Do you need the best puff pastry recipe ideas?
Are you ready for some party food? Bonus if it’s easy AND impressive. When I was a kid, puff pastry meant party food. My mom would pull out her Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks (we owned the Joy of Cooking, but BH&G was more in sync with the contents of our suburban, midwestern grocery store, circa 1980), and get to work. Having both studied and taught French, she had traveled widely in France, and I think dishes with a little puff pastry were reminiscent for her.
My mom has always had a sweet tooth, so while you can easily make cheese straws, pigs in a blanket, or other savory treats she would always veer toward the desserts. Baked off and layered with strawberries and whipped cream. Or perhaps with some chocolate mousse. And there were frequently sweet breakfast pastries (admittedly many of them coming pre-assembled in the freezer section as more and more new products emerged.).
Fast forward to early 2021. Life exists on Zoom. So to travel without traveling (something I have been doing for years as an autism mom!), a friend from high school books us a class to learn how to make pastel de nata – live with Ines, a woman in her kitchen in Lisbon, Portugal. A true silver lining of the pandemic, these transportive experiences helped break up the monotony, and allowed you to learn recipes with your own oven and tools- meaning they are easier to recreate once the meeting has ended.
If you watch any of the competitive baking shows, like the quintessential The Great British Baking Show (The Great British Bake-Off in the UK, a name that has been disallowed in the US by the folks at Pillsbury), you may have seen the judges and contestants refer to “rough puff” versus “full puff” pastry.
Rough puff pastry typically involved grating cold butter into the dough to incorporate it, whereas full puff pastry involves layering the dough with a slab of butter, and then folding and rolling the dough in a process known as lamination. The process results in a flaky dough that bakes up into many layers.
Though I enjoy the show and watch it frequently, I admit to being a bit intimidated at the prospect of making puff pastry from scratch. I was more than content to stick with the box, like my mom always did.
Think Outside the Box
And then there was Ines. Ines did not really make it clear until we were well underway that what we were making was the formerly intimidating dough. We just jumped right in. And I encourage you to as well – having made this recipe several times now, I have seen that it is remarkably forgiving.
Butter oozing out in various odd spots? Just fold it over and pop the entire thing in the fridge. (Bonus tip: place your pastry mat or parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet to allow you to chill the entire batch easily)
Awkwardly shaped on that roll out? Just tuck in the edges, rotates it and roll it again.
And while her purpose (and mine) is to encourage you to make a delightful vessel for the eggy custard of pastel de nata, the dough can be used for any of these easy puff pastry applications.
5 Ways with Puff Pastry:
Simply slice the chilled dough (after step 4) into long strips. Grate on some parmesan or other aged cheese and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Twist each “straw” as you lay it on the baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes at 425 degrees.
Pear & Gorgonzola Bites
Cut the chilled dough (after step 4) into ~ 2 inch squares and tuck each into the cavity of a mini-muffin tin. Press in a few diced, sauteed pears and a pinch of gorgonzola or other blue cheese and bake for about 15 minutes at 425 degrees. (Also try: caramelized onions + goat cheese, or diced kalamata olives + feta).
Mini Pigs in a Blanket
Inspired by this recipe, take strips of puff pastry (after step 4) and wrap them around small hot dogs or sausages (try the mini-chicken apple sausages if you haven’t already!). Place the wrapped bundles on a baking sheet and brush with egg wash (egg beaten with a tablespoon of water) and sprinkle with sesame seeds, poppy seeds and/or everything bagel seasoning.
Festive in the fall (which is apple season in much of the US), just leave the eyes off the rest of the year and you’ll still have a tasty treat. Saute or roast peeled and diced apples with a bit of sugar and cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice) and a pinch of salt. Then cut your puff pastry (after step 4 below) into rectangles and “fringe” the edges, as demonstrated here.
Spoon some filling down the middle of the rectangle and fold in the strips to make a mummy-looking pastry. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes and allow to cool. If baking in the fall, use a dot of honey or agave syrup to affix two candy eyeballs to each mummy. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.
Passionfruit Pastel de Nata
If you have been following me for awhile, you may have noticed that part of my heart is in the Kona district, on the Big Island of Hawaii. Part of the reason I feel so at home there is that the Hawaiian islands are home to widespread cultural – and food – fusion. For someone who has always been “in between,” it has definitely become my home away from home. So as tasty as Ines’s recipe for pastel de nata was, I knew it would be a great opportunity for a little island-inspired fusion.
Portuguese influence can be found throughout modern Hawai’i food culture- including in malasadas (Portuguese style doughnuts), sweet breads, and, of course, in Portuguese sausage. But I have never encountered a pastel de nata in Hawai’i. The custard is made from egg yolks (the whites had historically been used to starch the collars of Portuguese priests), and it is easy to stir a bit of passionfruit puree in before pouring into the puff pastry crusts.
A few more notes on the puff pastry:
- give yourself grace – remember, it’s more forgiving than you might think.
- the refrigerator is your friend – if at any point, the dough becomes hard to handle, just stick it in the fridge.
- to serve a savory and sweet treat for the same occasion, just double the recipe for the dough and use half for each treat.
Passionfruit Pastel de Nata
- muffin tin, mini muffin tin, or pastel de nata tins
- 1 cup Flour
- ¼ cup Water
- Pinch of Salt
- ¼ cup ½ a stick of Butter, ideally sliced horizontally to create a “plank” of butter
- ½ cup Sugar
- ⅜ cup Water
- ½ Vanilla bean
- 2 T Flour
- ½ Milk
- 3 Egg yolks use the whites in these pavlovas
- 2 T Passionfruit juice seeds removed (from about 2 passionfruit)
- Combine flour, water and salt into a dough. Allow to rest for 5-15 minutes.
- Roll the dough into a rectangle and place the slab of butter in the center. Fold the left and right portions of the dough toward the center, sealing the edges. Smash the center of the dough to further flatten the butter and then roll the dough into a new rectangle.
- Continue the process of folding the edges in thirds, and then rolling the dough, rotating the dough one-quarter turn after each roll. If your kitchen is warm and/or the butter is “leaking” out of the dough, then refrigerate the dough before continuing.
- Repeat the process at least three and up to six times. The last time, roll out the dough into an even rectangle, and chill.
- Roll into a tight “jelly roll” starting on one of the long sides. Chill the dough once more before slicing into ¾ inch – 2 inch pieces, depending on the size of your muffin tins or pastel de nata tins.
- Place the slice into the bottom of the tin or muffin cavity so the spiral is flat against the bottom. You want a spiral to be visible on the bottom of your finished product.
- Press your thumb into the center of the slice and gently encourage the dough up the sides to make a pastry “cup” to hold your custard. Continue with the rest of the dough.
- Heat the oven to 500 degrees.
- In a small saucepan combine sugar, water and vanilla bean. Bring the syrup to a boil, then set a time and boil for two minutes before removing from the heat.
- In another pan, combine the flour and milk over medium heat, whisking until combined. You are looking for a thin, but cohesive texture, not unlike thick glue or honey. Add a little more milk or flour if needed.
- Remove the vanilla bean from the sugar syrup (and pop into a container of sugar to make vanilla sugar, if desired). Gently whisk the syrup into the flour mixture, followed by the egg yolks and then the passion fruit juice.
- Carefully pour the custard into the pastry cups, and bake at 500 degrees for 10-15 minutes, depending on size.
- You can broil for a minute at the end, if you want a little more color on top. The pastel de nata are done when the bottom is crisp and brown and the custard is set (I usually pop one out with a small spatula to check the bottom, just to be sure).