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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Recipe: Ham & Cheese Puff Pastry Piggies


Unbaked Puff Pastry Ham & Cheese Piggy

Recipe: Ham & Cheese Puff Pastry Piggies



"Don't play with your food!"

Well, I've never been a very good listener. I still fondly recall the first time my Grandmother made me "Mickey Mouse Pancakes". They were little more than three vaguely overlapping circles of batter, but to a three-year-old, they were a remarkable breakfast innovation. Play with my food, I would! "Now do Goofy!"

Over the decades that followed, Pancake Art has become all but a formal discipline. Just take a look at YouTube. And why not? Food should be fun... particularly pastry. If food were just about nutrition, we'd all be eating Soylent Green for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

"Soylent Green is People!" Rumor has it, it's also Gluten Free, but I'm not sure if it's Paleo.

Perhaps it's the anticipation of soon catering to a toddler's palate (although I'm not sure there's much I can do to make the first few months of formula more interesting). But armed with a fridge full of homemade Puff Pastry Dough, and with a craving for something savory (maybe it was too much Strawberry Banana Cream from last week), I thought Ham & Cheese in Puff Pastry would be delicious... and making it look like a little Piggy... well, why not!  


Baked Puff Pastry Ham & Cheese Piggy
Stuffed pockets of Puff Pastry are up there on my list of "Top Comfort Foods". A gooey filling paired with a flaky casing makes for a great textural contrast. 

Ham & Cheese is just one of an infinite number of potential fillings. Sweet or savory, you're limited only by your imagination. Just make sure that whatever you use as a filling can hold up in the heat of a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven as the Puff Pastry bakes.

Cheese Options for the Ham & Cheese Puff Pastry Piggies
For my Ham & Cheese Piggies, I initially planned to be a traditionalist and use Gruyere. Gruyere is the ubiquitous cheese of French cooking. It has a distinct but mild flavor that pairs well with many ingredients. It also melts extremely well, which would have been perfect in this context. But when this little piggy went to market, he was confronted with so many other options. I had to branch out.

Virginia Ham and Taleggio Cheese
I ultimately settled on Taleggio, a fragrant, semi-soft, cows'  milk cheese from Italy. I had only recently been introduced to it during a Cheese tasting in Culinary School. I found it to be surprisingly tangy and rich. It also melts extremely well, so I was sold. As for the Ham, I decided on thick-cut, Virginia ham: salt cured and hard-wood smoked.

Rolled Puff Pastry Dough
The first step in making the Ham & Cheese Puff Pastry Piggies is to make one recipe of Puff Pastry Dough. This can be done days or weeks in advance - just wrap the pre-made Dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze it until you are ready to bake.

Cutting Puff Pastry Sheets
To make three large Piggies, roll the final sheet of Puff Pastry to 8"x12". Cut the sheet into six 4" squares

Use a sharp knife. A dull knife may actually pinch the laminated layers, sealing them shut at the edges and inhibiting the rise.

Saved Scraps of Puff Pastry
Save any scrap pieces of Puff Pastry. This is a rule for whenever you work with Puff Pastry. Puff Pastry is so time intensive, you'll want to maximize the yield from your efforts.

Scraps of Puff Pastry can be neatly stacked and rerolled for future use. The lamination will not be as clean, so the rise will not be as dramatic. However, it will still produce great Pastries.

For the Puff Pastry Piggies, the scraps can be used for decorations (e.g. Puff Pastry snouts, eyes and ears).

Filling the Puff Pastries with Cheese
Place three of the squares on a parchment lined sheet tray (the tray on which you plan to bake the Piggies). As you work, keep the other three squares in the refrigerator so that the Butter does not melt. They will be used later as the top layer crusts.

Place a mound of Cheese at the center of each bottom layer square, leaving a border of approximately 1/2".

Filling the Puff Pastries with Ham
Cover the layer of Cheese with a layer of Ham.

Egg Washing the Edges of the Puff Pastry before Sealing
Egg wash the 1/2" border at the edge of each square. The wash will act as a glue between the bottom square and the top layer crust. Try not to drip any wash on the cut edges as it can seal the layers and inhibit the rise.

