All wrapped up

This holiday season, gifts are not the only items that come in pretty packages. Use puff pastry to create a variety of festive dishes that look just as good as they taste.



Beef wellington

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Don’t limit presents this holiday season.
  

Enclose your favorite edible treats in rich and flaky puff pastry to make any winter’s night special. Baking something “en croûte” or “in a crust” involves taking ingredients that might otherwise be mundane and fancying them up by simply wrapping them with store-bought puff pastry and popping them in the oven until golden and flaky — a true gift to anyone at your table.

Beef Wellington

Serves 8 to 10

I feel as though I have perfected this recipe (at least in my eyes). While developing the beef Wellington 101 story when I was a food editor at Martha Stewart Living, I made it at least a dozen times. I have tweaked my final outcome a bit purely to simplify the steps. This classic dish is perfect for any holiday table. Try to buy a piece of beef that is consistently shaped so it will cook evenly.

  • 1  2 1/2- to 3-pound center-cut beef tenderloin
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1  pound brown mushrooms, stems removed, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry, cognac or brandy
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh thyme
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting
  • 1 package (17 1/2 ounces) frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 6 ounces duck liver, chicken liver or peppercorn mousse, room temperature
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Sea salt, or coarse salt, for sprinkling (optional)

1. Place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet (alternatively, use a cutting board with a well for juices). Season beef well with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Sear beef until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to wire rack until cool enough to handle, at least 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, wipe out skillet and heat butter over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and any liquid released has evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes. Add sherry and cook until liquid has evaporated and mixture is fairly dry, about 4 minutes more. Stir in parsley and thyme, season well with salt and pepper and cool to room temperature or chill for up to a day.

3. On a lightly floured work surface, overlap 2 sheets of puff pastry by 1/2 inch. Roll out into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle large enough to enclose the beef generously. Spread the top of the tenderloin evenly with half of the mousse and spread half of the mushroom mixture evenly over the top. Carefully invert tenderloin into middle of pastry rectangle, mushroom-side down. Spread remaining mousse on top and sides of tenderloin. Spread remaining mushrooms over top. Fold up long sides of dough to enclose tenderloin, brushing edges with beaten egg to seal. Trim ends if necessary, fold up and seal. Carefully transfer tenderloin, seam-side down, to a baking sheet and chill at least 2 hours or overnight. Roll out any extra dough, cut into holly or other shapes if desired and chill on baking sheet with beef.

4. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place a baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven until hot, about 15 minutes. Decorate top of pastry with shaped cutouts if desired; brush with beaten egg. Make 2 to 3 slits in pastry for venting steam. Sprinkle with sea or coarse salt if desired. Carefully transfer Wellington to preheated baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and beef registers 120 to 130 degrees on an instant-read thermometer for rare, 130 to 135 degrees for medium rare, 35 to 50 minutes. Tent with foil if pastry gets too brown while cooking. Let rest on a cutting board 10 minutes before carving.


Brie en croûte with roasted rosemary grapes

Serves 4 to 6 as a nibble

This is one of my favorite things to do with soft-ripened cheese. Encased in a flaky pastry and topped with rich, juicy roasted grapes, this dish is the perfect starter to any fall or winter meal — or it can be served as dessert with a sip of rich port.

  • 1    small bunch black or purple seedless grapes
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting
  • 1/2 of a 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (1 sheet), thawed
  • 1    small wheel (8 ounces) Brie or Camembert cheese
  • 1     large egg yolk
  • 2     tablespoons heavy cream

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Snip grapes into small clusters and arrange on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and rosemary. Roast until fragrant and slightly wrinkled, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside while preparing cheese.

2. Lightly dust work surface with flour. Gently unfold pastry sheet, rolling out until smooth. Place cheese in the center and fold pastry up over the cheese, making sure it is completely covered. Trim any excess pastry and press gently to seal. Reserve pastry scraps if desired for decoration.

3. Whisk together egg and cream and brush over seam side to seal. Place package, seam side down, on a baking sheet. Decorate round with any leftover pastry, if desired, using egg mixture to adhere. Brush package with remaining egg mixture. Bake Brie until golden brown and puffed, about 30 minutes. Serve, topped with roasted grapes.

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