Saturday, May 15, 2010

Savory Mini Puff Pastries

One of my favorite institutions of French culture is the ritual involved in eating, most especially the ritual known as the Apéro.

The apéro is a mysterious beast, as it is not simply the little appetizer snacks one might have before dinner, although it frequently includes peanuts, radishes and butter, chips, or other such little nibbles. It also includes alcohol, especially before-dinner drinks like Pastis, Muscat, Martini (the sweet, wine-based kind, which is a mix of wine, plant extracts, vermouth, and sugar), or the always-acceptable wine or beer. An apéro can be a short little appetite-teasing affair before the meal begins, but it can also be an entire evening in itself, followed by no meal whatsoever. When ample food is involved, this can be referred to as an Apéro Dinatoire. Otherwise, it's just what we English-speakers would call a party.

The apéro has been getting some media attention lately in France, as Facebook users have been organizing Giant Apéros in various regions of the country where hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people show up in a public space to "meet people" / drink a lot. There have been reports of comas, and even one death in the most recent apéro géant. Police are cracking down, as the events, being unofficial and unregistered with the local government, are illegal. The Parisian apéro géant, which is foreseen for May 28th, was to be the biggest one yet, but apparently lots of people are dropping out, as the police are getting ready to squash them. And nobody likes for their apéro to be squashed.

A recent, more life-sized and less dramatic apéro of my own was accompanied by these savory puff pastries. Which actually made it fairly dramatic. I'd never successfully made a pâte feuilleté before, but I was surprised to find that the recipe was quite easy, and yielded delicious, buttery, flaky results. A batch of these is a perfect snack with the people you'll share your dinner with, over a little kir, perhaps, just to make your meal that much more ceremonious.

I filled mine with Comté this time, last time I filled them with pesto. You can fill them with anything not too liquidy (you don't want the pasty to drink your filling). One important thing: you want your filling to be salty, and if it's not sufficiently salty, you need to add extra salt to the dough. Salt is key.

It's also important to poke little holes in them with a toothpick so the steam can escape, and pressing their edges together with a fork helps keep them together.

Another note: I must admit, if you use cheese, do not grate your cheese like me, but rather cut little slices, and your life will be much easier.

I made these based on Smitten Kitchen's recipe for Pop-Tarts, but made them smaller, and I put an egg wash on top for a shiny, golden brown crust that would hold on sesame seeds, so mine don't so much ressemble Pop-Tarts anymore, but they're nice little snack-size pastries.

Savory Puff Pastries, makes about 16 1-1/2" x 1-1/2" pastries

2 cups all-purpose flour
salt (1/2 teaspoon if your filling is salty like pesto, more like 1 teaspoon if it's a less salty filling like Comté)
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk

1 additional egg for the wash

About 1/2 cup of whatever filling you choose

Mix flour and salt. Incorporate butter by working it in with your fingers (or by using appropriate pastry technology). When the mixture still has little bits of butter visible but holds together when you squeeze it,  whisk the first egg and milk together in a separate bowl, then add it to the dough. Mix just til combined. Knead it briefly on a floured surface, separate in two. Roll out the first half to a square about 1/8" thick, and cut it into little squares of your desired size (mine were about 1-1/2"). Brush them with the second egg. Put a little bit of filling in the middle, leaving room around to seal. Roll out the second part of the dough in the same manner. Put the little squares on top of the filled ones, brush on the egg wash, seal with a fork, and vent with a toothpick. Sprinkle with sesame seeds for garnish if desired. Bake at 350ºF / 170ºC for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown on top. 

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