Happy New Year, dearest readers! Right now, I’m in Phuket, Thailand, hopefully getting my 10th Thai massage while drinking out of a coconut before eating an amazingly delicious and cheap meal. For my first post of 2014 (I CAN’T believe it’s 2014!!!), I’ve got something really special for you. My good friend, the phenomenally sweet, hilarious and talented Cynthia of Two Red Bowls is guest posting with these incredible Cranberry Brie Puffs.
Cynthia found my blog somehow and started leaving truly excellent and heartfelt comments. We discovered that we’re both lawyers (I’m a 6th year call, Cynthia’s just starting out) and we started emailing each other to commiserate over work but also to gab about food. We had an instant connection! You have to check out her amazing blog. Not only are the recipes totally drool worthy, featuring tons of Asian cuisine (like this kimchi fried rice) as well as sweet treats (like maple brown butter cream cheese frosting on pumpkin bars…drool…) but her photography puts mine to shame. And she still manages to do it all while working the long, high pressure hours as a first year associate at a law firm.
Cynthia, thanks so much for guest posting!
Hi, Gotta Get Baked readers! I am so very excited to be doing a guest post for Nancy today. Nancy was one of the first blog friends I ever made, and, as a fellow lawyer-blogger, she was the one who first proved to me that you could do this law thing full-time and still chase your food-blog dreams. For that, I’m extremely grateful.
Nancy is also, of course, a phenomenal baker. Part of the reason I love Nancy’s blog is because, by contrast, baking really does not come naturally to me. For me, cooking, especially Asian cooking, has always been an adventure, but never frightening — barring burning the contents of your pan to a crisp, there’s always a turning back, a thoughtful adjustment, a dash of this or that that will steer your food in the right direction. And it’s never the same twice. So it’s usually fine to just disregard the rules and play it by instinct — my mother, who’s never followed a recipe exactly in her life, would probably argue that it’s not just fine, it’s mandatory.
Baking, instead, is a science. Leavening agents. Large eggs, not jumbo. Sifting before measuring. Ounces and tablespoons. And the instinct to play it by ear or add a dash of this or that, unless you’ve really learned the ropes, can seriously backfire. (As I learned the hard way.) Leaving you with an inedible mountain of flour, fat, and regret. (So sad.)
So, needless to say, making this puff pastry, even if it was branded rough puff pastry, was a little scary. Pee-your-pants scary. Light, buttery, flaky layers? By hand? T-e-r-r-o-r. And there was a point where I seriously considered the possibility I’d wasted two and a half entire sticks of butter. (Also a point where I may or may not have punched the dough in a rage born of fear.) But in the end, it came out wonderfully.
Maybe the reason why I’ve begun to like pie crusts and its various cousins is that it is, perhaps, a little bit like cooking. There are no leaveners that must be measured exactly or weights that need to be followed. Instead, it’s just water, butter, flour, and a bit of salt and sugar if you feel like it. And, like the good folks at King Arthur Flour note, some days the dough will take more water, some days less. Like cooking, when success comes by feeling your way through, pie crusts take a little bit of improvisation too. Just a little. For me, it came when I added a bit too much water and the dough was turning sticky on me — I almost panicked (okay, I did panic) but a few more tablespoons of flour, and it was all sorted.
The cranberry jam used here is a simple one I threw together in about 20 minutes. It was my first time making jam, too, but that was so phenomenally easy (and kind of magical?) that I don’t know why I never did it before. (It’s also oddly exhilarating to watch the cranberries pop. I don’t know why.) It’s sweet and just a bit tart, and perfect with the brie in this pastry.
Lastly, note that both the pastry and the jam will need a little bit of time to hang out (either to chill or to set) before you can assemble them into puffs. I made the jam the night before, and the pastry a few hours ahead.
Enjoy, and thank you so much for reading!
for the puff pastry:
2 cups all-purpose four
1/2 tsp table salt
1 tsp sugar
2 1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water
for the cranberry jam:
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 tsp lime zest (you can also use any other citrus you might have on hand)
2-3 tsp lime juice (again, sub any other citrus juice you have if needed)
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1 tsp cornstarch (optional)
1 egg yolk, for brushing and sealing
1 tsp water
4-6 oz brie
1. To make the cranberry jam, combine cranberries, sugar, lime zest, lime juice, salt, and cinnamon in a small pot over medium-high heat. (I know, it seemed crazy to me that there was so little liquid. But it’s magic.) Stir the mixture continuously as it heats; after a few minutes, the sugar will become liquid, and after a few more, the cranberries will begin to pop.
2. When the mixture is fully liquid, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for around ten to fifteen more minutes. A few minutes before removing from the heat, you can add a sprinkle of cornstarch to aid in setting the jam, but it’s not really necessary. (I also didn’t find the need to create a slurry beforehand.) Pour into a clean jar and let cool before chilling in the refrigerator.
3. (For wonderful step-by-step photos and instructions on this puff pastry, see Sam’s great explanation at Love, Cake, on which this recipe is based.) To make the pastry, first whisk together flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and mix again briefly, just to distribute throughout. Next, add 6 tablespoons water (best to try to sprinkle it over the entire mixture) and mix with a fork just until the dough comes together, not too vigorously. It’s fine and preferable to keep chunks of butter intact — it will add to the flakiness. If you’re seeing a lot of loose flour after mixing for awhile, add a little more water, one tablespoon at a time. (KAF also recommends spritzing with a water spray bottle if you have one.) But work with it a little and see if it doesn’t come together first.
4. When it’s holding together, turn the mixture out onto a work surface and shape into a rectangle about the size of a piece of paper, with the short side facing you. Fold dough into thirds like a letter — bottom third up, then top third over the bottom third. Rotate the dough, so that the short side faces you again, and fold into a letter again. Lightly flour the surface as necessary, then rotate to the short side one more time and fold again. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
5. After the dough has rested, fold into letters three more times, wrap, and refrigerate for at least one more hour. After this, you’re ready to roll the dough out and cut it into rounds for use. I divided the dough into two balls and rolled each into squares that were about 12” to 16” across. Using a cookie cutter, biscuit cutter, or just a regular drinking glass, cut the dough into circles. My batch yielded about 48 rounds. The dough will likely have softened by this point — I placed them in a single layer onto saran wrap, place another piece of saran wrap over that, and refrigerated them again until firm.
6. Finally, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk the egg yolk and a splash of water together to make the egg wash. For each puff, lay out one round and brush it with egg wash — this will help seal the puff shut. Place a slice of brie and a dollop of cranberry jam on the bottom round. Take another round and stretch it a bit between your fingers (it needs to be a bit bigger to fit over the filling) and place it on top. Crimp the edges shut with the tines of a fork, brush egg wash over the top, and prick the puff in the center to ventilate.
7. Place the sealed rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet — they can be as close together as you like, since they will not spread (just puff!) Bake at 375 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown on top. Let cool slightly, and serve! They’re delicious warm or room temperature.
Cynthia, girl, each photo is like a work of art. And I want to cram these puffs into my face because that’s how delicious they look.