Few products epitomize store-bought convenience like puff pastry.
Food scientist Harold McGee describes the laborious process of making the ultra-flaky pastry in his book, "On Food and Cooking." Essentially, the pastry is a dough and butter sandwich: moistened flour is shaped into a square, which is topped with flattened butter.
Then begins the hours-long work of repeatedly folding and rolling out, with a total of six "turns" to vary the direction, and rests in the refrigerator in between. The result is an dough with an astounding structure: 729 layers of moistened flour separated by 728 layers of fat.
It's beyond me mathematically, and likely my ability, so bring on the ready-made.
Sharon Cook of Charleston recently asked for recipes that use puff pastry, and we got good and varied responses. So here goes.
Anne Sorrell writes, "When I was in high school, I contacted friends and family from all over and requested their favorite recipes. I combined all of the recipes and made a professionally bound family cookbook. This recipe using puff pastry was given to me by family friends, the LeNoirs.
"I have adapted the recipe to make it my own just as I encourage everyone to do. You can make these big or small, stuff them a lot or a little bit. Either way, they are great!"
1 or 2 sheets of puff pastry
1 tablespoon water
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons butter
1 (4-ounce) container of garlic and herb spreadable cheese (see cook's note)
Flour, for dusting
Cooked mixed vegetables (optional)
Cook's note: "I like to use Philadelphia garlic and herb cream cheese or Philadelphia herb and garlic cooking creme, both do the trick!"
Thaw the puff pastry at room temperature for about 40 minutes, or as it says on the box.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Stir egg and water in small bowl with fork or whisk.
Salt and pepper the chicken breasts, if desired. Heat the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, and cook until it's well-browned on both sides. Remove the chicken to a place, and let cool. (Of course, you can cook the chicken however you want. Sometimes I bake it in the oven with a can of Cream of Chicken soup for added flavor).
Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll the sheet to form a 14-inch square. Cut into four 7-inch squares. (Cut as big or as little as you want depending on the size to you want to make them. This is just a guideline.)
Spread about 2 tablespoons of the garlic and herb cheese spread on the center of each square, and top with a chicken breast. Add cooked mixed vegetables, if using.
Brush the edges of the pastry squares with the egg mixture, and pull to center of the chicken, and seal.
Place stuffed puff pastries seam-side down on a baking sheet. Brush the top of the pastries with the egg mixture.
Bake for 25 minutes until the pastries are golden, and enjoy.
We also heard from Anna Petralia of Mount Pleasant. She and her sister, Liz, who lives in another state, write a recipe blog, www.2sistersrecipes.com. Check it out - it's an homage to their Italian-born mother, Maria. (The girls were born and raised in New York.) "This blog is our way of saving her precious recipes before they disappear," they say.
Anna says the family loves puff pastry, and both of the recipes below are posted on the blog, including the one for cinnamon rolls.
This recipe is particularly timely: "Pumpkin spice cinnamon rolls are made with our favorite puff pastry dough and filled with delicious cinnamon, pumpkin and brown sugar filling, then topped with a light and luscious cream cheese icing. Oh boy, these are insane!," Anna writes.
"I made them over the weekend with some homemade pumpkin puree I posted the other day. It gave these babies a mild flavor of pumpkin, not too overpowering. Then I added a layer of sweetened cream cheese on top which made them addicting."
For the rolls:
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 package of puff pastry sheets, such as Pepperidge Farm
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
For the cream cheese frosting:
1/2 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 to 1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Brush the bottom of each muffin cup with some melted butter. Set aside.
Follow directions on the package for thawing pastry sheets.
In a small bowl, stir and mix brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin puree until well combined. Set aside.
Unfold pastry on a lightly floured surface.
Brush lightly with melted butter.
Spread with half the pumpkin mixture.
Gently, pick up the sheet and roll up like a jelly roll. Cut into 6 pieces, cut roll down the middle, then cut each side into thirds. Place each roll into the prepared muffin pan.
Repeat with the second pastry sheet.
Brush lightly the tops with melted butter. Then sprinkle the tops with ground cinnamon.
Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, until golden brown on top.
For the cream cheese frosting: In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients together with a spoon until well-combined.
When rolls are done, remove from the oven. Transfer rolls to a smaller 8x11-inch baking dish, placing each roll side by side. With a spatula, gently spread cream cheese icing across the tops. Serve warm.
Here's another treat to try: Anna writes, "Light and flaky crispy croissants with melted dark chocolate filling inside are super easy and simple, even your kids can make them in minutes. ... They taste so good; other than their shape, you can't really tell the difference from the ones you buy at your local coffee shop or bakery. They were awesome."
Yields about 4.5 chocolate croissants per sheet
1 box of puff pastry sheets (2 sheets)
1 bag (10 ounce) Ghirardelli Bittersweet chocolate baking chips (60 percent Cacao)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
Follow the directions on the box for thawing puff pastry sheets. About 20 minutes at room temperature before using, is best to work with.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Gently unfold pastry sheet on lightly floured surface. If using one sheet, return wrapped, unused sheet to freezer. Lightly spray one cookie sheet with cooking spray, or place parchment paper on the cookie sheet, and set aside.
Using a rolling pin, gently roll the pastry sheet to make it a tad thinner.
Slice down the middle of the sheet, horizontally.
Starting at one end, place a few of chocolate morsels (about 10) down the middle in a straight line, about 1 inch from the end. If you prefer more of a chocolate filling, just double the chips next to the ones in the center.
Pick up the end and roll over the chocolate chips once, and gently press down to pinch the seam.
Then roll over the pastry the second time, and press down lightly, to seal the seam again. Cut the pastry where it ends. Place the filled pastry onto the prepared baking sheet.
Repeat again, laying the chips, then roll over the chips once, and then roll over the second time. Cut the pastry. Continue with the other half of the pastry sheet. If you have some dough left over, make mini chocolate croissants with the remaining pastry.
Mix water with beaten egg. Brush tops of unbaked pastry with egg wash.
Bake for 25 to 27 minutes, or until croissants are golden brown.
Remove from oven, and allow to cool completely. If you prefer serving them warm, reheat croissants in a toaster oven for 1 minute. Store them in a air-tight container.
Also thanks to JoAnn McCoy of Summerville, and Aleta Burst, also of Summerville. Aleta says she spotted a delicious-sounding recipe for Apple Butter and Cheddar Puffs in the September issue of Southern Living magazine that she plans to try.