Back in the days when I was cooking and baking my way through Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” puff pastry was both a challenge and a joy to make. With its crispy, flaky layers and endless versatility, puff pastry is a treasure to have in the freezer.
Originating in France, puff pastry dough is often referred to as Pâte Feuilletée or leafed pastry because it has many leaves or layers. It can be used in countless sweet and savory ways to create quick and easy hors d’oeuvres, main courses and desserts.
You can twist and bake it into cheese straws, use it to top a chicken pot pie, turn it into flaky turnovers filled with jam, or bake it into tarts and pizza. Because of all the folding and rolling of butter and dough, making your own puff pastry requires time and some baking skills.
The good news is that frozen puff pastry has become a supermarket staple, delivering all the glories of puff pastry without all the hours of hard work.
I always keep a box in my freezer to use when I am in the mood to make palmiers (elephant ear cookies) or an apple tart. It’s great for entertaining because most recipes can be assembled in advance and baked just before party time. Plus, your guests will think you are a baking pro.
The box of pastry contains one or two thin flat sheets of dough that will bake into a thousand delicate, buttery layers. Although they are more expensive, I think the best brands are those made with butter: Dufour (sold at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s). Pepperidge Farm’s version contains vegetable shortening.
Before using it, allow the pastry to thaw completely, either overnight in the refrigerator or for 45 minutes at room temperature. Unfold the pastry gently, and to prevent sticking, roll the sheet out on a surface dusted with flour, cinnamon sugar, or grated cheese, depending on whether your recipe is sweet or savory.
Don’t roll out if you are making a pizza or a tart — the pastry needs to be strong enough to support the toppings and stay crisp.
Puff pastry is easiest to work with when it’s cold, so keep whatever you’re not using in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap. If the pastry gets too soft while you’re rolling or cutting it, simply return it to the refrigerator or freezer to firm it up.
If your recipe says to bake the pastry before adding fillings, you’ll want to prick the surface lightly with a fork so the center won’t rise up as much as the edges. To create a raised pastry edge around your filling, use a sharp knife to mark a 1-inch border around the inside of the pastry sheet and be careful not to cut all the way through. Then prick the center of the sheet with a fork so the border will rise up higher than the center.
Line your baking sheets with parchment to prevent sticking. Brush your puff pastry with an egg wash (one large egg lightly beaten with about 1 teaspoon water) to give it sheen and color.
Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart
Adapted from ‘Bring It!’ by Ali Rosen, Running Press ($25)
The most popular pairing with asparagus is Sauvignon blanc, especially those citrusy Sauvignons like Josh Cellars North Coast 2016 ($12.99). The goats’ cheese in the tart accentuates the asparagus-like grassy flavors in the wine. This outstanding tart can be served as a first course or as a perfect accompaniment to grilled meats.
12 ounces puff pastry dough
1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rosemary, finely diced
1/4 cup chopped spring onions (about 3 onions)
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
On a sheet pan lined with parchment paper (or lightly oiled if that is easier for you), spread out the puff pastry dough into a flat rectangle. Line up the asparagus spears side by side, leaving a bit of space on all the outer edges. Sprinkle the goat cheese, salt, rosemary, and spring onions on top. Fold the sides of the pastry dough over the asparagus (it shouldn’t come so far as to cover more than one asparagus).
Place in the oven and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, or until you see the puff pastry browning and the asparagus has cooked.