CHICKEN AND HEART OF PALM SQUARES

Puff pastry turns any delicacy into something special. It is hard to beat the taste and texture of a nicely laminated dough. You can go sweet or savory, you can skip any additions, just form them as sticks, twist them around and enjoy plain or with a humble sprinkle of spices. Today I share a recipe for puff pastry squares using a classic Brazilian filling: chicken and hearts of palm.

CHICKEN AND HEART OF PALM SQUARES
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

for rough puff pastry:
(makes a little more than you’ll need)
345 g unsalted butter, frozen
1 tablespoon sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
300g all-purpose flour + 2 Tbsp (to toss with grated butter)
80 g whole milk, cold
80 g water, cold (may not use it all)
1 egg for egg wash

for the filling:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 lemon (to poach chicken)
salt and ground black pepper to poach chicken breasts
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic
salt and ground black pepper
2 large tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
100 g hearts of palm, cut in ¼ inch rounds
100 g frozen peas (no need to defrost)
80 g cream cheese (full-fat)
Sriracha sauce
fresh cilantro to taste
1 lemon
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup whole milk

Mix in a large bowl the 300g flour, sugar, and salt. Set aside.

Grate the butter using a food processor with a grating disk attachment. Toss it with 2 Tbsp flour and reserve.

Take 155 g of the grated butter and mix with the flour in the large bowl, tossing with your hands to form reasonably small crumbles. Keep the rest of the butter in the freezer. Add to the flour/butter mixture all the cold milk and half of the water. Make a smooth dough, trying to handle it as little as possible. Adjust with water and or more flour.

Roll it out as a rectangle, about 12 inches long and 4 inches wide. Add roughly 50 g of frozen grated butter to the center of the dough. Fold bottom half up, add 50 g more butter to the folded portion. Fold the top portion down, covering the butter. Turn the dough so that one open side is facing you. Roll it out as before, add the leftover grated butter exactly the same way. Fold and place in fridge for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough as before, fold two more times without adding any more butter. Roll out as a rectangle and keep in fridge until filling is ready and cold.

Roll out about 1/3 of the dough (roughly 300 g) as a square a little bigger than 12 inches. Do the same for another third of the dough.  Cut 12 squares from each piece of dough, punching a star using a cookie cutter in the center of half the squares (they will be the top of the pastry).

Place the squares that will be the bottom over parchment paper. Add enough cool chicken filling, brush the sides with egg wash, place the top pastry and push the edges to close it down. Brush the top with egg wash and bake at 400F for about 25 minutes, until golden brown.

FOR THE FILLING (can be made a couple of days in advance)
Poach the chicken breasts very gently in water seasoned with salt, pepper, soy sauce and lemon juice. I like to bring the water to almost a boil, turn the heat off, and leave the chicken in the pan for 15 minutes. Keep in mind it will cook longer in the pie.  When chicken is poached and cool enough to handle, shred the meat with your fingers or a couple of forks. Reserve.

Sautee the onion and garlic in olive oil with a touch of salt and pepper in a large skillet until fragrant. Add the shredded chicken breast, tomatoes, tomato paste, hearts of palm pieces and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring. Dissolve the flour in the milk, whisking well to avoid lumps. Pour into the meat mixture and heat until it starts to thicken.  Add the cream cheese, then the frozen peas and mix everything gently. Add the Sriracha sauce, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Add the minced cilantro, lemon juice and allow the mixture to cool completely before assembling the pastries.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The filling for these puff pastry squares is very similar to this one of my recent blogging past. It is a classic component of Brazilian recipes like pasteis, empadinhas and pies. The recipe will provide you with leftovers that you can enjoy over rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, or if you are truly daring, try it as a topping for pizza or flatbreads. Add a bit more cheese on top for good measure.

You will have a little bit of puff pastry leftover. You can cut in small squares, fill mini-muffin pans and play with other fillings like….

