Puff pastry is one of the greatest glories of the professional baker's art, a light and delicate tribute to skilled hands and good technique. Well-made puff pastry can be eight or even 10 times its original height after baking, with a crisp golden surface ornamenting its hundreds of flaky layers. Puff pastry is labour-intensive to make by hand, and can be costly when made with butter, so canny bakers have always found uses for the leftover pieces.
Working with Puff Pastry
Puff pastry is made by carefully folding and rolling a portion of dough that has a sheet of butter encased inside it. When correctly made, there are thousands of flat layers of dough and butter, which bake up light and crisp. It is important to keep the dough chilled so the butter doesn't melt while it is being worked. Excess flour must be brushed off whenever the dough is stacked or folded, to prevent the dough from becoming tough.
Puff Pastry Leftovers
At the end of your original baking session, collect up any trim pieces or leftover dough. Brush off any flour adhering to the surfaces, and stack the pieces horizontally. If you only have a small quantity, freeze them until you have enough to make a worthwhile quantity. To use the leftovers, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator and reroll them while they are cold. Properly handled leftover puff pastry will not rise as well or as evenly as freshly made, but will still bake up light and flaky.
Savoury Ideas for Leftover Puff Pastry
Cut the leftover puff pastry to make upper crusts for pot pies and casseroles. Bake individual portions of salmon, chicken or beef, Wellington-style, in puff pastry wrappers. Wrapping cooked vegetables in puff pastry with cheese sauce is a near-foolproof way to feed them to your children. Seal small bites of richly flavoured meat or cheese into rounds of puff pastry, and bake or deep-fry them for appetizers. Sprinkle a sheet of puff pastry with cheddar and Parmesan cheeses, paprika and a pinch of cayenne. Cover with another sheet, cut into thin strips, twist and bake to make cheese straws.
Sweet Ideas for Leftover Puff Pastry
Bake rectangular sections of puff pastry between two sheet pans, protected by layers of parchment. Use the crisp sections to assemble Napoleons with your favourite fillings. Fill the puff pastry with a fruit filling or pastry cream, brush it with beaten egg, and sprinkle it with coarse sugar. Bake for individual desserts. Use leftover puff pastry to wrap cored apples or pears, and bake them with a filling of nuts, sugar and spices. Sprinkle sticks or shapes of puff pastry with sugar and use them for dessert garnishes, or add cinnamon and serve them as a sweet snack.