Right now, at the height of the holiday season, there are three things the well-prepared host should have on hand: a fancy outfit, a festive playlist, and a package of puff pastry. But honestly, you could throw on your ugly reindeer sweater and rock Alvin and the Chipmunks, and the puff pastry, baked into flaky, golden morsels, would still make your party feel like a lavish affair.
Store-bought puff pastry is frozen food taken to the most elegant degree. Easily found in most supermarkets, it is very easy to work with, and with minimal effort, the dough can be baked into a variety of impressive treats. It’s also inexpensive compared to what you’d spend on the same type of cakes made in a bakery, not to mention bringing a professional into your kitchen.
Working with puff pastry is smooth and easy, but a few smart moves will help you achieve stellar results.
First, try to find a dough made with butter instead of hydrogenated oils. Dufour is a high-quality brand that comes in a butter version, as well as a very good vegan version made with palm oil. But anything you can find will still be great as long as you’re careful when deploying it.
Then be sure to keep the dough cold while you work. This gives you more control and helps your puff gain some real altitude. If the dough starts to soften, put it back in the fridge until it hardens again.
All of these recipes are at their flaky best still slightly warm from the oven. But they keep nicely overnight if you want to make them ahead of time, giving you more time to pick out your outfit and create playlists—important preparations for the best holiday party ever.
Za’atar Parmesan Grinders
Preparation time: 45 minutes, plus 30 minutes of refrigeration
Servings: about 3½ dozen
- 2/3 cup grated Parmesan
- 1½ tablespoons za’atar, plus more for garnish
- 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
- A pinch of ground cayenne
- 1 (14 to 16-ounce) package puff pastry, thawed if frozen but still cold
- All purpose flour, for coating (optional)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- Sea salt flakes, to finish
- Sesame seeds, to finish (optional)
- In a medium bowl, combine Parmesan, za’atar, salt, and cayenne pepper.
- On a piece of parchment paper, roll out the chilled puff pastry into a 12-by-16-inch rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick. (If the rolling pin sticks, you can flour it very lightly.)
- Arrange the puff pastry so that the longest side is facing you. Lightly brush the beaten egg over the dough and sprinkle the za’atar-Parmesan mixture all over the egg-washed surface in an even layer, leaving a ¼-inch border on the longest side furthest from you. Using a rolling pin, gently roll over the top of the za’atar-Parmesan mixture. Save the remaining beaten egg to use in the puff pastry before baking.
- Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, cut the puff pastry in half crosswise. Starting with the half closest to you, roll the dough into a tight log; finish with ¼-inch edge seam below, pinching to seal. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (you can reuse the one you rolled the dough on).
- Transfer the logs to the prepared baking sheet. Cover with another piece of parchment and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 6 hours.
- Heat oven to 375 degrees. Uncover the logs of dough and line another baking sheet with parchment. (You can use the one that covers the trunks).
- Transfer the logs to a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut each log into ¼-inch-thick slices. Using an offset spatula or metal spatula, place pinwheels on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1-inch apart. (You may need a third baking sheet; if they won’t all fit in your oven at the same time, refrigerate one baking sheet until ready to bake.)
- Using the reserved beaten egg, lightly brush the egg over the pinwheels and sprinkle with more za’atar and flake salt, and sesame seeds, if desired.
- Bake the pinwheels until golden and puffed (some will puff into domes), 20 to 30 minutes, turning the baking sheets halfway. Cool on cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Best served warm, but they will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Figs and pigs in a blanket
Preparation time: 75 minutes
Servings: about 2 dozen
- 1 cup dried figs, stems trimmed
- Boiling water
- All-purpose flour, for coating
- 1 package (14 ounces) frozen puff pastry, thawed
- 4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto or soppressata salami, coarsely chopped
- 1 beaten egg
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- Ground fennel seeds or black pepper, or a combination, for topping
- Mustard, to serve (optional)
- Place the figs in a heatproof container and cover with boiling water. Let stand until soft and pliable, 5 to 10 minutes, then drain well. Chop coarsely and reserve. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out chilled puff pastry about 1/8-inch thick to form a 13-by-11-inch rectangle. Using a bench scraper or knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise so you have two long rectangles. Evenly divide the figs among the rectangles, spreading them into a 1-inch-wide strip that runs down the center of the dough. Mount ham on top of the figs.
- Lightly brush the long edges of the dough with beaten egg. Firmly fold the dough over the filling to form long rolls. Cut each roll in half crosswise, then cut into 1-inch pieces and place on the prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Cover with plastic or parchment and freeze for 30 minutes or refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours.
- Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly brush the top of each roll with beaten egg and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and a pinch of fennel seed or black pepper or both. Bake until golden brown, about 25 to 35 minutes. Serve with mustard on the side for dipping if desired. Best served warm or at room temperature on the day of cooking, but leftovers will keep for up to 3 days if stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
Crispy Coconut Twists
Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus cool down
Servings: About 2 dozen cookies
- 1 cup of sugar
- 2/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream or whole milk
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 (14- to 16-ounce) package puff pastry, preferably made with butter, thawed if frozen, but still cold
- In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and shredded coconut. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, heavy cream, and salt to make an egg wash and set aside.
- Place a sheet of parchment paper (about 12 by 16 inches) on a clean work surface. Unfold the dough and roll out the chilled puff pastry until it is about 1/8-inch thick (about an 11-by-15-inch rectangle). Generously brush the beaten egg over the top of the dough. Sprinkle half of the coconut sugar mixture in an even layer all over the egg washed surface. Using a rolling pin, gently press the coconut sugar mixture into the dough. Gently slide the dough (still on the parchment paper) onto a baking sheet. Cover lightly with another sheet of parchment and refrigerate until firm, 10 to 20 minutes.
- Once cooled, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Using another baking sheet or a wire cooling rack, invert the dough so that the side with the coconut top is now on the bottom. Slide the dough, still sandwiched between the parchment, onto the counter. Remove the top of the parchment and set it aside. Paint the puff pastry with the beaten egg. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining coconut sugar mixture and use a rolling pin to press it into the puff pastry. Carefully transfer the dough (still on the parchment) to a baking sheet and cover again with the other sheet of parchment. Refrigerate until firm, 10 to 20 minutes.
- Remove the dough from the fridge and remove the top layer of parchment. Using a sharp knife or dough cutter, cut the dough into ¼ to ½-inch strips (you can look at it). Return the pan to the refrigerator to cool completely, another 10 to 20 minutes.
- Line two to three baking sheets with parchment paper. (You can reuse the parchment paper you’ve been using for the dough.) Working one strip at a time, transfer to prepared sheets and twist the two ends in opposite directions several times to create a long twist. Press the ends onto the parchment paper so they stick together and don’t unfold. Space the coconut twists about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle any coconut that has fallen from the strips over them.
- Place in molds, uncovered, in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes, or in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes. The twists should be very firm and completely cool before baking. You can leave them in the fridge or freezer for up to 24 hours before baking, but if you leave them longer than an hour, cover them with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out.
- While the twists are cooling, heat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Bake the twists until toasted and golden all over, 15 to 22 minutes, turning the baking sheets halfway. Cool on cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store up to a week in an airtight container.