Mushroom duxelles!  Or save in the freezer for future important experiments in the kitchen. It does freeze beautifully…

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RASPBERRY PUFFS

This recipe can be super simple if you buy puff pastry at the store, or quite a bit more involved if you make it yourself. I don’t want to sound snobbish – although probably it will be the case – but homemade will be a lot better. It is hard to get as many flaky layers from a store-bought puff pastry, and the version made at home definitely feels lighter. But particularly during the summer, I see nothing wrong with opening that package and going at it with your rolling-pin. Working with all that butter, performing the foldings, is quite tricky when the weather is warm and humid. Once the pastry is done, the preparation of these raspberry squares is very simple and the end result… oh so very cute! I made my own puff pastry and a link to the recipe is included below. But for simplicity (it’s a very long recipe), I am sharing a simplified version using store-bought.

RASPBERRY PUFFS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

1 package of puff pastry, defrosted
to make your own, follow this link
fresh raspberries and blackberries (5 per pastry square)
8-ounce block cream cheese
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 400F.

In a medium bowl, mix cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until smooth.

Roll the puff pastry and cut into 3 to 3.5 inch squares. Using the packaged pastry, one sheet will be enough to make 4 squares. Leaving a thin border, make cuts along the edges of the square. Use either a small rolling pastry cutter or a very sharp knife, so that you don’t squish the layers of the puff pastry. Place a tablespoon of the cream cheese filling in the middle of the square, then top with 4 raspberries. Take one of the edge flaps and fold it towards the center, looping over the raspberry. Repeat with the other flaps. Place a raspberry in the center, on top of where all the flaps overlap. Repeat with the remaining pastry squares.

Bake for 20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and puffed. Serve with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, if so desired.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  If you like, you can brush the top of the loops with a little egg wash for extra shine, but I did not do that this time. Blueberries could be fun to use too, although they tend to bleed a lot more during baking. Don’t  be afraid to bake them until the pastry is very dark, because the filling tends to make the pastry a big soggy. In retrospect, I think I should have baked mine longer. But, as I like to say often, there’s always next time… live and learn…

They do have similarity with a Danish pastry, and go perfectly with a nice steamy cappuccino. One of these babies will be more than enough to satisfy any cravings for sweetness. They are fun to make and delicious to savor…  I hope you give them a try, with homemade puff or not.

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PAIN AU CHOCOLAT

If you expect a diet-nutrition-low-cal-related post because it’s January, I am here to disappoint  you…

😉

While most people were busy “only” with the holiday season, we had an additional reason to celebrate in that final week of December. My beloved’s Birthday. To start the day on the right note, I decided to bake a batch of one of his all time favorite treats: Pain au Chocolat! Whenever we go to Paris and sit down for our first coffee next morning, it never fails,  he always asks for it.  The plain croissant can wait…  but, since they take the exact same dough, I said to myself why not make both? And that’s how a little bit of Paris was brought into a chilly Kansas morning.

PAIN AU CHOCOLAT (& CROISSANTS)
(reprinted with permission from Colette Christian, at Craftsy.com)

for the butter block (beurrage)
1+ ¼ pound unsalted butter (I used Plugra)

for the dough (dètrempe)
2 large eggs, beaten
16 ounces water at about 90 F
12 g instant or osmotolerant yeast
28 g nonfat dry milk powder
957 g unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (39 g) sugar
2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter,  softened
2 teaspoons (16 g) salt

Make the butter block: In the mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on speed 2 until it has softened and no longer clings to the paddle. Mix for about 1 minute. The butter should be smooth. Roll it to a 10 inch square, as perfect as you can make it (I rolled it inside a quart size ziplock bag). Put it in the refrigerator as you work on the dough.

Make the dough: Put the eggs, yeast, water and dry milk powder in the mixer bowl. Fit the mixer with the dough hook attachment. Mix on speed 1 for 30 seconds to combine and dissolve the yeast.

Add the flour, sugar, butter and salt. Mix on speed one for 4 minutes, until the dough reaches “clean-up” stage.  Mix for 1 more minute on speed 1. Remove the dough from the mixer and knead by hand for a couple of minutes. Do not add any additional flour to the dough or to the work surface.  Place the dough in a buttered bowl and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

After 10 minutes, remove the butter from the refrigerator. Leave it resting for about 20 minutes, as the dough rests. Check to make sure it is the correct temperature. The butter is the perfect temperature is when the butter packet can be rolled on the edge of the counter without cracking.

