Puff pastry

With ready-made sheets of pâte feuilletée in your freezer, the likes of pain au chocolat and spring green vol-au-vents are a breeze.

Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, or enjoy the rolling, folding and resting that is part and parcel of making puff pastry, there's a lot to be said for buying one of the excellent frozen puff pastries now available.

The key is to buy butter puff pastry, because puff pastry made with vegetable shortening is pale, insipid and sorely lacking in that wonderful butteriness that typifies real puff pastry.

We recommend Carême puff pastry, but you can always make your own and freeze it in snap-lock bags for making speedy dinners. The only difficulty then is deciding what to make.

Caramelised white chocolate and berry tart
Serves 6-8 (pictured)
Preheat oven to 180C. Melt 250gm finely chopped white chocolate in an ovenproof bowl in the oven, stirring occasionally, until caramelised (25-35 minutes), then set aside. Bring 250ml pouring cream just to the simmer in a saucepan over medium-high heat, pour onto chocolate, stand for a minute, then whisk until smooth and set aside to cool. Roll a 375gm sheet of butter puff pastry on a lightly floured surface to 4mm thick, transfer to an oven tray lined with baking paper, score a 2cm border, then score centre with a fork. Brush with eggwash and bake until golden and cooked (15 minutes). Whisk 200ml pouring cream, 120gm crème fraîche and seeds of a vanilla bean in a bowl until soft peaks form, then fold in half the chocolate mixture. Spread remaining chocolate mixture over tart, then spoon cream mixture over. Top with 250gm hulled and quartered strawberries and 150gm blueberries, dust with icing sugar and serve.

Pain au chocolat
Makes 9
Preheat oven to 180C. Cut a 375gm sheet of butter puff pastry into 9 even rectangles. Working with one at a time and with the shortest side facing you, scatter 30gm coarsely chopped dark chocolate (55% cocoa solids) across the closest end of each. Brush opposite end with eggwash, then roll to enclose. Place on oven trays lined with baking paper and brush tops with more eggwash. Bake until golden and cooked through (10-12 minutes). Serve warm.

Spring green vol-au-vents
Serves 9 as a snack
Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly roll a 375gm sheet of butter puff pastry to 3mm thick. Cut out 4cm rounds, score each with a 3cm cutter to form an inner ring, score centre with a fork, brush with eggwash and bake until golden (10-12 minutes; press with fork if they puff too much), then cool. Blanch 10 asparagus spears, 120gm frozen peas and 100gm sugarsnap peas until bright green (1-2 minutes; see cook's notes p216), drain and refresh. Cut asparagus and sugarsnaps into bite-sized pieces and combine in a bowl with peas, 150gm shredded barbecued chicken, 60gm crème fraîche, ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 2 tbsp mayonnaise, 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp finely chopped tarragon and finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon. Season to taste, stir to combine, spoon into vol-au-vents and serve.

Ocean trout en croûte
Serves 4
Preheat oven to 200C. Heat 40gm butter in a frying pan over medium heat, add the thinly sliced white part of a leek and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and stir until tender (10 minutes). Add 150ml dry white wine, 2 cups firmly packed baby spinach leaves and stir until wilted (2-3 minutes). Season to taste and process in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon and 1 tbsp finely chopped dill. Spread onto 4 skinless ocean trout fillets (150gm each). Set aside. Roll 375gm butter puff pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 20cm x 30cm rectangle. Cut into 4 rectangles large enough to enclose fish, leaving 1cm at each end. Brush edges with eggwash, top each with a fillet, fold to enclose and place seam-side down on an oven tray. Brush with eggwash, pierce the tops to let steam escape and bake until golden (20-25 minutes). Serve hot with green salad and lemon wedges. 

Hot Tips
+ Ready-rolled pastry sheets defrost more evenly in the refrigerator than at room temperature. They take 4-6 hours to defrost in the refrigerator or about 30 minutes at room temperature.
+ If the pastry gets too warm while you're working with it, pop it back in the fridge to firm up.
+ When you want more compact layers, such as for pastry cases, just roll the pastry lightly.
+ When rolling pastry on a lightly floured surface, brush off excess flour with a pastry brush to prevent pastry from becoming tough.


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