~ Sweet Sausage, Apple & Cheddar Puff Pastry Braid ~
We all have our favorite breakfast and brunch casserole recipes -- I'd be lost without mine. They taste great, they're easy to prepare, and, some can even be made ahead, but, let's face it: casseroles aren't elegant. They're low-key, family-style, comfort food -- the blue jeans of the food world. Newsflash: Occasionally, it's necessary to dress up -- and that extends to the food. If I told you I have a small repertoire of AM meals that make a stunning presentation, taste as good as they look, and, are relatively easy to prepare, would you want the recipes? I thought so.
From appetizers to entrées to desserts...
For home cooks who like to entertain, don't like to entertain, or, simply don't have a lot of time to entertain, store-bought puff pastry is a high-quality, time-saving ingredient -- especially during the holiday season. As one who takes the better part of two days to make real-deal, all-butter, high-quality-butter, puff-pastry from scratch (to make Danish for special occasions), trust me, for certain culinary applications, store-bought puff-pastry is a relatively small compromise I am willing to make. There's two boxes stashed in my freezer at all times.
Like many, I discovered puff pastry sheets in the 1980's. Grocery stores were becoming grocery chains, which expanded our choices and selections of long established and new products exponentially. Cooks embraced this product, and, before long, we were all using it in creative ways to make appetizers, entrées and desserts. Here's one of my entrées:
8 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1/2 cup 1/4"-diced yellow or sweet onion
1/2-3/4 cup 1/4"-1/2" diced peeled and diced Granny Smith apple
1/2 teaspoon apple pie spice
1 cup shredded white sharp cheddar cheese
1 large egg, for mixing into sausage mixture
1 large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, to be used as an egg wash for assembled pastry braid
~ Step 1. Preheat oven to 375°. Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment. Grate the cheese, then return it to the refrigerator. Dice the onion and apple as directed and set aside.
~Step 2. Using your fingertips, pull the sausage into small bits and pieces, adding them to a 10" nonstick skillet as you work. Add the diced onion to skillet. Over medium- medium-high heat, sauté, stirring frequently with a nonstick spatula, until sausage is cooked through (without browning) and onion is soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add the diced apple and apple pie spice. Continue to sauté, stirring constantly until apple is just beginning to soften, about 2-2 1/2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to almost room temperature, about 30 minutes. -- or longer.
In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk one of the eggs. Add the whisked egg to the sausage mixture, and, using your hands, mix the mixture, as you would a meatloaf. Set the filling aside while prepping the puff pastry as directed below:
~Step 4. Remove pastry from packaging and place, lengthwise, on prepared baking pan. Using fingertips, carefully open the tri-folded sheet. Where the pastry was folded, will define three, even-sized thirds, each approximately 9"L x 3"W. Using a paring knife and a ruler, slice 3"L x 1/2"W "tabs" along the lower and upper thirds of the pastry (18 tabs on each third of the pastry), leaving the center third (which is where the filling will go) uncut. If at any time while you are slicing the tabs, the pastry gets sticky, return pan to refrigerator for 5-6 minutes to firm it up again (and again). Cutting the tabs is very easy if the pastry is cold.
~Step 5. Spoon and place the filling over the center third of the pastry sheet, mounding it towards the center. Starting at one end and working all the way to the other, alternately crisscross the tabs up and over filling. When you get to the end, trim and remove the last two tabs of pastry, along with any excess scraps of pastry. As per ~ Step 4, if the tabs get sticky or start to stick to the pan, refrigerate for 5-6 minutes, then proceed. Tuck the ragged edges evenly underneath the pastry braid. Use the two trimmed tabs and ragged edges to seal the open end where you started. Both ends will now be sealed and tucked -- the ends don't have to look perfect, the puff pastry will bake up beautifully.
~Step 6. In a small bowl, whisk the second egg and water together. Using a pastry brush, lightly paint egg wash over the entire surface of the puff pastry braid. Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 18-20 minutes. Pastry will be golden brown and bubbling and cheese will be just short of oozing from the nooks and crannies. Remove from oven and cool on pan 15-20-30 minutes. Use a spatula to aid in transferring to a serving plate prior to slicing and serving semi-hot, warm or at room temperature -- it's delish any way.
Cool this culinary work of art 15-20 minutes...
Special Equipment List: 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; hand-held box grater; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spatula; paring knife; fork; pastry brush
Cook's Note: For a companion puff pastry braid to serve with your sausage, apple and cheddar pastry braid, allow me to suggest my ~ Cloudberry Jam, Brie & Almond Puff Pastry Braid ~ and ring in the New Year with this pair!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)