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Puff pastry and fruit - things I have learned

This post might turn out to be somewhat boring - it's just me passing on what I have learnt from a partial disaster. But if you ever want to try and knock out an apparently simple thing like these fruit turnovers made with frozen puff pastry, then read on.

When the sons and grandchildren came for dinner on Saturday the girls and I made some fruit turnovers with frozen puff pastry for dessert. On the left, what they were supposed to look like. On the right what they actually looked like, which reminds me of that program they used to have on the TV on consumer issues. There used to be an item in the program which showed a picture of a packet of some kind of food, juxtaposed with a picture of what the food inside actually looked like.

The above is very similar. They actually tasted OK, but that was mostly because of the fruit filling. The pastry was soggy - very soggy. Now this was not the girls' fault it was entirely mine, which goes to show that I'm not a great cook. I mean if I can't cook something as simple as this, then what am I doing writing a blog about food. My 'authority' is shot.

So today I have been trying to find out what we did wrong, and although I can't say I have the definitive answer I do think we could have improved on things. In fact there are a number of things I did wrong.

I did make sure we had butter puff pastry, but we haven't got that expensive stuff that comes in blocks in our supermarkets - just the sheets from Pampas. So I was at least halfway right on this front. However, I had taken the pastry out of the fridge a couple of hours before using it, so that it was well and truly thawed. A good thing in some ways, but not in others apparently, because I now see that really I am supposed to be working with cold pastry. Ours was warm - and floppy, not just bendable. Then when we had filled our pastries we should have put them back in the freezer for 20 minutes or so because:

"if the fat melts before the gluten has reacted to create the structure it will result in a soggy bottom."

And if your pastry is warm then the fat will melt faster. You see puff pastry is layers and layers of pastry and butter, and you need the butter to melt slower than the pastry or it will not puff and it will go soggy. I probably thought that the juices from the fruit would have made it soggy. But I guess if it had been put in the freezer it would have frozen the juices too. Now I think this is a useful thing to have learnt, and I will follow it next time.

Ditto for having a very hot oven - mine could have been 10 degrees hotter, and also have had a heated baking sheet on which to place the pastries. I did not do this. We just put them in the tray whilst we were making them and then put the tray in the oven. Cold pastries on to very hot trays = a crispy bottom. Or it's one of the factors anyway.

Now we were making kind of turnovers, so the next piece of advice couldn't apply, although I could have changed the shape from turnover to tart I guess. This piece of advice is to precook the base. With puff pastry you score a line a bit in from the edge, and prick the middle, then bake in the oven for no more than 10 minutes - probably less. The edge will puff up and the base won't - or at least if it does you can push it down again. Or you can just not do the scoring cook for 5-7 minutes, pushing it down if it does puff up. That's what Robert Carrier suggests anyway. You let the pastry cool down before filling and baking. Either way I assume this crisps the base.

Another thing that might help is to egg wash the base before adding the fruit as this puts a barrier between the juices and the base. We didn't have any egg at all for this recipe. We were told to simply brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Should have stuck to the egg wash I think.

As to the filling. Well we had sliced strawberries, whole raspberries and a couple of sliced juicy nectarines. The recipe did say to just halve the strawberries but the strawberries were huge, so I thought it better to slice them. Probably a mistake. Chunks might have been better. Maybe I should have cooked the fruit first - even with some cornflour to thicken the juices - but these were fresh berries for heaven's sake so no. We also probably overloaded the pastry - always a temptation isn't it? More fruit, more juice to make things soggy.

If they had been tarts it might well have been better to not cook the fruit at all and have merely filled the cooked shells with fruit and maybe cream or mascarpone or some other such thing. Robert Carrier also had a recipe for peach tarts in which the pastry was put on top of the fruit, and when cooked turned out like a tarte tatin. Which seems fraught with disaster to me. It's hard enough to get a full size tarte tatin out of it's container without trying to get a dozen little ones to all come out at once. Impossible even, even potentially dangerous. You could easily burn yourself I suspect. But then the recipe did come from some posh hotel in France, so they would have known what they were doing. Not for an amateur that one.

So - lessons learnt. I might try again some time. Maybe it will look like this next time!

But then again - probably not.


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