Spinach Cheese Puffs

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I think I may have mentioned before that I love appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. Just love them. My favorite kind of work event is one where they serve drinks and “heavy appetizers” or “passed hors d’oeuvres,” because I know that there’ll be something involving cheese, bacon, or some kind of pastry… sometimes all three. So naturally I like to have a few recipes for similar items in my repertoire for when I want to host my own delicious event.

This particular recipe was born out of the need to come up with something that I could make ahead of time and that would be able to survive for several hours in a hot car before being served at a casual barbecue. That meant most cheese- or meat-based items were out, and any fresh vegetables were similarly not going to work. I decided that the best option was something with puff pastry, and once I noticed the half-empty package of fresh baby spinach slowly wilting in my refrigerator, the decision was made!

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Lemon Rosemary Palmiers

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I love storebought puff pastry. It’s so easy to use, makes everything look impressive, and best of all I don’t have to deal with endless hours of rolling, chilling, and stressing over whether the butter is going to leak out in a mass exodus, leaving behind bone-dry pastry and the smell of burning fat in my oven. (which is what’s happened the last few times I tried to make it from scratch)

Anyway, it’s obviously a great thing to have in one’s freezer for occasions where a quick and fancy dessert is required, but it works just as well for less elaborate applications when all one wants is something to nibble on with tea. This is one of those times. I had an extra lemon in my fridge (leftover from my latest batch of lemon curd) and some fresh rosemary that was starting to wilt, and while looking for recipe ideas I saw one for lemon-rosemary palmiers. Well, those sounded great, as well as being incredibly easy (ingredients: puff pastry, lemon, rosemary, sugar), so I got started!

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Nutella Twists

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Have you ever bought a ball of fresh pizza dough from the grocery store, full of good intentions to make delicious, healthy homemade pizza… then looked into your fridge a week later to realize that you’d completely forgotten it and have no cheese or other toppings in the house? I did that this morning, and noted that over time the dough had slowly expanded so that it was straining to escape the confines of the plastic bag– it was definitely time to use it up.

Luckily I can think outside the box, and when I spied the giant jar of Nutella in my pantry I realized that I wasn’t confined to making actual pizza. Instead, I made these delicious breakfast treats (what? They’re no worse than donuts or danish!).

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Blueberry Almond Pastries

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After blueberry picking, despite having made Blueberry-Chocolate Pudding and Blueberry Breakfast Cake, we still had a ton of berries left. Luckily, with a picnic coming up and a package of puff pastry in the freezer, I was able to throw together some last-minute pastries to use up another cup or so of berries!

These are actually almost exactly the same, technique-wise, as these Peach Almond Pastries I made at this time last year– and they worked out just as well! In this case the thick blueberry compote (microwaved, not stovetop!) was accented nicely with a layer of almond paste, and provided a nice contrast to the crisp, flaky layers of buttery pastry. Try this recipe the next time you have extra fruit lying around the house– you won’t regret it!

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Almond Puff Loaf

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I’m a sucker for pastry, especially at breakfast, so when I came across this recipe for King Arthur Flour’s Almond Puff Loaf, which promised a delicious, multi-layered pastry in only a few simple steps, I knew I’d have to try it out. It starts with a base that’s halfway between a biscuit and a pie crust, and it’s topped with choux paste to provide some serious puff. The process reminded me a little of the Gateau St. Honoré, but the finished product was very different– probably because of the different ingredient proportions.

I also decided to add a layer of almond paste between the two doughs, to really amp up the almond flavor– I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking to try this recipe, along with using apricot jam, which pairs perfectly with the almond.

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Orange Spice Palmiers

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So I was looking for something simple to make for a thank-you gift for some friends who did us a favor– I always promise baked goods for things like this. Since our friends had little kids I wanted to make sure that whatever I made was relatively mess-free, as well as being easy to eat and not too outrageously sugary. When I thought of palmiers I knew I’d hit on the right idea. But you know me, I never let well enough alone– I wasn’t going to go to the trouble of making my own puff pastry (it never turns out well for me) so I had to doctor them up somehow.

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Gateau St. Honoré

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When I was in Paris I finally got the chance to try the famous Gateau St. Honoré– a toothsome confection consisting of a layer of puff pastry, topped with a piped choux pastry swirl, topped with a ring of caramel-dipped cream puffs, and filled with fluffy cream. It was rich, decadent, and begging to be reproduced at home. Of course, I can rarely leave well enough alone, so when I decided to try making one I thought it would be delicious to incorporate elements of another famous French dessert, the Paris Brest.

Paris Brest is made of a large ring of choux pastry (meant to resemble a bicycle wheel, as the dessert was created in honor of a bicycle race), which is split and filled with a praline mousseline cream. The praline is made of caramelized hazelnuts and almonds, pulverized until they turn into paste, which is then folded into the cream.

I actually vacillated between which of these desserts to make, as both sounded fantastic, but in the end the Gateau St. Honoré– being both more complicated (I always love a challenge) and involving puff pastry, which I always adore– won out. But instead of the regular chiboust (mixture of plain pastry cream and Italian meringue) to fill the center, I made two changes: First, I used diplomat cream (mixture of pastry cream and whipped cream) instead of chiboust cream, because I hate making Italian meringue– too fiddly with the sugar syrup. Second, I decided to add praline paste to the cream to deepen the caramel flavor of the dessert.

The result? Spectacular. The flakiness of the puff pastry base adds just enough textural interest to the slightly firmer choux pastry and the gobs of creamy, hazelnut-kissed filling. The hard caramel dip on the cream puffs is just enough to crunch between your teeth and provide a hint of bitterness, and the dessert as a whole is light yet rich. I will absolutely make this again the next time I need an impressive finish to a meal.

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