Puff Pastry Shells with Creamed Chicken: a tasty throwback

Remember those frozen puff pastry shells your mom would bake and fill with creamed tuna and serve on Friday, when you couldn’t eat meat?

OK, I realize a lot of you aren’t veterans of the “no meat on Fridays” Catholic upbringing. But there are many of us who are – and I SO remember the tactics my mom pursued to to get us to eat our dinner on Friday, rather than push it around the plate and hope for a sneaky snack later in the evening.

Like Appian Way boxed pizza mix, complete with a tiny can of tomato sauce and cellophane packet of “Parmesan cheese.”

And Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks. Yeah, Mom, I know it’s got that crunchy crust, but it’s STILL FISH.

Macaroni and cheese. A godsend. Thank you. Ditto cheese ravioli, right from the Chef Boyardee can – who knew from gourmet back then, right?

So, back to the pastry shells. Did you ever poke your nose into the kitchen while mom was cooking supper, and see what those shells look like, right out of the freezer?

They’re flat. Surprisingly so. A quick trip through the oven puffs them up to amazing heights, and adds a lovely flakiness – thank you, partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening and wheat gluten. They’re quick, they’re easy, they’re OK-tasting; but they’re not homemade.

And for those of us who love to bake, they’re not all that satisfying.

Homemade puff pastry shells aren’t as tall, nor quite as over-the-top flaky; but they’re made with butter and sour cream, and you can taste that delicious difference.

I recently made these shells, not to serve on Friday filled with Tuna Wiggle; but as a crisp container for my favorite chicken à la king, another back-when-Boomers-were-babies fixture.

Chunks of chicken, peas, and carrots in creamy white sauce? Hey, it’s more Horn & Hardart than haute, but it fills the comfort-food quotient.

And sometimes, having had enough of stir-fried broccoli rabe with shiitake and cipollini – comfort food is exactly right.

Are you ready? I’m going to show you how to make “blitz puff paste,” as we call it here in the King Arthur Flour test kitchen – a.k.a. Fast and Easy Puff Pastry, the recipe’s official name.

Go ahead and bookmark this recipe; it’s great for turnovers, appetizers (think cheese straws), and palmiers (elephant ears), as well.

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First task: Cut 1 cup (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter into small cubes. A bench knife helps make short work of this.

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Whisk together the following:
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt*
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

*If you’re using salted butter, reduce the amount of salt to 1/4 teaspoon.

Add the butter, working it in to make a coarse/crumbly mixture. Leave a fair amount of the butter in larger pieces.

Stir in 1/2 cup sour cream; the dough should come together, though it won’t be smooth.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Bring it together with a few quick kneads, then pat it into a rough log.

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Roll/pat the dough into an 8″ x 10″ rectangle. Dust both sides of the dough with flour, and starting with a shorter end, fold it in three like a business letter.

Flip the dough over, give it a 90° turn on your work surface, and roll/pat it into an 8″ x 10″ rectangle again. As you can see from the finger marks, I didn’t even bother to get my rolling pin out for this one.

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Fold it in three again.

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Cut the dough in half. Look at those layers! You can easily see the three folds, but can you also spot those other striations? That’s what’ll make this dough flaky.

Wrap the dough, and chill it for at least 30 minutes before using. You can leave it in the fridge up to a couple of days; or freeze it for up to a month.

So, I needed something to serve as a mold for these pastry shells. I considered a muffin pan, but decided the cups would be too small.

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How about a hamburger bun pan?

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I calculated I needed rounds about 5 3/4″ in diameter to fit into the cups of the pan. So, working with half the chilled dough, I rolled a 1/8″-thick circle, about 13″ in diameter.

I used a 5 1/2″-diameter (close enough) plate to mark the dough, then cut it out with a pizza wheel.

Yes, I was cutting on my silicone mat. And don’t worry, I was careful not to press down too hard.

I settled the rounds into the pan; pricked them so they wouldn’t puff, and baked them until brown.

