By Bill Daley
If your parties can use a lift, reach for some 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 difficult to make, the province of experienced cooks and not to be attempted by amateurs.
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? Check out the following recipes, 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.”
Prep: 30 minutes; Bake: 12-15 minutes; makes 16 turnovers
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 TBS Dijon mustard
1 tsp dry mustard
1⁄4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Roll pastry on a lightly floured surface into an 11-inch square. Use a 2 ½-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.
— Adapted from James Beard’s “Hors d’Oeuvre and Canapes.”
Pesto Pistachio Twists
Prep: 30 minutes
Bake: 12-15 minutes
Makes about 48 twists
1 jar (7-8 oz) store-bought basil pesto
1 C ground pistachios, plus more if desired
1⁄2 C grated Parmesan cheese
1 to 2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste
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 before serving.
— Adapted from a recipe by Chadwick Boyd