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‘Magic’ pastry conjures easy, festive fare

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Easy Chicken, Spinach and Artichoke Potpie is made with puff pastry. [Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
Easy Chicken, Spinach and Artichoke Potpie is made with puff pastry. [Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
Cheese and Bacon Pinwheels are made with puff pastry dough. [Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
Personal-sized potpies are a kid-friendly meal. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]

“Puff the magic pastry …”

That line recently sparked some creative lyric compositions to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Yes, dinner with elementary-age kids can get pretty silly.

But the subject of our musical improvisation is indeed inspiring, particularly headed into the season for entertaining. Cut it, wrap it, stuff it, fold it. The uses for puff pastry are limited only by the cook’s — and kitchen helpers’ — imaginations.

“Puff the magic pastry, he’s a quiche’s friend; he frolics in the oven steam in a land called kiiiitchen.”

The same attributes that recommend puff pastry for weeknight quiches and potpies make it doubly appealing during the busy month ahead, when demand for festive snacks, appetizers and desserts can quickly outpace time for producing them. So take a cue from caterers and other food-service professionals who commonly use commercially prepared puff pastry to add almost instant elegance and decadence to a spread with minimal stress.

Puff pastry treats — assembled in advance — have the advantage of going from freezer to oven to table without sacrificing texture or flavor. In fact, puff pastry “likes being baked from frozen,” according to chef Kristen Lyon of Jacksonville’s Jefferson Farm Kitchen. Just follow a pastry recipe up to the point it would be baked, including giving it an egg or milk wash, before popping it into the freezer for later.

Some items are so obvious they don’t even require recipes. For near-instant turnovers, cut puff pastry into small diamonds, top with dollops of jam, fold over, crimp and bake. Make it fancier by cutting pastry dough into rounds, filling with fresh berries tossed in sugar and a bit of cornstarch, then folding the dough calzone-style, crimping the edges and baking at 400 F for 20 minutes.

Savory dishes are just as easy. Wrap puff pastry around salmon or roasted vegetables and cheese, then bake. Pastry rounds also can top potpies and casseroles (especially personal-sized versions), or float on top of silky soups.

And because puff pastry lends itself to decorative designs, it’s an entry point for kids in the kitchen. Have fun fashioning cute pastry shapes, either freehand or with holiday cookie cutters.

Most frozen puff pastry is sold in 17.3-ounce packages, which contain two sheets. Leftover sheets can be kept frozen.

Be sure to follow package directions for thawing puff pastry. Unfolding it too soon will cause it to crack or break. But if it does crack, just press it back together.

This potpie recipe requires hardly more effort than stirring together ingredients, pouring the mixture into a baking dish and topping with the pastry. Make two portions and freeze one for those nights when there’s hardly a mealtime minute to spare. Assemble it in a foil or other disposable pan for transport to holiday potlucks or bestowing as a hostess gift.

Reach features editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4494 or slemon@rosebudmedia.com

Easy Chicken, Spinach and Artichoke Potpie

1 1/4 pounds (20 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1 (5.2-ounce) package Boursin Garlic & Fine Herbs cheese

1 cup jarred or canned whole artichoke hearts packed in water, halved

2 carrots, peeled and shredded

3/4 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup capers, rinsed

1 tablespoon Wondra flour, see note

12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and sliced thin

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/8 teaspoon table salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 (9 1/2-by-9-inch) sheet puff pastry, thawed

1 large egg, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 F. Grease an 8-by-8-inch baking dish or 9-inch skillet. In a bowl, combine the spinach, Boursin, artichokes, carrots, broth, cream, capers and Wondra, then transfer to prepared dish or pan.

Toss the chicken with the lemon zest, salt and pepper and spread in even layer over spinach mixture. Cut the puff pastry to fit over dish or pan and place over chicken. Cut 4 (2-inch) slits in center of dough, then brush dough with egg mixture.

Bake in preheated oven until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating dish halfway through baking. Remove potpie from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

NOTE: Wondra is a brand of instant flour that has been finely ground, cooked and dried. It prevents sauces from clumping. You can substitute ordinary all-purpose flour for Wondra; the taste will be the same but sauce will have a pasty, slightly gritty texture.

Recipe from “The Complete One Pot” by America’s Test Kitchen

Cheese and Bacon Pinwheels

1/2 package puff pastry sheets

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

4 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

3 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Pinch of salt

Thaw the pastry sheet at room temperature, for about 30 minutes or until it is easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.

Stir the egg and water together in small bowl to create a wash. In another bowl, mix together the cheeses, bacon crumbles, green onion, garlic powder and salt.

Unfold pastry sheet onto a lightly floured surface and lightly roll with rolling pin to remove any creases. Brush egg mixture on top of dough, and then spread cheese mixture evenly over top of dough.

Starting at pastry’s short end, roll up dough like a jelly roll. Cut into 16 slices. Lay slices flat on prepared baking sheet and brush with egg mixture.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

— Recipe adapted from pepperidgefarm.com

Fig and Manchego Pastries

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package directions

12 chunks manchego cheese (roughly 1/2-inch-square and 1/4 inch thick)

1/4 cup fig preserves

1 egg, beaten (optional)

Ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Unfold the pastry sheet and use a paring knife to cut it into 12 (2-by-2-inch) squares.

Arrange each square on prepared baking sheet. Use a knife to cut a slit around inside edge of each square. Slit should run all around, about 1/4 inch from edge. Feel free to experiment with more decorative designs. Cutting this slit will cause dough to bake up in an attractive manner.

Place a square of cheese in center of each pastry. Place a dollop of fig preserves over each piece of cheese.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until pastry is puffed and lightly browned. If desired, halfway through baking, use a pastry brush to lightly brush pastries with the egg. Sprinkle with the black pepper, to taste, then cool slightly before serving.

Makes 12 pastries.

Pesto-Pistachio Twists

1 (7- to 8-ounce) jar homemade or store-bought basil pesto

1 cup shelled and ground pistachios, plus more if desired

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 F.

In a small mixing bowl, mix together the pesto, pistachios, Parmesan and oil.

Lay 1 sheet of the pastry dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll out into a 12-inch square; slice in half. Using a pastry brush or back of a large spoon, evenly coat 1 half with pesto-nut mixture.

Lay second half on top, making sure edges are even. Brush top with egg wash. Cut through 2 layered pieces of pastry into 6-inch-long, 1/2-inch-wide strips. Twist each strip 4 to 5 times.

Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Repeat with second sheet of pastry dough.

Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes until golden and slightly crispy on bottoms and edges. Let rest for 5 to 8 minutes to settle before serving.

Makes about 48 twists.

Recipe adapted by the Chicago Tribune from a recipe by Chadwick Boyd.

Sausage Turnovers

1 to 2 sheets puff pastry, thawed

16 cocktail wieners (or slice a larger frankfurter or sausage into 2-inch pieces)

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Roll the pastry on a lightly floured surface into an 11-inch square. Use a 2 1/2-inch cookie cutter to cut 16 rounds.

Arrange rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Center a cocktail wiener on each pastry round; fold pastry over and press lightly to seal edges. Brush with egg wash.

Bake turnovers in a preheated, 425-degree oven until golden, for 10 to 15 minutes.

For a dipping sauce, mix the mustards and Worcestershire sauce together in a small bowl.

Makes 16 turnovers.

Recipe adapted by the Chicago Tribune from James Beard’s “Hors d’Oeuvre and Canapes.”