So you’ve decided to host an Oscars party this year, but you aren’t sure what to serve. Because obviously you want something extra fancy, something that will allow you to shine nearly as brightly as those folks on the red carpet.
My advice is to serve up a slate of hors d’oeuvres wrapped in puff pastry, the super-elegant dough perfected by — who else? — the French. In France, it’s called mille-feuille, which translates into “a thousand leaves.” That’s their way of describing the recipe’s many layers of fat sandwiched between an equal number of layers of dough. The pastry puffs up as the trapped butter gives off steam as it cooks, resulting in a confection that is remarkably light and airy.
But it’s not exactly a breeze to produce. So here’s a simpler version, known variously as rough puff pastry, quick puff pastry, or blitz puff pastry. It’s actually not much quicker than full blown puff pastry, but it certainly is much easier to prepare. This recipe yields about a pound of dough, enough to produce several dozen hors d’oeuvres. It is followed by some suggestions for fillings for those hors d’oeuvres.
Making rough puff pastry is like making regular old pie dough, at least to start. You combine butter and flour, then add ice-cold water. But for rough puff pastry you don’t break down the butter into small chunks, as you would for pie dough. Rough puff pastry should look downright shaggy and chunky after you’ve first mixed it. It won’t become very smooth until you roll and fold it and develop all those layers.
Puff pastry freezes beautifully when it is protected by plastic wrap and foil, so it’s a great choice to prep it ahead of the party. Cut it into quarters first, then sock it away. The day before the event put the pastry in the refrigerator to let it slowly defrost. On the day of the party, work with one piece at a time, keeping the remaining sections chilled until you need them.
As it bakes, puff pastry blows up to eight times its original height without the aid of a leavener. It is one of baking’s miracles. Even if you don’t consider yourself a baker, give it a whirl. I tend to consider myself pastry impaired. But if I can do it, so can you. And here are some tips to keep in mind while mixing, rolling and folding the dough:
• Make sure all the ingredients are cold.
• When you first roll out the dough, its edges will be round-ish. Square them off with a bench scraper or knife. As you fold the dough, make sure that the ends and the corners of all three folds stack up right on top of each other.
• Work quickly and sprinkle enough flour on the counter, the dough and the rolling pin to keep the dough from sticking.
• Dust off the flour before folding the dough.
• Don’t skip the resting times between folds; it allows the gluten to relax and reduces shrinkage.
And here are some tips for rolling out the dough to make hors d’oeuvres:
• Refrigerate the rolled dough briefly (about 15 minutes) before cutting it.
• Use a sharp knife to make straight firm cuts and avoid squishing the sides. Squished sides make the layers stick together, which prevents them from rising.
• Don’t let the egg wash get on the cut edges, which can glue them shut in the oven.
ROUGH PUFF PASTRY
Start to finish: 4 hours (30 minutes active)
Makes about 1 pound puff pastry
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Add the butter and working quickly with your hands, break up the butter until it is in small (about 1/2- to 3/4 -inch) chunks. Add 1/2 cup ice water and stir the mixture just until the water is incorporated. Squeeze the dough to see if it holds together. If it does not, add more ice water, a tablespoon at a time, just until the dough holds together when squeezed.
Quickly gather all of the dough together, dump it on the counter (it will look like a shaggy mess) and shape it into a rough rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes.
Lightly dust the counter with flour. Unwrap the chilled dough and set it on the counter. Lightly dust the top of the dough and the rolling pin with a bit of flour. Roll the dough into a 6-by-10-inch rectangle. Square off the edges by trimming them as needed. Starting with the short ends at the top and the bottom, fold the top third down to the center and the bottom third up to cover the first fold, like a business letter. Chill for 30 minutes.
Set the dough on a lightly floured counter, placing it so a short side is facing you. Roll out the dough as before, then fold again in the same manner. Chill for 30 minutes. Repeat this process two more times for a total of 4 roll and chill cycles.
Wrap well and chill for at least 1 hour before making the hors d’oeuvres. Using a sharp knife, cut into the dough into 4 equal pieces and proceed with the recipe suggestions below, working with one piece of dough at a time (keeping the other pieces chilled), or wrap the dough in plastic wrap and foil and freeze it until ready to use.
Nutrition information per 1 ounce of pastry: 130 calories; 80 calories from fat (62 percent of total calories); 9 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 40 mg sodium; 11 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 2 g protein.
CHEESE-FILLED PUFF PASTRY CUPS
Heat the oven to 400 F. Roll 4 ounces (a quarter) of the dough on a lightly floured counter into an 8-inch square. Chill for 15 to 20 minutes before trimming the edges and cutting the square into nine 3-inch squares. Ease the squares into a mini muffin tin, letting the edges flop over the top of each cup, being careful not to stretch the dough. Brush the flopped over edges lightly with an egg wash made by beating 1 large egg with 1 teaspoon water. Proceed with a filling recipe below.
• Bake the cups, empty, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Meanwhile, soak 6 ounces pitted and chopped prunes in warm port wine for 20 minutes, then drain. Combine the prunes with equal parts crumbled Gorgonzola cheese and crumbled cooked bacon. Spoon some of the mixture into each cup, then serve.
• Bake the cups, empty, for 13 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Combine chopped chilled brie with an equal amount of finely chopped dried apricots. Spoon some of the mixture into each cup, then return to the oven for another 4 to 5 minutes. Serve hot or cooled, and topped with a few thin crosscut slices of serrano chili.
ELEGANT PIGS IN A BLANKET
Heat the oven to 400 F. Roll out 4 ounces (a quarter) of the dough on a lightly floured counter into an 8-inch square. Chill for 15 to 20 minutes before trimming the edges. Cut the dough into 12 long triangles, then brush one side of the triangles liberally with Dijon mustard, avoiding the tip. Place a cocktail hot dog at the wide end of each triangle. Brush the tip with an egg wash made by beating 1 large egg with 1 teaspoon water. Roll up the triangle to enclose the hot dog. Brush the outside of the hot dog packages with the egg wash and sprinkle with caraway seeds. Chill for 15 minutes before baking. Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake on the oven’s middle shelf for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
SMOKED SALMON NAPOLEONS
Heat the oven to 375 F. Roll out 4 ounces (a quarter) of the dough on a lightly floured counter into an 8-inch square. Chill for 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the square to a baking sheet lined with kitchen parchment. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then cover with another sheet of parchment. Place a second baking sheet, the same size as the first one, over the dough. Bake on the oven’s middle shelf for 15 minutes. Remove the top baking sheet and parchment, then bake for another 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the pastry from the oven and let cool. Trim the square so it is even and cut it into 12 squares. Top a square with 1 teaspoon of the smoked salmon mixture (recipe below), then set a second square over that. Top the second square with another teaspoon of the mixture, then a third square of pastry. Finish the stack with a dab of sour cream and a sprinkle of chopped fresh chives.
Filling: In a medium bowl, mix together 4 ounces chopped smoked salmon and 4 ounces of sour cream or creme fraiche. Stir in chopped, drained capers, lemon juice, minced shallots or scallions, a little horseradish or Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper, all to taste.
Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”