Lightly flour your work surface and roll the dough out to a 10 inch by 20 inch rectangle. Place the butter block on the left side of the dough. There should be one inch border of clear dough on all three opened sides. Fold the unbuttered side over the buttered side of the dough. Press down on the unbuttered edges to seal them. Dust flour under the dough so that it does not stick. Lightly dust the top. Roll out the dough until it measures 12 by 24 inches.

Place the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet and turn the dough so that the long fold is furthest away from you and the long open side is nearest you. The two open short sides are at your right and left. Each time you make a turn the dough should be positioned in the same way. Mark the turns on the paper, crossing off each turn as you complete them.

Fold the dough in thirds (like a business letter) – always starting with the right side. Then fold the left side over the right. This is your first turn. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the dough from the refrigerator and complete another turn. Return the dough to the refrigerator for another 30 minutes and then do one more turn. You have now completed all three turns and the dough can be wrapped and refrigerated overnight, or you can proceed with the final rolling out.

Roll the dough into a 26 by 17 inches rectangle. Cut in half lengthwise and straighten all the edges by trimming about 1/4 inch of the edges.  Cut the dough into triangles (base should be 4 inches, height should be 8 inches), or rectangles for pain au chocolat, as shown in my photo below. If making pain au chocolat, add a chocolate baton or sprinkle semi-sweet chocolate chips in the lower half of the dough. Brush with egg wash the farthest edge of the rectangle, then roll the dough around, making sure the egg wash part in tucked under.

Proof the croissants and pain au chocolat inside a large baking sheet covered with a plastic bag – include a large mug with very hot water to generate steam and make a nice temperature for proofing.  Check after 45 minutes, they should look a bit more plump. At that point, you can brush the surface of each little croissant and roll with egg wash. 

Bake at 400 F for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 F and bake for 15 minutes more. If they are not fully golden, bake for 7 to 8 minutes longer.

 ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Have I praised enough the online classes at Craftsy? My first experience was macarons, also taught by Colette. Love her. Then, I decided to get the Classic Croissants at Home class and I must say I learned so much, it’s not even funny. Worth every penny, particularly because I got the class on a special end of the year sale. Cannot beat that. Croissants and pain au chocolat are all about precision. See that yard stick? She advises getting one and using it at every stage of rolling and folding. It makes life so much easier!  The recipe is detailed, but nothing compares to watching her make the dough and show you exactly what you are looking for. I highly recommend it. And she is very responsive, if you have doubts and asks her a question at the platform on the site, she usually will answer in a few minutes, or at most a couple of hours. Even during the holidays!

It is important to use either the batons sold specifically for pain au chocolat, or chocolate chips, because their formula prevents them from melting during baking. If you use regular chocolate, as you bite into it, you’ll be covered by a liquid lava. Yes, tasty, but not exactly the goal here.


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The proofing using a very large ziplock bag is pure genius. They sell those for storage of very large items and they work wonders to enclose a large baking sheet. The mug with hot water turns it into a home-made proofing device, moist and just warm enough for the dough to rise. I save two large bags for my baking, if any flour or egg wash glues to the inside, you can wash with warm water and dry them over the back of a chair.

There they are!  Cooling and waiting…

This was a very nice cooking project, perfect for a cold day. Of course it is a lot trickier to try and make laminated dough in the summer, so keep that in mind. One of the very few advantages of chilly weather. I would like to thank Colette for yet another superb class. Your attention to detail, and neatness during baking are really inspiring!

The best thing of making a big batch of these goodies is that they freeze very well. So, when the mood strikes, we remove a couple from the bag and place them, still frozen, in a 350F oven. In less than 10 minutes you can have croissants that taste as good as freshly baked…  What’s not to like?

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KOUIGN-AMANN, FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE

When life shakes you down hard, cooking becomes iffy, at least for me. Being sick with the worst cold in 25 years didn’t make it any easier. From Brazil, apart from a very heavy heart, I brought a virus, one that clearly was a brand new acquaintance. I had to fight it from scratch from an immunological point of view. And my beloved was hit  too. We were in horrible shape for a week.  Anything you set yourself to do seems to demand a lot more energy. Simple tasks drain you. And a lot will go wrong. Like a tomatillo sauce, poured down the garbage disposal, much to my despair. Still puzzled by that one, as it was a recipe from a very reputable source. Only possible explanation, I grabbed a mutant jalapeno pepper with off-the-chart capsaicin levels. Trust me on that one. I love pepper, being the Daughter of my Dad. That thing could scare all three dragons from the Game of Thrones into hiding. Liquid lava.  But, after that fiasco, I decided to grab the bull by the horn and go for the kill. I would make something more involved than dumping things in a blender. I would make a concoction that has been sitting on my list of culinary goals for a long time. I would tackle Kouign-Amann.