One big problem, as you can see: the dough slid down the sides of the cups and settled into the bottom.

FAIL.

Regroup. Yeah, I could do the typical blind-bake thing and fill each one with beans or rice to anchor the dough, but… too much work.

Light dawns on Marblehead! How about if I press the rounds onto the outside of the cups, and bake them upside-down? Make gravity work in my favor.

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Luckily, I still had the other half of the dough in the fridge. I rolled it out, marked it with the plate, and cut four shells.

Then I re-rolled the scraps and, using a slightly smaller plastic lid, made “caps” for the pastry shells.

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I gently pressed the larger rounds onto the bottom of the pan. Pricked them all over, to help prevent puffing.

Placed the caps on a parchment-lned baking sheet, and pricked them, too.

Baked everything in a preheated 425°F oven for 12 to 14 minutes, until crisp and golden.

Took the shells and caps out of the oven. Well, not bad; that hole in the bottom appeared because I actually nicked the dough with the knife, and didn’t bother to fix it.

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Shells and caps, ready to go.

Now that I’ve tried the hamburger bun pan, BTW, I believe you could actually make these shells on the underside of a standard muffin pan, as well. They’d be a lot smaller, but sometimes – for those counting their calories – smaller is better.

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Next, the chicken filling. Feel free to use your own favorite chicken pot pie filling, but if you don’t have a recipe you love, try this:

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan; add 3 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Stir until combined.

Whisk in 2 cups milk, or a combination of milk and chicken stock. Add a tablespoon of sherry, too, if you like; I love sherry with chicken. Stir until smooth, then simmer until the mixture starts to thicken.

Stir in 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence (or your favorite combination of dried herbs, and/or a touch of poultry seasoning), 2 cups diced cooked chicken, and 2 cups cooked mixed vegetables or peas/carrots (I used frozen/cooked). Heat until very hot.

Tip: about 1 1/4 pounds boneless chicken breasts or thighs will yield about 2 cups diced cooked chicken.

At last! Set the table, dinner’s almost ready.

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Divide the filling among the four shells. Top each with its pastry cap.

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Serve. Be magically transported back to 1963. Enjoy.

I swear, I can feel Betty Furness looking down from heaven and smiling!

Want to make your own puff pastry shells? Try our recipe for Fast and Easy Puff Pastry.

Print just the recipe.

What’s your favorite childhood comfort food? Share your thoughts in “comments,” below.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. gaa

    Oh PJ! Did you take me down memory lane yet again! no meat on Fridays? check yes, I am Catholic too. Fish sticks? check yes (Mrs. Paul’s or Gorton’s??) Macaroni and cheese? check yes (you know you love it; right?) Horn and Hardart?? I have not heard that name in MAAAANY moons!! As always, you made me laugh AND inspired me to try to make puff pastry. After all, I will have the time now as I am retiring from the “9-5 job for someone else” world (as of October 31st) and have an idea in mind for a home based business teaching other people how to (wait for it …) BAKE! You (all of you at KAF) are a constant source of inspiration for me, you encourage me to try things I have never made before and, most important of all, to Bake for Good by sharing my baking output with my friends and members of my local community. Above all else, that principle will be at the forefront of what I teach to others — don’t let the fact that it is only you or only your and your significant other stop you from baking bread or cookies or scones or muffins, etc. There are plenty of people in your community (like first responders, the staff in your doctor/dentist/vet office, your church community) who would very much appreciate your bounty. Baking is happy work – how can you be grumpy when you are baking a batch of your friend’s favorite cookies just because you want to please him/her? BTW, all of my friends each have their favorite cookie and, of course, they are KAF recipes – Almond Clouds! Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies! Chunk Wild Cookies! KAF and the inspiration you provide will help me move forward and make my dream a reality. Thanks!!!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Wow, lucky you – October 31 will be a gala day, eh? Thank you SO much for sharing here, now and in the past. I’m happy to hear you’re “baking for good” – though you probably always did that, just without the name, right? Best of luck with your new career – I’m sure we’ll be hearing from you again! 🙂 PJH

    2. Karen McCreary

      Well!! What a group the three of us would make! You were writing the story of my life also.The one big difference, though, I will soon be baking for a friend and her husband who are opening I little café in an office building near Dallas.They cook but I bake. Inn 1963, my husband and I were married. 52 years later, 5 children, 11 grandchildren,and I have another “career”.(For years I sewed for people, and now, it’s baking!) Outside of the sometimes paralyzing fear,a few illnesses and wondering”,Is anybody going to like what I make?,” I’m fine. Honestly, I need to be able to afford to buy many of the kitchen tools I’ve had to do without. I have given away thousands of cookies every Christmas and will continue to do so. Thanks to you, PJ,and KAF, for making me so happy! Prayers, please. Blessings.

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      You have just made ME so happy Karen. How nice that you are continuing to find things to do that make you (and others) feel so fulfilled and pleased! All that love you add to each of your creations surely makes them irresistible! Keep at it, Karen! Elisabeth@KAF

  2. Mayre

    Love this recipe. I made mini blueberry pies over the summer using the recipe & the pan with great results. Made my circles using my turnover press– easy breezy!

    Reply
  3. Lourdes Lovejoy

    Can I make these with your King Arthur Organic Whole Wheat Unbleached Flour…if so any modifications on the recipe? Thank you.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I would suggest substituting 1/3 of the white flour with whole wheat. You may need to add a few tablespoons of water to bring it all together. White whole wheat might be a good choice here. Laurie@KAF

  4. Anne

    This made me remember one of my husband’s and my favorite moments…once, vacationing in Vermont, he got hurt and landed in a local hospital for an overnight. His menu card for that evening’s supper included, as a main, something called “Salmon Peawiggle.” We had no idea….when he asked an aide who came in what on Earth it was, she looked genuinely confused for a moment, and told him, “You know, it’s just like Tuna Peawiggle, only with salmon!” (We love Vermont.)

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      What a great story, Anne! I’m still wondering where the name “Peawiggle” came from, but I’m a transplanted Vermonter. Barb@KAF

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Helene, you can make turnovers with it (raspberry are my favorite), Flaky Cheese Twists or other appetizer-type goodies, or even pie crust. Or make the shells and fill with lemon curd, or creamed tuna. Let you imagination roam! PJH

  5. Larry Clement

    OKAY PJ you’re in charge. I’m sure that there are at least 10,000 of us that want to know just what a peawiggle is. Please let us know.

    Larry from Long Island

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Tuna Wiggle, Larry? My pleasure! It’s just tuna mixed with a can of condensed soup (e.g., cream of mushroom ream of celery), with any number of additions: peas, water chestnuts, potato chips… Google “Tuna Wiggle,” you’ll see what I mean! Totally ’50s… 🙂 PJH

    2. Leslie

      Tuna (or salmon) Pea Wiggle was a regular, easy dinner for our Vermont farm family. Make a thick milk gravy (milk added to butter and flour roux), add tuna, peas, salt and pepper. Serve over Saltine crackers.

    3. PJ Hamel , post author

      Leslie, thanks for the Vermont version – I was more familiar with the Maine version. Sounds yummy… 🙂 PJH

  6. Bette I

    Oh my gosh! Friday food from my childhood! We are so lucky now with a multitude of recipes and ingredients to choose from. My mom’s cooking was so boring, but we didn’t know any different so we were thrilled when we had Chef Boyardee spaghetti. I never had any real “foreign” food until I married my husband who is of Polish descent. That was a totally unexpected wonderful experience! We have been married 50+ years and I make his favorite dishes on occasion. My son requested a “Polish feast” for his birthday, so I made and froze pierogis, cabbage soup and stuffed cabbage rolls for him. He was thrilled. As my granddaughter said, “It’s a tradition”.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Yes, for sure, Lynne – if I had one, that would have been a good choice! Thanks for the suggestion – PJH

  7. Susan the farm quilter

    I use the store bought puff pastry for my Cheesy Chicken and Ham Bundles and it is so hard to find – I usually have to go to a store about 75 miles away (live in the boonies!). This will be so wonderful that I can make my own!!! I’m looking forward to making my own puff pastry soon!!

    Reply
  8. Carla

    You resurrected some great memories. I rode a bus 120 miles round-trip to a Catholic high school. On Fridays my mother would have me fix Appian Way Pizza as a break from fish sticks.
    It was a culinary highlight for us! We’ve come a very long way. I enjoy your articles and recipies.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Carla, Appian Way was a standby for us, too – I still have a 12″ Appian Way pizza pan, which I recall came with boxtops or some such… Yes, we have definitely come a long way! Thanks for your kind words – PJH

  9. Melissa

    Love the potential of this recipe and can’t wait to try it. Thanks PJ! I too can relate to eating fish on Fridays (as kids, we silently prayed for the Legion Post to have its Friday Fish-Frys during Lent!). But we never had anything as fancy as puff pastry, so lucky to those who did!

    One question: is it because many of us are ‘Boomers’ that we know how to fold a business letter or even know what one is??

    Happy baking and Aloha!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Aloha, Melissa! I never thought of that, and you raise a great point: “fold in thirds like a business letter” is definitely on the way out, if it hasn’t already gone. I’ll have to ask my 20-something colleagues if they know what that means! 🙂 PJH

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I would stick to freezing before baking, Shayna. Puff pastry just doesn’t hold up well after baking. Jon@KAF

  10. loyall

    I still have the Appian Way pizza pan that came free with the box of mix. My mom added cheddar cheese and it was a few more years before I tasted fabulous pizza. BTW, loved my visit to the store last month.

    Reply
  11. Marykay

    PJ – thanks for the meatless-Friday memories! Church made pierogi and cabbage pie were my favorites. Can’t wait to try this recipe. Sounds great.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Marykay, you remind me of a cabbage pie recipe I haven’t made in ages – thanks. I’ve always said, growing up Catholic is like McDonald’s – wherever you go in the country, it’s the same! 🙂 PJH

  12. Lynn Hasty

    What about subbing non-fat Greek yogurt in for the sour cream? Would that work? I ask only because I always have a big tub on hand!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Lynn, the shells will be tougher due to the reduction in fat – but then again, you could get away with it by simply calling them “sturdy,” right? 🙂 PJH

  13. Barbara

    I was just printing out the recipe for choux pastry for cream puffs/eclairs and thought about filling them with creamed tuna (for next Friday, still don’t eat meat on Friday.) Anyways why couldn’t I use that pastry instead?

    Reply
  14. Jon

    I am making this tonight
    I grew up in New England and remember eating this often never knew what it was called now I know.
    Thanks !

    Reply
  15. Vera

    I’m so glad you posted this again! Like gaa, I also grew up Catholic in the 1960’s and your blog is a wonderful walk down memory lane. And Horn and Hardart? Whenever I visit NYC, I seem to end up near Grand Central Station, and instinctively look around for the Horn and Hardart across 42nd street! Thanks for all your wonderful tips and recipes!

    Reply
  16. Vera

    P.S. This would be perfect for our standard Sunday dinner when I was growing up, creamed peas on toast! Sounds awful, but we loved it. Sundays were special. Mass in the morning, followed by a trip to the nearby bakery. Mid-afternoon roast beef with mashed potatoes, gravy, and 3 vegetables, and before bed, creamed peas on toast.

    Reply
  17. Janice

    I was wondering if the puff pastry could be made gluten and dairy free? Could I use your measure for measure flour? What would you suggest as a dairy free substitute for sour cream?

    I would really like to make puff pastry.

    Thanks for your help!

    Janice

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Hi Janice. We’ve done some work testing gf puff pastry, without any success. You could try the measure for measure and vegan margarine, but it’s a long shot. Also, this quick puff pastry method isn’t doable with GF flour. You’d need to use a more traditional laminated dough technique. Susan

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