If there was ever a time as a chef when I was close to a full-on mind and spirit meltdown, it was because of puff pastry. Other yeast-free baking practices are a spot-on delight for me (aside from pie, of course) but whether it was finding that perfect oven heat, rolling that strudel log without tearing it or even keeping the phyllo from drying out… I sucked at it.
I’m a little ashamed to say that for the majority of my career so far I’ve avoided pastry like the plague rather than actually practicing to improve. I saw the whole thing as an annoyance of monumental proportions rather than a challenge I could overcome and that “pet peeve” designation that I hung over pastries had to die if I was to grow. Tackling this however was about as difficult as you would imagine, but with a smidgeon (wow, that’s an actual word) of anger so strong that it makes you want to saw a chainsaw in half with a larger; more powerful chainsaw.
Knowing full well that England is a smorgasbord (that’s an actual word too) of pastry, I decided I had to break that pet peeve and devote some agonizing time and money to practice. Starting out small, I fussed with some apple filling, phyllo dough sheets and butter to make some generic strudels. All of which were tasty but terrible, if that makes sense. Back and forth I trudged from my tablet to my counter and stove until I finally got every last puff pastry recipe that I owned right, along with three creative applications. But not before spending almost $200 and throwing my favourite coffee mug 60 feet out into the woods in frustration.
Out of those three creative dishes I made with puff pastry during my hellish nightmare, the tastiest is:
Newfoundland Ridge Baklava A La Mode
½ cup honey
¼ cup corn syrup
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 cup coffee cream, chilled
5 sheets phyllo pastry, halfed
2 cups partridge berries
1 cup sugar
1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla
In a small saucepan on medium high heat, render your partridgeberries with ¾ of the sugar, set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, whisk coffee cream with remaining sugar and vanilla until forms stiff peaks, refrigerate. Cut phyllo sheets in half. Melt butter in microwave for 15 seconds, stir microwave and again for 10 seconds. Brush bottom sheet with butter, add a sheet, top with partridgeberry coulis, add another sheet brush with butter, add a new sheet, dollop with cream layer, freeze for 20 min. Quickly add additional sheets while brushing with butter until all is used, brush top with egg white. In a preheated oven at 350 F, bake pastry for approx. 15 minutes or until golden brown. Top with mixture of honey and corn syrup. Optional: Top with ice cream and desired toppings.
This creative application was the easiest part of it all. After staring at a box puff pastry treat and wondering how they bake it with the cream filling sealed inside without turning it soggy. I asked myself how I would do it if I tried and I figured the most logical way would be to freeze the cream layer first and assemble the rest quickly enough to have it stay mostly frozen. Sure enough, it worked on the first shot…minus a couple burnet edges. Luckily, that wasn’t something a bread knife couldn’t fix before I lost my temper again.