Fun Uses for Puff Pastry

I love both savory dishes and sweet desserts made with puff pastry. Adding flakiness and a crunch to any food is what puff pastry does. In other words, whatever it is added to is elevated to the highest level of “deliciousness”! Incorporating puff pastry into your cooking and baking repertoire is easy as well.

You can purchase ready made puff pastry from the freezer section of the grocery store OR you can make my “Puff Pastry in a Hurry” recipe which is available on a baking video on this website. It is also included in my newest book, “Baking with Success”.

Puff pastry can be used under foods, as in a tart or turnover, or on top of foods, as on a potpie. It is really foolproof and can be used as a great “fakeout”. By that I mean that you can look like you really slaved all day on a dish or dessert, but in reality, you only spent the bare minimum of time in the kitchen. It really is a win-win situation.

Here are some great ideas for using puff pastry and making it FAST:

  • A quick fruit tart. Roll out a rectangular piece of puff pastry and top it with thinly sliced apple or pear slices, or any other relatively dry fruit. Drizzle some caramel sauce over the fruit and bake it in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven until it gets nice and brown and puffed. Don’t allow the caramel to burn. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream!
  • A vegetable tart for an appetizer or a meal. Roll out a puff pastry rectangle or circle and brush the entire dough with melted butter. Sprinkle with some minced shallots, and bake in a 400 degree Fahrenheit  oven until puffed and golden brown. Remove from oven and spread the entire surface with some hummus, and top with a lightly dressed salad using arugula or mixed baby greens. Drizzle the entire surface with some high quality extra virgin olive oil and serve!
  • Individual pot pies. Make your favorite savory filling or stew with chicken or beef, pork or lamb. Allow it to cool thoroughly or make a day in advance. In greased, individual ramekins, add the stew almost to the top. Cut out circles of puff pastry that are large enough to cover each ramekin. Lightly brush the edges of each filled ramekin with some beaten egg, and place the puff pastry circles on top, and fit them over the edges pressing to seal. Brush the tops of each ramekin with some egg as well, make a few slits on the top of each pot pie with a knife, and bake them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the tops are nice and brown and the filling is bubbling through the slits. Serve at once!
  • Cut the puff pastry into small squares an cover each with some pesto and top each with a slice of soppressata or chorizo sausage. Sprinkle each with some shredded parmesan cheese. Bake on a parchment lined sheet pan at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 6-10 minutes or until the pastry squares are puffed and golden brown. These are yummy as an appetizer, as a soup topper or as funky “croutons” on top of a salad.

Try some of these ideas and let me know how they came out or if you have any other suggestions on how to use puff pastry.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Bread Pudding: An Easy Dessert to Ring in the New Year

Every New Year’s Eve I have a few friends over for dinner. Life sure is hectic around this time of year, so this year I have decided to make a simple and delicious Bread Pudding for dessert.  For those of you who have never had or made a bread pudding – pay attention. They are underrated and scrumptious! A bread pudding is simply bread of any sort (the more stale, the better!), eggs, and dairy like milk, heavy cream, half and half. Basically, it is a custard with bread in it, all baked together and served warm. It is truly yummy! Bread puddings can even be made savory with the addition of meats,vegetables and cheese and served as a light lunch or supper.

Bread puddings can be plain or tricked out. The choice of breads you can use are endless, and even the word “bread” can be taken to mean anything you wish. I have made bread puddings using leftover challah, brioche, white bread, whole wheat bread or any other type of bread, unfrosted cake, muffins, croissants, doughnuts and anything else your imagination can come up with.

The bread can be cubed or sliced into triangles or just ripped into small pieces. The bread is then placed into a greased baking dish like a casserole or baking pan that is not too deep. The custard ingredients are whisked together and poured over the bread pieces and left to sit for a bit before baking.

The most important thing about a bread pudding is to let it get soft: once you place the “bread” in a baking dish and cover it with the custard. The bread needs to soak up some of the custard so that it gets very flavorful and has almost a creamy texture to it. Some bread puddings can even be left overnight in the fridge and then baked the next day. After they are baked the custard is soft and combines with the bread giving a soft, pudding like consistency. It is very comforting, but most of all, delicious.

I like to serve my bread pudding warm topped with ice cream. This New Year’s Eve I am making a caramel, rum bread pudding topped with my home made pumpkin ice cream.

Try to make your own bread pudding, and let me know how it came out. What are your favorite ingredients to use in your puddings?

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

 

Ending the Year on a High Note

I am so glad to be back blogging with you. It’s been awhile, and I am sorry that it took me so long to get back to blogging. Much has happened since I last reached out to you.

The first thing that has happened in my life is that my kitchen is FINALLY DONE. Without trying to sound like a spoiled brat, it was an intense experience, but a learning one. When you remodel a kitchen you face many choices and obstacles. You really need to know what your wants and needs are in such items as: appliances, counter space, gas or electric stovetop, etc.

The hardest part of a remodel is the stage the contractors call “demo”. That stands for demolition, and it’s LOUD!! The greatest part of the remodel is that it is finished, and I now have a GORGEOUS and very practical space that is organized. I never want to do this again and hopefully I won’t have to.

