Puff pastry should be a staple in everyone’s freezer nowadays. It can be found in virtually every grocery store, in the freezer section so there’s no excuse to not keep some around. Of course, if you are feeling ambitious you can make your own, but it is a time consuming endeavor. Making your own is well worth the time as anything you would make at home will always trump the stuff that you can buy, but in today’s age it can be hard to find the time, and it is certainly something you can’t do “at the last minute.” I encourage everyone to try their hand at making puff pastry once in their lives, but until then buy a box or 2 and keep them in the freezer.
Puff pastry is a very versatile product. It is used in many desserts, from traditional Napoleons to various tarts and galettes. It can be used to create edible “bowls” to place various foods or small shells that can be filled with an endless array of foods to make little hors’doeuvres, or it can be used to wrap various ingredients in flaky, buttery crust.
One of the best things about puff pastry is the way it can elevate a rather simple dish into something elegant and special, perfect for a holiday meal, or special occasion. The recipe I offer up today is the perfect example of this. Without the puff pastry I’ve offered up a simple chicken breast topped with mushrooms, ham and Swiss cheese. Wrap the whole thing in puff pastry and you have an elegant dish that you can impress friends and loved with.
A couple of things to keep in mind when working with puff pastry, either store bought or homemade. When working with it don’t allow it to get too warm or the butter will begin to melt prematurely. This is no good as you want the butter in there when it bakes. As the butter melts it produces steam and this is what gives puff pastry its puff. It shouldn’t be cold or it will crack, but should remain cool to the touch. When cutting puff pastry use a sharp knife and make sure you make clean cuts and don’t mash the edges as you cut. This will inhibit rising. Also when using an egg wash to help get a nice shiny golden color, try not to let the egg drip onto exposed cuts, this will also inhibit its rise.
Chicken Breast in Puff Pastry
2 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless (about 5-6 oz. each)
4 oz. white mushrooms, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 slices prosciutto
2-4 slices Swiss cheese, Emmentaler, or Gruyere, thinly sliced
1 sheet puff pastry, store bought
4 Tbsp. Olive oil
1 egg, beaten
Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat a saute pan, add half the oil and sear the chicken breasts until cooked 3/4’s through.
Remove the chicken, add the remaining oil and the mushrooms. Cook for 3 minutes then add the garlic. Lower the heat to medium and cook until the mushrooms have given off most of their liquid and it has evaporated. Add the cream, season with salt and pepper and cook until the cream thickens and most of the liquid has reduced. Allow both the chicken and the mushrooms to cool to room temperature. Cut the puff pastry sheet in half. On each half layer, in order, the cheese, the ham, the mushroom mixture and finally the chicken breast, laying everything lengthwise along the pastry sheet, and leaving as much of a clean border around the pastry as possible.
Brush the exposed puff pastry with the beaten egg, just to moisten the pastry. Gently pull the pastry up over the chicken so that the pastry completely encloses the chicken. Don’t worry about making it look pretty, just make sure that it is well sealed and that you didn’t tear any holes in the pastry. If you did tear a hole just rip off a bit of the excess and use that to repair it. Flip the package over so that all your seams are on the bottom and gently smooth out the pastry.
Don’t worry about them looking perfect, once they puff up in the oven many of those small imperfections will disappear. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the pastry to set up again. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375F. When the pastry has chilled brush the top and sides and the beaten egg and place package on a slightly greased baking tray. Bake for 20 minutes. Lower the heat and bake for 20-25 minutes longer or until a thermometer, stuck into the middle of the chicken breast reaches 165F. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 7-8 minutes before serving.