Thursday, December 16, 2004

"Puff the Magic Pastry"...

... says Alton Brown. When thinking about puff pastry, "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down" rings in my ears. For some reason, these frozen layers of butter pastry have intimidated me. And yet, in recent months there have been a number of culinary experiences or readings that have made me want to knock out the big bad wolf with a brick, and head for the frozen section. If you need convincing, check out Heidi Swanson's Sweet Potato Pot Pie from her new cookbook Cook 1.0 , which also brings back warm, comforting memories of the pot pies at Liberty Cafe.

I was invited to a party last weekend and was asked to bring an appetizer. I rolled up my sleeves and decided to give it a shot, knowing I could fall back to the old standby of homemade hummus if it didn't turn out. With 3 types of fresh mushrooms on hand from the mushroom ladies at the Alemany Farmer's Market, I set out to create the Triple Mushroom and Leek Strudel from the Whole Foods Market Cookbook. I heeded Alton's advice: open the pastry after about 20 minutes of thawing to allow for even thawing, be sure to roll on a dry, floured surface and use a clean knife or pizza roller. I pressed the seams of the pastry together in bunches and then rolled them out to create one seamless sheet. The trouble began once I started centering the filling on the pastry - how much filling could I add but still be able to transport the strudel to the baking sheet without the bottom falling out of the strudel? The recipe produced double the amount of filling I was comfortable with.

With just two thirds the filling, and only two inches of a seam not wanting to cooperate, I put the strudel in the oven at 400degrees for 30 minutes (Alton's magic numbers). The strudel was a hit - both in appearance and taste! No one seemed to mind the rather soggy non-puffed bottom or the little seam on top with filling oozing (which I said was by design so steam could escape).

With leftover filling, the very next day, I tried again - this time letting the dough thaw even longer, and cutting it into 4 squares to bake individual turnovers. These were just as tasty, easier to work with, and I realized afterwards - a little magical.