Right now, at the peak of the holiday party season, there are three things the well-prepared host ought to have at the ready: a swanky outfit, a festive playlist — and a package of puff pastry. But honestly, you could don your ugly reindeer sweater and blast Alvin and the Chipmunks, and the puff pastry, baked into golden, flaky nibbles, would still make your party feel like a lavish catered affair.
Store-bought puff pastry is frozen food pushed to the most elegant degree. Readily found in most supermarkets, it’s a breeze to work with, and, with minimal effort, the dough can be baked into an array of impressive treats. It’s also economical compared with what you would spend on the same kind of elaborate pastries at a bakery, let alone bringing a professional into your kitchen.
You can make burnished, salty cheese pinwheels by simply sprinkling the dough with Parmesan and an herb mix like za’atar, and letting it bake into piquant, crisp-edged coins.
Or, for a sophisticated take on pigs in blankets, roll chopped figs and prosciutto into a pastry log, slice it into pieces and bake them until bronzed, savory and very fancy.
And for something sweet with a sense of humor, crunchy coconut twists look nearly identical to cheese straws. But instead of cheddar, you get toasted, shredded coconut, which caramelizes throughout the buttery, flaky wands, dissolving into sugary shards when you take a bite.
Working with puff pastry is straightforward and easy, but a few smart moves will help you achieve stellar results.
First, try to find a dough made with butter rather than hydrogenated oils. Dufour is one high-quality brand that comes in an all-butter version as well as a very good vegan version made with palm fruit oil. But whatever you can find will still be magnificent as long as you take care when rolling it out.
Then, be sure to keep the dough cold while you work. This gives you more control and helps your puff gain some real altitude. If the dough starts to soften, throw it back in the fridge until it firms up again.
All of these recipes are at their flaky best still slightly warm from the oven. But they keep very well overnight if you want to bake ahead — which will give you more time for outfit-choosing and playlist-making — important preparations for the best holiday party ever.
Za’atar Parmesan pinwheels
These crunchy, savory snacks have the irresistible can’t-stop-eating nature of cheese straws, but with the added allure of a sprinkle of herby, sesame-flecked za’atar, a Middle Eastern seasoning mix available in large supermarkets and spice shops. Rolled into logs and sliced into pinwheels before baking, they puff into domes in the oven’s heat, turning golden, crisp and wonderfully flaky. If you can find all-butter puff pastry, it really makes a difference here, adding a rich, deep flavor and an especially bronzed color.
By Melissa Clark
Yield: About 3 1/2 dozen
Total time: 45 minutes, plus 30 minutes’ chilling
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
1 1/2 tablespoons za’atar, plus more for garnish
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
Pinch of ground cayenne
1 (14- to 16-ounce) package puff pastry, thawed if frozen but still cold
All-purpose flour, for rolling (optional)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Flaky sea salt, for finishing
Sesame seeds, for finishing (optional)
1. In a medium bowl, combine Parmesan, za’atar, salt and cayenne.
2. On a piece of parchment paper, roll out the cold puff pastry into a 12-by-16-inch rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick. (If the rolling pin sticks, you can flour it very lightly.)
3. Position puff pastry so the longer side is facing you. Lightly brush the egg wash across the pastry and sprinkle the za’atar-Parmesan mixture all over the egg-washed surface in an even layer, leaving a 1/4-inch border on the longer side farthest from you. Using a rolling pin, gently roll over the top of the za’atar-Parmesan mixture. Save the remaining egg wash to use on the puff pastry before baking.
4. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, cut the puff pastry in half crosswise. Starting with the half closest to you, roll the dough into a tight log; finish with the 1/4-inch border seam underneath, pinching it to seal. Repeat with remaining dough.
5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (you can reuse the one you rolled the dough on).
6. Transfer logs onto the prepared baking sheet. Cover with another piece of parchment and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 6 hours.
7. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Uncover dough logs, and line another baking sheet with parchment. (You can use the one covering the logs.)
8. Transfer the logs to a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, slice each log into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Using an offset spatula or metal spatula, place the pinwheels on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1-inch apart. (You might need a third baking sheet; if they don’t all fit in your oven at the same time, refrigerate one baking sheet until ready to bake.)
9. Using reserve egg wash, lightly brush egg onto pinwheels and sprinkle with more za’atar and flaky salt, and sesame seeds, if you like.
10. Bake pinwheels until golden brown and puffed (some will puff into domes), 20 to 30 minutes, rotating sheet pans halfway through. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. These are best served warm, but will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Figs and pigs in a blanket
Arguably better than pigs in blankets — or, at least, more elegant — these, flaky hors d’oeuvres will be the first things to disappear at a party. The filling of chopped dried figs and prosciutto or salami is a balanced mix of savory and sweet, but feel free to substitute other dried fruit, like apricots, raisins or cranberries, for the figs. And if you can find all-butter puff pastry, it really makes a difference here, adding a deeply golden color and rich flavor.
