Sunday, October 16, 2011

Friendship is Magic (Apple, Stilton, Walnut Puffs)

Hello, ladies & gents!

I'm excited to kick off another weekend, not that last's was unenjoyable, by any means, but it was something of a whirlwind. We chose to celebrate my birthday by going to visit our friends Laura and Geoff up in Rochester, MA. Laura and I went to high school together and I'm to be her "Man of Honor," as it were, when she and Geoff are married next spring. I can tell you that Laura is an excellent designer, slowly updating their house room-by-room, that she can slap harder than any woman I know, and that when we made hollandaise on Sunday morning, she taught me I could really trust in recipes again, even when Alton Brown makes them sound scary.

Don't let cooking personalities intimidate you

So we made arrangements for tuxedos, savored those things which are lacking in Montoursville, such as Indian food and tapas I don't have to make myself, became monstrously ensnared by traffic at Providence's Waterfire, and most importantly, went apple picking. Laura is quick to point me to what Stuff White People Like has to say on the matter, but there are two orchards within walking distance of her home and it was my birthday, so off we went.

Simulated effort
 Growing up, my parents were ever fans of taking us to pick our own fruit, I think primarily to herd a warring tribe of children into an outing. There's assuredly a certain bucolic pleasantry about the affair: fresh air, tended crops and warm sunshine are always pleasant. As is the experience of getting to know where your food comes from. So, while it may be the equivalent of Marie Antoinette keeping her own sanitized play farm, I think the resemblance exists in only the very best way. Until I can abandon the office to start my own small-scale artisanal radicchio farm, apple picking will have to do.

Save poisoned apples for emergencies

Now, it falls to us to find recipes in which to use a bushel of apples. I truly adore apple pie, but it seems a little on-the-nose, don't you think? My goal, especially, is to try and put the apples toward some more savory uses, rather than jump straight for dessert. In today's case, that brings us to the apple, Stilton, walnut puff. The base flavors are somewhat reminiscent of a Waldorf salad, given a twist of seasoning and bundled together in flaky puff pastry.

Pictured: laziness

Like the rotisserie chicken, puff pastry is a friend to almost everyone. Just 45 minutes of lazy, lazy thawing time stand between you and any number of creations. In this case, tart apples are baked with pungent Stilton (tempered by creamy chevre), and crunchy walnuts, brightened with a sweet swirl of maple syrup and the clear, piny brightness of fresh rosemary. Don't forget the nutmeg, either! Something of an unsung hero in the chords of flavors that comprise the finished dish, it's zesty, woodsy spice still harmonizes beautifully with fruit and contrasts with the rich heaviness of the soft cheeses. Not everyone will pick it out, but you would miss it were it gone.

This is a remarkably versatile recipe, not only because you can vary the ingredients, stuffing virtually anything into a pastry shell and yielding a pleasant result, but also in the variety of serving applications. I presented these as something of a dessert/snack for Family Night, but I really think of them as more of an appetizer. Serve one or two with a simple green salad, or perhaps some butternut squash bisque, and you could have an elegant lunch or supper.

Delicious, flaky laziness

Apple, Stilton, walnut puffs

Most puff pastry thaws in about 45 minutes and continued thawing results in an overly soft dough with indistinct layers that's difficult to work with and has a limp, depressive lift when baked. I advise carefully timing your cooking to take advantage of the window in which your pastry will be thawed, but not too thawed. You can also remove individual puffs to the freezer as you complete the others, thus keeping them cool.

Two sheets of puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Two tart apples, such as Granny Smith, cored & coarsely chopped
2 tbs. lemon juice
1 oz. Stilton (or other bleu cheese), crumbled
1 oz. chevre (or other creamy goat cheese), crumbled
2 tbs. pure maple syrup
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs. fresh rosemary, finely minced
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Cracked black pepper, to taste

For the egg wash:
1 large egg
1 tbs. water

To begin, line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and preheat your oven to 425° F.

Give the walnuts a rough chop and arrange them on your baking sheet. Toast them in the oven lightly, about 5-10 minutes.

Oxidization waits for no man
While waiting for the walnuts to warm, chop the apples and remove to a medium bowl, dowsing them with the lemon juice to stave off oxidization. As with potatoes, I generally prefer to keep the skin on my apples when cooking (do wash them well). The skins contain additional nutrients and offer greater body, texture, and color to the finished dish. Much as I enjoy picking your own fruit for a sense of connection to the land, I tend to value ingredients that may still be distinguished as what they once were rather than a colorless puree.

Crumble the two cheeses over your apples, anoint with the maple syrup and olive oil, and sprinkle with rosemary and pepper (I find the cheeses alone provide enough salt, but add more if you wish). Add the toasted nuts warm from the oven and toss the mixture to incorporate. Set aside.

Do not open until Christmas

Using a sharp knife and a cutting board, carve your pastry sheets into individual squares of about 2 inches. My package yielded 18 squares for 9 puffs. Place an initial square in the center of your board and top with a heaping tablespoon of the apple and cheese mixture. Then take a second pastry square and use your fingers to work the dough out slightly, making it thinner and larger. Drape your larger square of pastry on top of the apples and use the tines of a fork to crimp the two pastry sheets together, sealing the apple filling within. The result looks like a large ravioli.

Repeat this process until you've filled all your pastries and arrange them on your baking sheet. Vigorously beat the egg and water together in a small bowl to emulsify and brush this egg wash lightly over the top of all the dumplings to ensure browning. Using a small, sharp knife, incise a slit or three into the top of each puff, to allow steam to escape.

When in doubt, add cheese

Bake on the center rack until golden brown and pillowy, about 25-30 minutes. Oozing cheese and hot juices will bubble up between the score marks you made for venting steam and the apples will retain some of their body while still yielding to a jammy sauciness. Allow to cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then slice in half diagonally and serve.

Budget 2-3 triangles per person


Unknown said...

Your use of seasonal ingredients is very apt.

J said...


I do love using seasonal ingredients, my google codex of recipes has season as filter option, so expect more to come.

I'm also something of a pumpkin fiend, so there should be more of that, too.