~ Filling, Braiding & Baking Store-Bought Puff Pastry ~
Everyone loves a home-baked sweet or savory pie or quiche, but, for those times when you are out of time, or, just don't want to take the time, from appetizers to entrées to desserts, making a puff pastry braid using store-bought puff pastry is a valuable skill to have. As long as you play by the rules, they bake up perfectly 100% of the time. What are the rules? I'm glad you asked.
My three basic rules/guidelines for filling a pastry braid:
1) With the exception of the obvious (any liquid or liquid concoction that pours or flows), any solid ingredient, or a concoction of ingredients with a sticky or gluey viscosity, can be used as a filling for a puff pastry braid. Almost anything you can wrap your head around: meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, fruit, vegetables, chocolate, nuts, etc.
2) The filling can be added to the pastry by stacking and layering thin slices or strips of one or more ingredients on top of each other, or, by spooning a mixture of minced or diced ingredients into the center, or a combination of doing both. That said, any ingredient that won't fully-cook or soften to an edible texture in a 375° oven in 18-20 minutes, or, any ingredient that will exude a lot of moisture as it cooks, needs to be cooked or semi-cooked first. For example: Adding raw sausage or ground beef will render the braid greasy/watery, and, 18-20 minutes is not enough time for a raw apple or pear to fully-cook.
3) Lastly, never overstuff a puff pastry braid. The size of the puff pastry sheet matters, and, the sheets I use are 8 1/2"-ounce, 9" x 9" tri-folded squares exclusively. For stacked and layered fillings, go no higher than 1 1/2". For sticky concoctions, no more than 2-2 1/4 total cups, and, mound the filling towards the center.
My method of braiding & baking a puff pastry braid:
No special tools are required to make a puff pastry braid. Ideally, a large 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan lined with parchment paper, a 6" ruler and a paring knife (for measuring and scoring the pastry), and a pastry brush (for applying the egg wash), should all be on-hand in your kitchen.
~Step 1. 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 pastry is kept cold.
~Step 2. Once the filling has been layered and placed in the center third of the pastry (as per the recipe's directions), starting at one end and working all the way to the other, alternately crisscross the tabs up and over filling (as pictured in rule/guideline 2). 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 1, 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. Trust me, the patchwork puff pastry will bake up to be picture perfect.
~Step 3. In a small bowl, whisk 1 egg and 1 tablespoon 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 filling might be starting to bubble from the nooks and crannies. Remove from oven and cool on pan 30-45 minutes. Use a spatula to aid in transferring to a serving plate prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.
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 three of my favorites:
Appetizer: Cloudberry Jam, Brie & Almond Braid.
Entrée: Sweet Sausage, Apple & Cheddar Braid.
Dessert: Swiss Chocolate, Cherry & Almond Braid.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)