By Melissa Clark
Yield: About 2 dozen
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
1 cup/8 ounces dried figs, stems trimmed
All-purpose flour, for rolling
1 (14-ounce) package frozen puff pastry, thawed
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto or soppressata salami, coarsely chopped
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Ground fennel seeds or black pepper, or a combination, for topping
Mustard, for serving (optional)
1. Place figs in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit until soft and pliable, 5 to 10 minutes, then drain well. Coarsely chop and set aside. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled puff pastry out about 1/8-inch thick to form a 13-by-11-inch rectangle. Using a bench scraper or knife, cut the pastry in half lengthwise so you have two long rectangles. Evenly divide the figs between the rectangles, spreading them into a 1-inch-wide strip that runs down the center of the pastry. Mound prosciutto on top of the figs.
3. Lightly brush the long edges of the pastry with egg wash. Firmly fold the pastry over the filling to form long rolls. Cut each roll in half crosswise, then slice into 1-inch pieces and place them on the prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Cover with plastic or parchment and freeze for 30 minutes or refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours.
4. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly brush the top of each roll with beaten egg and sprinkle with grated Parmesan and a pinch of fennel seeds or black pepper or both. Bake until golden brown, about 25 to 35 minutes. Serve with mustard on the side for dipping if you like. These are best served warm or at room temperature on the day of baking, but leftovers will keep for up to 3 days when stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
Crunchy coconut twists
At first glance, these long, skinny cookies look a lot like savory cheese straws, the kind of thing you’d nibble with cocktails. But those golden shreds are coconut, not Cheddar, embedded in store-bought puff pastry and coated with sugar. They’re crunchy, caramelized, and look dramatic on a cookie plate. Try to seek out all-butter pastry for the richest flavor. And if you come across chocolate puff pastry, even better!
By Melissa Clark
Yield: About 2 dozen cookies
Total time: 25 minutes, plus chilling
1 cup/200 grams sugar
2/3 cup/66 grams sweetened shredded coconut
1 large egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream or whole milk
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 (14- to 16-ounce) package puff pastry, preferably made with butter, thawed if frozen, but still cold
1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine sugar and shredded coconut. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together egg, heavy cream and salt to make an egg wash and set aside.
2. Place a sheet of parchment paper (about 12- by 16-inch) on a clean work surface. Unfold dough and roll the chilled puff pastry dough to about 1/8-inch thick (about an 11- by 15-inch rectangle). Generously brush egg wash over the top of the pastry. Sprinkle half of the coconut-sugar mixture in an even layer all over the egg-washed surface. Using a rolling pin, gently press coconut-sugar mixture into dough. Gently slide the pastry (still on the parchment paper) onto a baking sheet. Cover lightly with another sheet of parchment and refrigerate until firm, 10 to 20 minutes.
3. Once chilled, remove pastry from refrigerator. Using another baking sheet or wire cooling rack, invert the pastry so the coconut-topped side is now on the bottom. Slide dough, still sandwiched between parchment, onto the countertop. Remove the top piece of parchment and set aside. Brush the puff pastry with the egg wash. Sprinkle evenly with remaining coconut-sugar mixture, and use a rolling pin to press it into the pastry dough. Carefully transfer pastry (still on the parchment) to a baking sheet and cover again with the other sheet of parchment. Refrigerate until firm, 10 to 20 minutes.
4. Remove pastry from the fridge, and remove the top layer of parchment. Using a sharp knife or pastry cutter, cut pastry into strips between 1/4 and 1/2 inch (you can eyeball it). Return pan to the fridge to chill thoroughly, another 10 to 20 minutes.
5. Line two or three baking sheets with parchment paper. (You can reuse the parchment paper you’ve been using for the dough.) Working one strip at a time, transfer to prepared sheets and twist the two ends in opposite directions several times to create a long twist. Press the ends onto the parchment paper so they stick and don’t unfurl. Space coconut twists about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle any coconut that fell off the strips back on top of them.
6. Place in pans, uncovered, in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes, or in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes. The twists should be very firm and thoroughly chilled before baking. You can leave them in the fridge or freezer for up to 24 hours before baking, but if you leave them for more than an hour, cover them with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out.
7. While the twists are chilling, heat oven to 350 degrees.
8. Bake twists until toasted and golden brown all over, 15 to 22 minutes, rotating sheet pans halfway through. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store for up to one week in an airtight container.
c.2022 The New York Times Company
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