Huff and puff
Given I’ve not eaten it for nearly six years, Michelle had to do a lot of persuading to get me to agree to attempt to make puff pastry on our afternoon spectacular of experimental cooking. I’m not quite sure why I was so resistant to the idea. I think I was convinced it would take us nine hours plus to create a usable piece of pastry, and that it would be fiendishly complicated and potentially inedible in the end. Fears which would understandably put a cook off making something. As it turns out my fears were unfounded. You should never be scared of food. Except perhaps when it’s green and furry.
Michelle isn’t coeliac but like many, many people I know tries to avoid wheat anyway so was very interested to learn all about the pitfalls of gluten-free cooking, the variety of different flours available and just what xanthan gum is all about. I think she was a little surprised at the initial texture of the pastry, and even more surprised when I pointed out that most gluten-free pastry/breads behave in a similar way – cracking left, right and centre and generally misbehaving. But we slowly got to grips with it (more photos on The Bake Escape showing how the ball of dough with a half pound of butter in the middle slowly, but surely, came together into a smooth packet of pastry).
The texture of the finished product was lovely. I admit, it wasn’t puff pastry how I remember it. This was no over-inflated vol-au-vent, with big air spaces between the layers. Au contraire, it was subtle. It didn’t shriek puff, it gently murmured it. It didn’t shower pastry crumbs everywhere when you cut into it, but it deflated with an elegant, crisp, crunch. Make no mistake, this is puff pastry. It’s just not PUFF pastry. It rises to about twice its size in the oven when cooking, and crumbles and flakes in the most delightful way. It stood up to the vegetables and cheese and pesto loaded onto it and didn’t go soggy. It was light, and above all delicious. Don’t go expecting miracles. It’s only a near miracle. And it does take some time. But in my lazy cook’s opinion, it really is worth it. All very well for M&S to chirp “Because….life’s too short to make your own puff pastry”. Well, for coeliacs I think, life’s too short not too. Try it. The amount of time spent mixing and rolling is considerably less than for a fancy cake, and the time in the fridge can be well spent on other ventures (peeling veg, whipping up muffins, mixing up a dressing or something different entirely like paying a bill, whee).
A few notes on the puff pastry before we begin:
1. Flour your work surface generously and often. There’s nothing worse than carefully rolling and folding your puff pastry, only to get to the final turn and realise it’s a little bit stuck to the bench.
2. Leading on from this, when you are ready to roll out your pastry and fill it, do this on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper. This makes for a nice easy transfer of the neatly rolled en croute to your baking tray. You do not want to be trying to pick up half a pound of pastry wrapped round half a pound of roasted vegetable and cheese and carry it across the kitchen cradled in your arms. You just don’t.
3. A little bit of care and attention to the pastry will pay off. As an occasionally lazy cook who is often more than a little slapdash in her approach to baking, the “fine art” bit of pastry making has a tendency to pass me by. Fortunately with Michelle at my shoulder urging me not to undo all her good work when it was my turn to roll out the dough, we ended up with a nice neat pastry packet at the end. Take the time to repair any little tears, straighten and neaten the sides with the rolling pin, and you will have a pastry packet that in the end is not only neat but strong and malleable. If you let the tears slide there’s a good chance the finished product will be more fragile and a lot less easy to work with.
The recipe for the pastry is from The Art of Gluten-Free Baking, which carefully describes the mechanism behind the puff, as well as giving detailed instructions and pictures. Invaluable.
Roasted vegetable, pesto and goats’ cheese en croute
The filling for this could be anything your heart desires, though make sure it’s not too soggy. The vegetables were roasted first so were drier than when raw. If using another cheese like ricotta, try to drain off as much of the liquid as possible before mixing into the vegetables.
1 portion gluten-free puff pastry (about 450g) – see Michelle’s post for more photos of how our pastry making progressed
1 sweet potato
2 sweet peppers
2 large carrots
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
Handful cherry tomatoes
100g goats’ cheese
2-3 teaspoons pesto
Handful of pine nuts
1. Preheat oven to 200 C.
2. Wash and chop the vegetables into large chunks. Place in large baking pan with the peeled sliced garlic cloves, a sprinkle of salt, drizzle of olive oil and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Roast in the oven for an hour, or until starting to turn dark brown at the edges, and soft in the middle.
3. Remove veggies from oven and leave to cool slightly for 10 minutes or so. Then tip into a bowl and mix with the goats cheese, pine nuts and the pesto. Taste, and add some more pesto or seasoning as you like. When the mixture is quite cool, add a couple of large handfuls of spinach leaves and toss a couple of times to lightly coat in pesto.
4. Roll out the puff pastry. Now I was very strict about this since apparently if you roll it out more than once it disturbs the layering and means it doesn’t puff as much. Actually the scraps which we re-rolled and turned into mini palmiers did puff up, but you have been warned – this pastry should be treated with respect, so try and only roll it out once. It need to be rolled into a rectangle about 15 inches long and 12 inches wide. With a butter knife very lightly mark out a rectangle within the pastry, roughly 8 inches long and 4 inches wide. Heap the vegetable mixture loosely within this rectangle. Heap it up a couple of inches high – any higher and you’ll struggle to cover it with pastry.
5. Fold the two-inch border on the short sides of the rectangle in over the vegetables to secure them in place. Then, using a sharp knife, cut the two long sides of pastry into 1-inch wide strips – these will form the plaited top of the en croute. Starting at the end nearest you, fold the strips of pastry up over the vegetables, alternating sides, to create a plaited look. Brush the top of each strip very lightly with milk to help the next one stick to it. Continue folding all the way down the pastry parcel until the vegetables are completely enclosed. You may have 1 or 2 strips of pastry left at the far end of the parcel – these can be cut off.
6. Slide the en croute onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven at 200 C for 35 minutes, or until crispy on top and just starting to turn lightly brown.
7. Remove from oven, slice and serve with a big handful of spinach.
Serves 4 as a main meal, more if you are serving more carbohydrate with it.
Mini Pesto Palmiers
With some of the remaining scraps of puff pastry we made these; tiny, delicious savoury bites, perfect for dinner parties or just snacking on until the main event.
Scraps of puff pastry
1-2 teaspoons pesto
1. Roll out the pastry into a long, thin rectangle.
2. Smother the pastry in pesto, spreading it around evenly.
3. Roll the pastry up along the long edge, into a long, thin, sausage.
4. Cut discs off the sausage and lay flat on a baking tray. Bake in the oven (200 C) for 15 minutes or until crispy and brown.