OVERVIEW OF THE RECIPE
(from Sugar Rush, a great cookbook!)

First you make a simple dough from flour, a little yeast, salt, and a little butter. That goes into the fridge to rest from a couple of hours to overnight.  You will also make a slab of butter with a precise dimension and cool it until firm.

Then, the dough is rolled out, the cold layer of butter placed on one side, and the dough folded in the usual puff pastry making technique. A few differences, though: only four folds are needed. Sugar gets sprinkled over the dough before each fold. No lengthy refrigeration between folds, because you do not want the sugar to melt into the dough. That’s about it. After four folds the dough is refrigerated for only 10 minutes, then rolled out and 4 inch squares are cut to form the individual pastries. They sit for 45 minutes before baking so that the yeast has a chance to work its magic.

They are best baked in rings, although muffin tins can be used. They are baked for longer than you would expect, so that the sugar gets really dark. And utterly delicious.

I did not ask permission to publish the recipe, but my friend Karen has made a beautiful batch in the past, and the recipe is available on her site. She also talks about the origin of this interesting pastry from Brittany.

recipe available here

Comments: This one goes to the OMG files. With honors, with a red carpet rolled out for its entrance. My gosh, this is good. This is so good it should probably be illegal. Think of a croissant, but with sugary caramelized bites in between the layers. A croissant that married a muffin and had a beautiful baby. It won’t crumble into buttery pieces in your mouth. It is actually a lot more sturdy, with the butter tamed by sugar. Oh, yeah. Butter tamed by sugar. Perverse, isn’t it? If you low-carb, if you keto, if you Paleo, this is not for you. But let me tell you one thing. Life is short. The pleasure you’ll have by biting into one of these babies is worth a little restraint for a few days. A few more push-ups, one more mile on the treadmill. There. I hope I made my case.

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PUFF PASTRY for the PARTY

Like many other cookaholics, we love dinner parties with friends and colleagues. It’s fun designing the menu, fun to shop for the ingredients, and fun to plan the preparation/presentation strategy for the meal.  Over the years we’ve learned some “tricks” that make life easier:  advance preparation; practicing the exotic dishes beforehand, so as to avoid using guests as guinea pigs; balancing the  labor-intensive and easy dishes.   This appetizer – that I found at Stephen Cooks! –  falls into the “trouble-free” category, to the point that, as Stephen put it  “it’s so simple that it feels like cheating“.

The secret is the use of commercial puff pastry, a life-saver in the kitchens of those who enjoy entertaining.   By all means, make your own if you prefer – but,  in this recipe the pastry is only a “crostini”, so the frozen product works well and saves time and effort.

QUICK SUNDRIED TOMATO CROSTINI
(adapted from Stephen Cooks!)

1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough
4 Tbs shredded Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 clove garlic, minced
8 black oil-cured olives, minced
2 Tbs minced parsley (or other fresh herb of your preference)
1 egg yolk
1 tsp water
salt to taste
4 medium sundried tomatoes, chopped

Allow the pastry sheet to thaw at room temperature, until flexible enough to unfold. Cut in 12 rectangles. Place the cut pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, Silpat, or use a non-stick baking sheet.

Mix the cheese, tomato paste, garlic, olives and herbs. Season to taste. Beat the egg yolk with the water and brush the egg wash on the pastry rectangles.

Spread the cheese mixture on each and then top with a few pieces of the sundried tomato. Bake in a 400F oven for 12 minutes or until the pasty is golden brown. Allow to cool five minutes before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: When I prepared the cheese mixture  it seemed a little too heavy on the tomato.   But, it wasn’t a problem, and I slightly increased the black olives;   otherwise I kept the recipe as Stephen posted it .    This spread will also work on “real” crostini, of course, but the puff pastry makes the recipe special.

Here they are, ready to go into the oven.  I cut the pastry using a ravioli cutter like this one.