Puff Pastry: A pack in the freezer means easy sweet and savoury dishes
These sweet apricot twists are simple to make for a weekend breakfast treat
Apricot twists. Photograph: Harry Weir
Few things are as joyous as beef Wellington. Fillet of beef coated in paté and mushroom duxelles, encased in a buttery wrapping of wafer-like flaky puff pastry.
Hand-made puff pastry (paté feuilletée) is pure heaven, but hard to source and time-consuming to make. Artisan French bakers roll out layers of butter and dough to make light and flaky puff pastry for classic creations such as mille feuille, pithivier, tarte tatin and palmiers (heart-shaped cookies).
I purposely avoid mentioning sausage rolls in the same breath as the above.
The proliferation of on-the-go pastry snacks gives puff pastry a bad name. My Welsh grandma often made a glorious, savoury plait for our supper. Savoury plait was beef Wellington for frugal home makers. It was nothing more than a giant sausage roll, packed with herbs and other ingredients. The memory of it still makes me weep with longing.
Even when made with shop-bought pastry, my home-made sausage rolls remain a guaranteed crowd pleaser. My go-to recipe is to mix sausage meat with softened onions, chopped herbs and generous dollops of apple sauce (or a sweet tomato relish). The slight caramelisation on the filling oozing out either end makes them so tasty.
There are so many fantastically easy savoury bakes and sweet desserts that can be created with puff pastry, so I always have a pack in my freezer. Savoury cheese twists (known as cheese straws) make an ideal pre-dinner party nibble and you can do lots of experimenting with different cheeses, infused salt blends, tapenades and spices.
These sweet apricot puff pastry twists are simple to make for a weekend breakfast treat, or as an afternoon pick-me-up. Requiring only a few minutes to make them, they are a novel baking task for a children’s birthday party.
The magical ballooning of puff pastry is no mystery. In the hot oven, the butter melts, leaving gaps between the multiple layers of folded pastry. As the water in the pastry turns into steam, the pastry rises.
To get the best results when baking with puff pastry, buy an all-butter variety, if possible. Chill the pastry again before baking to get a better puff. Glaze the pastry not more than 30 minutes prior to baking. A hot oven temperature is best to give a nice puff, but turn the temperature down as soon as the pastry is golden.
150g-200g all-butter puff pastry (ready-rolled)
40g dried apricots, finely chopped
70g apricot jam
10g toasted hazelnuts, chopped
1 egg, whisked
Allow enough time to defrost the puff pastry if frozen (two hours is usually enough).
Preheat a fan-assisted oven to 190 degrees, and line a large baking sheet with baking paper.
Lay a sheet of puff pastry on a work surface (roll it out into a rectangle if not rolled out). Use a knife to cut the pastry into even ribbons, approximately 2cm width and 15cm long (you can cut the strips as short or long, thick or thin as you wish).
Add the finely chopped apricots to the apricot jam.
Brush the pastry strips with apricot jam (heat the jam slightly to loosen it if necessary). Scatter the chopped toasted hazelnuts over the top.
Sprinkle each ribbon with a pinch of cinnamon. Gently twist the ends in opposite directions to form a spiral effect.
Transfer each pastry spiral to the lined baking sheet and brush with egg glaze.
Refrigerate for 15 minutes to firm up the pastry. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until puffed up, crispy and golden in colour.
Leave the pastries to sit for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
To make cheese straws, scatter aged Irish cheddar over the puff pastry, the fold and re-roll the pastry. Cut into strips, then glaze, twist and bake.