~Swiss Chocolate, Cherry & Almond Puff Pastry Braid~
Imagine eating a freshly-baked, still-warm chocolate croissant at your favorite coffee shop. Just thinking about one of those divinely decadent indulgences makes me happy. Now imagine it super-sized, more than enough to feed four, with sweet cherries and crunchy almonds added to it too. Need I say more? Valentine's Day will be here before we know it, and, if you're looking to surprise the chocolate lover in your life with something truly sweet, stash the ingredients on this list in your pantry and freezer, then, start counting the days to February 14th. Tick, tock.
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 desserts:
1 3 1/2-ounce bar Lindt bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces
1 21-ounce can cherry pie filling, or, my Seriously Simple Stovetop Sour Cherry Pie Filling
1/4 cup lightly-toasted slivered almonds
1 large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, to be used as an egg wash for assembled pastry braid
~ Step 1. Place slivered almonds on a small baking pan. Roast on center rack of preheated 375° oven, until lightly-toasted and fragrant, 5-6 minutes, stopping to stir the almonds around in pan half way through the process (so they brown evenly). Remove from oven and set aside to cool to room temperature, about 15-20 minutes. Using a large chef's knife, chop the chocolate into small bits and pieces. Set aside.
~Step 2. 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 3. Scatter the chocolate, in a single layer, over the center third of the pastry sheet. Sprinkle the almonds over the chocolate. Place the cherry pie filling in a bowl, and working a couple of tablespoons at a time, remove and scoop the cherries from the pie filling over the chocolate, mounding it towards the center -- discard the excess red cornstarch glop remaining in bowl.
~Step 4. 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 patchwork puff pastry will bake up to be picture perfect.
~Step 5. 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 cherry juices will 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.
Cool this culinary work of art 15-20 minutes...
Special Equipment List: small baking pan; cutting board; chef's knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; paring knife; fork; pastry brush
Cook's Note: An elegant entrée, which pairs perfectly with today's dessert, is : ~ My Love Affair with: Individual Beef Wellingtons ~.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)