By Bill Daley

Chicago Tribune

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.”

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