My newest book “Baking with Success” came out and I have had two wonderful book signings so far. One of the most fun I had promoting my book was to appear at the Wine and Food Fest in Rhinebeck, New York. I did a wonderful demonstration for a recipe from my new book, and I got to meet about 10,000 people! It was CRAZY!! One fun person I met was Shaun O’Neale, winner of MasterChef season 7! We even exchanged cookbooks. He is really a nice person!

I, also, was asked by WAMC, to appear on Food Friday, the Friday before Thanksgiving, with Deanna Fox, the fabulous food contributor to the Times Union and blogger. What a blast that was! I made my Meringue Mushrooms and Free Form Apple Gallette. Deanna even took some of my gallette home with her. That was such a complement.

I am so excited about some of my future endeavors that are in the works!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

 

There’s Comfort in My Chocolate Cake

I must admit that my favorite cake of all time is my Chocolate Java Cake. That is probably why I included it in my new cookbook Baking with Success and put a big  picture of it on the cover.

What makes it so scrumptious is the texture of the cake which perfectly complements the creaminess of the rich chocolate frosting. It even has a decadent chocolate coffee filling in which I use crushed chocolate covered coffee beans for an extra blast of java flavor. The combo of chocolate and coffee is killer!

The tender mouth feel of the cake is from using the creaming method of mixing. There are a few methods of mixing cakes, and this method has to be my all time favorite because of the light, yet firmness of the cakes it creates. It begins with creaming softened butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. The air bubbles that are created, work with the chemical leaveners, helping to allow that cake to rise to a perfect height.

I am not a light and airy cake lover. No angel cake for me!  I like my cakes, especially my chocolate cake, to have some structure. I want to really be able to sink my teeth in it! The frosting should also hold its’ own against the density of the cake.  If you try this chocolate cake recipe you will experience chocolate nirvana.

If you are not much of a coffee fan I made a  video on my YouTube channel of a version of this chocolate cake without any coffee filling.

Please try this cake for your next occasion and you will be comforted and VERY happy!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

My Cookbook is Finally Here!

After more than a year and a half of hard work, my new book “Baking with Success”, is finally out and available. I am so proud of it, because the recipes are quite special to me. I have inserted personal anecdotes in the introductions of each chapter about specific recipes and  what they mean to me. Many recipes have links to my YouTube channel so that you can watch how the recipe should be made.

Writing a book is sort of like having a baby. You are creating something and nurturing it until is takes on a life of its own.

It involves lots of effort and a stick-to-it kind of passion that never sleeps. When I am working on a book I leave paper and pen by my bed so I can jot down a recipe idea that may come to me during the night.

There is not a huge amount of text in a cookbook, but there must be clear and concise methods and procedures that anyone can follow. This can be a challenge to say the least. One example was when I was trying to write out the directions for a lattice topped peach pie. After I wrote out the procedure and steps for the recipe I had my husband (a non-baker) try to follow them with strips of paper to resemble real strips of pie dough. Needless to say, my husband would now be able to make a lattice topped pie. He may not be willing, but he sure is able!

There were several versions of the book, and after writing the last iteration, I was finally happy. After re-working the text, re-writing the recipes, making oodles of tweaks and changes to those recipes and finally making each version over and over the book was complete.

At one point I had so many baked goods that I had to keep giving them to friends and family. I always know when I have had enough versions of my baked goods when my family says things like “molten chocolate cakes, again?!” Really?

If you are a baker or know someone that is, check out my book which will, also, have an e-version, with links to my YouTube videos, in just a few weeks as well.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Getting Ready for Baking Camp

Every year around this time, I am hard at work planning my Summer Kids Baking Camp. I have been teaching these mini week long baking courses for kids in middle school to high school for over 16 years!

Although it is lots of work and takes oodles of patience I LOVE IT! I meet all sorts of kids from different geographical areas. Some of the kids are quiet and some not so much. However, once the quiet ones start feeling comfortable watch out…

I am excited about this summer’s first week. We begin the week with home made marshmallows. They are super simple to make and the kids love taking them home to make S’mores with their parents. I even put a home made S’mores recipe in my new cookbook, “Baking with Success” with graham cracker cookies that you make from scratch.

Some marshmallow recipes start out with a meringue using egg whites that have a boiling sugar syrup beaten into them with a bit of gelatin. And some recipes just use a lot of unflavored gelatin instead of the meringue with the boiling syrup beaten in as well. Both ways work well and taste great.

I know what you are thinking. Why don’t we just use store bought marshmallows?Well, buying them is no fun, and I find that kids love to explore how to make an item that seems so hard to do and yet is not. When they see the food science of how air can be beaten into egg whites, or gelatin, and then stabilized by using the gelatin itself, it becomes an edible science experiment. The kids are amazed that they actually made something that they never thought they could.

If you are looking for a fun and educational activity for your middle schooler or high schooler this summer, please look into my Professional Baking Course for Kids at Schenectady County Community College.

Remember to never take the simple things in life, like marshmallows for granted!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail