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.
First task: Cut 1 cup (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter into small cubes. A bench knife helps make short work of this.
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.
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.
Fold it in three again.
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.
How about a hamburger bun pan?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Divide the filling among the four shells. Top each with its pastry cap.
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.