Sealing the Puff Pastries with a Fork
Remove the three top squares from the refrigerator. In order to cover the Ham & Cheese filling, the top squares must be rolled a bit larger so that they can cover the filling and still line up with the bottom squares.

Gently roll each of the top squares to approximately 5"x5". Place the squares over the filling, tightly sealing the pocket, squeezing out any air and carefully aligning the edges.

As a last step, seal the edges by crimping them with a fork dipped in flour. This will keep the Piggies from leaking when the Cheese melts. It also looks nice.

Unbaked Ham & Cheese Puff Pastry with Scrap Dough Decorations
If you so desire, make some decorative pieces with the scraps of Puff Pastry. Egg wash can be used to attach any decorative pieces of Puff Pastry.

Lightly egg wash the Piggies before placing them in the oven. This makes for a golden brown finish.

Baked Ham & Cheese Puff Pastry
Bake the Piggies at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 25 minutes or until golden brown. The higher temperature is important when working with Puff Pastry, promoting a more dramatic rise.

Inside of the Ham & Cheese Puff Pastry Piggy
The Cheese filling will be extremely hot immediately after baking. We've all burned our mouths on Hot Pockets. Don't do it again! Allow the Piggies to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

If for some reason you don't plan to eat the Piggies right away (I can't imagine why), allow them to fully cool and store them for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Reheat the Piggies in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 5-10 minutes.

You can also store the unbaked, filled pastries in airtight containers. They will last 3-4 days in the refrigerator or a month in the freezer. Bake them directly from the refrigerator or freezer.



- The Recipe -




Ham & Cheese Puff Pastry Piggies:


Yield: 3 Puff Pastry Piggies

Ingredients:
  • Puff Pastry: 650g (One Recipe)
  • Ham: 150g (about 1/3 pound)
  • Cheese: 150g (about 1/3 pound)
  • Egg, for wash: 1x

Directions:

1. Make one recipe of Puff Pastry, rolling the final Dough into a rectangle measuring approximately 8"x12". The Dough can be made days in advance. Keep pre-made Dough in the refrigerator or freezer, wrapped in plastic wrap.

Chef's Note: It is important to work quickly with Puff Pastry. The Butter layers will melt quickly in a hot kitchen. Have all of your tools ready to go before you start.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Cut the sheet of Puff Pastry into six 4" squares, saving any scraps. Three squares will be used as the bottom layer. The remaining three squares will serve as the top crust. Place the three bottom squares on a parchment lined sheet tray. Return the top crust squares to the refrigerator while you work. 

Chef's Note: When cutting Puff Pastry, use a sharp knife. A dull knife can pinch the laminated layers, which will inhibit the rise.

4. Place 50g of Cheese in the center of each of the three bottom layer squares, leaving a 1/2" border around the edge. Then place 50g of Ham on top of the Cheese. Lightly egg wash the 1/2" border on each square.

5. Remove the top crust squares from the refrigerator. Gently roll each of the top crust squares of Puff Pastry to be slightly larger than the bottom squares (approximately 5"). This will make it easier for the top crust squares to cover the filling. Working one at a time, tightly cover the Ham & Cheese filling with the top crust squares, taking care not to trap air inside.

6. Using a fork dipped in flour, seal the Piggies by firmly crimping along the edges. 

7. If desired, use pieces of the scrap Puff Pastry to make decorations (e.g. a snout, eyes or ears). The scraps can be chilled, rerolled and cut into any shapes desired. A light egg wash can be used to attach pieces together. 

8. Before baking, lightly egg wash each Piggy. Bake the Piggies at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 25 minutes, rotating the sheet tray half way through the baking time. Allow the Piggies to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving as the melted Cheese will be extremely hot.


Storage:

- The Piggies can be assembled and refrigerated for up to 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to a month before baking.
- Baked Piggies are best served shortly after they are baked. They can also be allowed to cool and stored in an airtight container for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Reheat the Piggies in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 5-10 minutes. 


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