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April 22, 2007

Frozen puff pastry (Recipe: asparagus gruyere tart)

Puffpastry

Pâte feuilletée.

POT FEH-YOU-TAY.

Just the thought of making something with such an elegant name scares the bedoodles out of me. If I hadn't watched Julia Child on television, smearing the butter and folding and turning and folding and turning again, making it all seem so utterly doable, I never would have tried to make puff pastry from scratch.

I did make it.

One time.

Then I discovered frozen puff pastry. Someone else does the smearing and folding and turning for you. Imagine that! Puff pastry any time, without devoting an entire day to making it.

What makes puff pastry puff are the many layers of blobs of butter sandwiched in between layers of dough that, when baked, rise to several times their original height without any yeast or leavening. When heated, the butter in the dough melts, causing the layers to separate. The water in the butter turns to steam, puffing up the pastry with air bubbles that become trapped to form air pockets. In the classical pâte feuilletée recipe, made by folding and turning the dough six times, the finished dough has close to 1500 layers of butter and flour.

The two most available brands of frozen puff pastry are definitely not alike. Dufours, sometimes available at Whole Foods markets, is made with all butter; Pepperidge Farm, always in the freezer case of my local supermarket, contains no butter. Yes, Dufours tastes better, and rises higher when baked. It's also twice as expensive, and much harder to find, than Pepperidge Farm.

To thaw, remove as many pastry sheets as needed (wrap unused sheets in plastic wrap or foil and return them to the freezer) and thaw in the refrigerator (approximately 4 hours per sheet), which ensures that the pastry will thaw evenly. If you're in a hurry, separate the pastry sheets and thaw at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.

Puff pastry makes wonderful savory dishes as well as beautiful sweet desserts. And, as in the recipe below, it can turn the ordinary into something truly elegant, as befits the name pâte feuilletée.

Asparagus gruyere tart

From Great Food Fast, the great little cookbook from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living. Try to find asparagus of uniform width. Makes one tart that serves 4-6 people for lunch, with a side salad or bowl of soup.

Ingredients

1 sheet frozen puff pastry
2 cups (approx. 5-1/2 oz) gruyere, Emmental or swiss cheese, shredded
1-1/2 pounds medium asparagus
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F. On a floured surface, roll pastry into a 16 x 10 inch rectangle. Trim uneven edges. Place the pastry on a baking sheet. With a sharp knife score the dough 1 inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle. Using a fork, pierce the dough inside the markings at half-inch intervals. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

Remove the pastry shell from the oven, and sprinkle with cheese. Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise inside the tart shell; arrange in a single layer over the cheese, alternating ends and tips. Brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until spears are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Comments

I'm impressed you made it from scratch. This is something I've only cooked with a few times, but frozen is the way to go. I know that Dorie Greenspan recommended the more expensive type, but I've never even seen it in a store here, and I have the very ones you're showing in my freezer right now!

I have the ones you're showing in my freezer, too! And, like Kalyn, I'm really impressed that you ever tried to make it yourself.

I tried to make croissants a couple of times from scratch. It's a similar process, with the butter and the folding and the butter and the folding. They were delicious, but so labor-intensive...I decided it just wasn't worth it to make them myself when there were so many good ones available on the market.

Yum! I use these frozen sheets to make vegetarian sausage rolls.

I'm totally with you on letting someone else do the smearing and kneading, haha! Besides, we're only helping keep the job market alive! :) Although I'm lucky, 'cos I can buy them chilled here (instead of frozen)!

I love asparagus, but the hubby doesn't so it's tricky making anything for one!

I have never gotten around to making proper puff pastry but when bought is really good it hardly seems worth it. Plus, you can knock up a really decent tart after work and serve it with a salad!

I am really lucky - I can get it fresh, in the refrigerator section rather than frozen (which I used when I lived stateside). The fresh is easier to work with - plus I don't have to remember to thaw it....
But, WOW! Kudos to you for even trying to make it from scratch!

Well, you sent me directly to the fridge to check the box. I had always assumed that the Pepperidge Farm puff pastry contained butter, but never read the label! I have made this asparagus tart many times since the recipe first appeared in Everyday Food. It is an excellent way to welcome Spring!

agreed! frozen puff pastry to the rescue! and its not all that expensive. although, if you don't use all if it, like filo, it has a tendency to dry out in the freezer. do you have any suggestions for keeping it good? i mean, i guess i can't hunt down a really big ziploc bag...

Kalyn, I've used the Pepperidge Farm brand many times -- it always performs well if I remember to let it defrost!

Genie, watching Julia gave me courage. But honestly, it's one of those things that, once I proved I could make it, I never wanted to bother doing it from scratch again.

Catherine, that sounds yummy!

Shilpa and Katie, you're so lucky to find this in the refrigerated section instead of the freezer. I can get phyllo dough in the fridge, but not puff pastry.

Freya, speed counts! This asparagus tart is an example of one that comes together so quickly, and makes a lovely presentation at the end of a busy day.

TW, isn't this recipe a winner? I first learned of it through one of the women in my Wednesday morning cooking group; we made it as part of an "all-asparagus" menu, and it was the star of the show.

Connie, I think a ziploc is the way to go. The trick is not to let it defrost at all, but to keep it in the freezer, and on the bag write the original expiration date that was on the box it came in, so you don't forget. That should eliminate freezer burn -- unless you're like me, and you forget that it's in the freezer, and you find it months and months later....

I live frozen puff pastry! What a great productto whip things up in no time, like the wonderful recipe that you posted. I must have tasted wonderful.

Lydia,

I had no idea that Pepperidge Farm puff pastry has no butter! After my experience with making croissants, I just don't know if I could make puff pastry at home. I'll have to look for brands that are made with butter!

Maybe the puff here in Oz isn't as good as what you have got - if I'm making something simple like sausage rolls or simple pie, I do use bought, but for something special, there really is nothing like homemade.

I am so glad to see you use prepared puff pastry, Lydia! I would love to have the time to make my dad's recipe for it, but I seldoe do. Recently, I stuffed those little puff pastry cups with lobster salad and they were a huge hit.

6 turns for 1500 layers. I know this is so, yet why does it always seem like there are at least 100 turns missing to produce so many layers? Someday when I'm feeling ambitious or insane, I'll make it from scratch and do the math.

I bought pate feuillete before, they are truly life saviours when we can't be bothered to make our own!:)

Anh, please do try this recipe. So easy!

Ivonne, I never realized that about PF puff pastry either, until I started researching this post. Now that I live in a more rural place, it's hard for me to find any other brand, but even the smallest market in my town carries this frozen puff pastry. Try Dufours, or maybe a wholesale baking supply store.

Neil, I admit there was a lot of satisfaction in making my own -- but only in the achievement, not in the effort/reward ratio. It's wonderful to go to a great pastry shop where you know they've made their puff from scratch. The taste is beyond compare. But I concede that on the rare occasions when I do use puff pastry, I'm a complete convert to the frozen product.

Mimi, I can imagine your dad, a French chef, reading my post and cringing! But yes, I do use the frozen.

Susan, in one of the Julia cookbooks where she talks about her "fast" method for making puff pastry (it was in the Julia Child & Company series), she did a model with construction paper, illustrating the folding and turning. It was strange math indeed!

Valentina, I agree absolutely!

No butter? I am shocked, just shocked. What do they use? Please tell me it isn't Parkay?

We live in a Whole Foods-free zone (at least for now) and I always use Pepperidge Farms brand, for lack of any other. Now what?

Lydia,

I love puff pastry so much. Savory, sweet, you name it - it's always delicious, not to mention the beautiful presentation it lends to any food!

I just had someone teach me puff pastry from scratch. It took three hours with just the dough, nothing created from it. In between chilling times we made palmiers with store bought puff pastry. He brought pepperidge farm and said it was the best tasting supermarket puff pastry.

I always buy it, but have the idea to make it once, just to see... Well done to you for actually doing it. It's nice for me to see the box of pastry so often mentioned by Ina Garten!

I always have puff pastry in my freezer, too - it's always there because I never use it. But this asparagus tart could change that...

Ok...this has really inspired me to pick up some puff pastry and give it a whirl. This asparagus tart sounds like perfection.

My mom went through a period where she made it all the time. It was funny to watch her. She would suddenly stop what she was doing and go to the fridge and pull out her dough, turn it and put it back in the fridge. But, I'll take the store bought stuff. Great recipe, by the way.

Christine, it's not Parkay! (but you made me laugh!) It's vegetable oil. But I do think the Pepperidge Farm performs well, and tastes good, and it's easy to find in the market -- all good reasons for using it.

Patricia, I do like this pastry for savory dishes, and I'm better at making those than the sweet stuff.

Veron, what did you make with your homemade pastry dough? The taste is definitely superior, and there's a lot of satisfaction in making your own, but the three hours is a luxury.

Kelly-Jane, you should try it, once -- so you can appreciate the storebought!

Scott, I like the way your mind works. You'll like this little asparagus tart, I'm sure.

Nan, yes, do try it! Lovely for lunch and it takes no time at all to make.

Sher, I envy you a mom who made her own puff pastry. I cannot for a minute imagine my mother doing that!

I've always wanted to make the puff stuff from scratch until I discovered the premade too. I've only drooled at the expensive real butter stuff. Puff pastry is actually what beginner cooks should use to build up confidence fast. One can bake a shoe in it and it'll look and still taste great!

Callipygia, you are so right -- absolutely everything looks elegant wrapped in puff pastry. Julia Child came up with a shortcut method for making the puff pastry; it's really easier, though you still have to fold and turn and all that. But it's not quite as fussy as the traditional, and I think it's a good place to start if you want to try to make it from scratch. Have fun!

Dufours seems not widely available in my area, but surely keep my close eye on it, thanks!

Gattina, Dufours is hard to find here, too. Maybe some grocers will read this and get the idea that we'd love to be able to find more than one brand of puff pastry in the markets....

Maybe one day I'll try puff pastry but thank goodness until then we have frozen! Wonderful asparagus tart!

Tanna, I agree -- hooray for frozen!

does anyone know if puff pastry can replace filo pastry in a recipe?

Tina, I hate to say this, but sometimes yes, sometimes no. (That's not very helpful, is it?) The two doughs behave very differently. Filo does not rise. So, if you are using dough as a topping, for instance for a little fruit tart, you might be able to use them interchangeably. But if you're making a filled pastry, the puff will do entirely different things in the oven. Yes, both are layers of dough interspersed with layers of butter, but that's the end of the similarity. More often, you can swap puff pastry for regular pie dough.

Does anyone have Ina Garten's recipe for caramelized onion, tomato, and cheese in puff pastry?

Judy, here's the list of all the recipes in her 5 cookbooks: http://www.barefootcontessa.com/indexes.html
Hope that helps!

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