. No matter. Commercially produced puff pastry offers a neat and easy-to-use base for any number of hors d’oeuvres.
“It allows you to serve something that looks fancy, and you feel you have done something fancy without a ton of effort,” says Chadwick Boyd, a New York City-based food and lifestyle expert who hosts “Reel Food,” those food segments you might see during previews at the movie theater.
Peter Callahan, the New York City caterer and author of “Peter Callahan’s Party Food” (Clarkson Potter, $35), wrote in an email that you should always bake puff pastry at a high temperature and for a short time, so a 450- to 475-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes. “Usually five,” he wrote.
How to use puff pastry for your party? Find recipes below, or try these quick ideas from Callahan:
Parmesan croutons. Cut pastry into 1-inch squares, sprinkle with cheese, bake in a 450- to 475-degree oven. Use to top soup or salads.
Mini pizzas. Cut puff pastry into 2-inch circles or squares, top with your favorite pizza ingredients, bake.
Pain au chocolat. Place your favorite chocolate on a 2-by-3-inch puff pastry rectangle. Roll up, wash with beaten egg, bake until pastry is golden and the chocolate melts.
Just remember what Boyd says: Puff pastry is a “secret weapon to always have in the freezer to put something together for party guests. In 30 minutes you can have something special and nice even with simple ingredients.”
This recipe is adapted from James Beard’s “Hors d’Oeuvre and Canapes.”
1 to 2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
16 cocktail wieners (or slice a larger frankfurter or sausage into 2-inch pieces)
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Roll pastry on a lightly floured surface into an 11-inch square. Use a 2 1/2-inch cookie cutter to cut 16 rounds.
Arrange rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Center a cocktail wiener on each pastry round; fold the pastry over, and press lightly to seal edges. Brush with egg wash.
Bake turnovers in a 425-degree oven until golden, 10 to 15 minutes.
For a dipping sauce, mix the mustards and Worcestershire sauce together in a small bowl. Makes about 16 turnovers.
Carrot Wellington Hors D’oeuvres
This recipe is adapted from “Peter Callahan’s Party Food” (Clarkson Potter, $35) the new cookbook by Peter Callahan.
3 carrots, 8 to 9 inches long and 1-inch diameter, scrubbed, peeled
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
1 sheet store-bought puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place carrots on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, the thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Roast until carrots are lightly caramelized and a bit wrinkled, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, pulse the mushrooms in a food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to a clean dish towel; squeeze to remove as much moisture as possible. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms; season with salt. Cook, stirring, until all the moisture is gone and the mushrooms begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Add the shallot; cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the wine; cook until the liquid evaporates. Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the tarragon. Adjust seasonings. Let cool completely.
Unfold the sheet of puff pastry; roll out into a 9-by-12-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Turn long side toward you. Cut into three equal pieces, each 4-by-9-inches.
Working with one piece at a time, spread 2 tablespoons of mushroom mixture over the surface, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Place a carrot in the center, down the length of the pastry; roll the long edge snugly up and over the carrot. Twist the ends tightly to seal; cut off any excess puff pastry. Repeat with remaining two pieces.
Place Wellingtons on a baking sheet, seam side down. Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon water; brush generously over the pastries. Bake at 425 degrees until golden brown, about 8 minutes.
Using a serrated knife, cut the Wellingtons into 1 inch slices. (There will be some extra at the ends.) Makes about 2 dozen pieces.
Pesto Pistachio Twists
Adapted from a recipe by Chadwick Boyd.
1 jar (7-8 ounces) store-bought basil pesto
1 cup ground pistachios, plus more if desired
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
In a small mixing bowl, mix together the pesto, pistachios, Parmesan and oil.
Lay one sheet of the pastry dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll out into a 12-inch square; slice in half. Using a pastry brush or back of a large spoon, evenly coat one half with the pesto-nut mixture. Lay the second half on top, making sure the edges are even. Brush top with egg wash. Cut through the two layered pieces of pastry into 6-inch long, 1/2-inch wide strips. Twist each strip 4-5 times. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Repeat with second sheet of pastry dough.
Bake in a 425-degree oven 12-15 minutes until golden and slightly crispy on the bottoms and edges. Let rest 5-8 minutes to settle before serving. Makes about 48 twists.