About puff pastry
Puff pastry! What a development in the history of pies. When and where was it invented? It seems likely that it may be a descendent of phyllo pastry from the Levant, journeying west with the Arabs who took it to Spain. The first record of puff pastry is in a recipe book, Libro del Arte de Cozina, written by Domingo Hernández de Maceras, head chef of one of the colleges of the University of Salamanca, in 1607.
The first written recipe in French is La Varenne’s, written in 1653. Nevertheless, the international culinary term for puff pastry remains a French one, pâte feuilletée. And the name of the pastry, lends itself to a pie or pasty made from a sheet of it, in particular, one stuffed with cheese and ham, the feuilleté jambon fromage, or, in particular, the feuilleté Savoyard, which contains minced ham, raclette cheese and double cream.
The concept is one of many leaves of dough and butter (or other solid fat, more on this later). It’s produced by making a sandwich of dough with the butter in the middle, rolling out, folding over, and repeating multiple times.
If it sounds a bit of an effort, it is! It takes time and skill, and by far the best approach is to buy it ready-made. But, there’s a caveat. The best puff pastry is made with butter, not ‘another solid fat’, so check the label – I use “M&S All Butter Puff Pastry”, for example. In fact, Jus-Rol uses palm and rapeseed oils, rather than a solid fat, and the texture and flavour isn’t as good, but it is suitable for vegans.
About the classic feuilleté jambon fromage, and how it’s translated in Britain
A British version of the Gallic feuilleté jambon fromage, would be made of York ham, perhaps, or bacon; some grainy mustard, and the stalwart Cheddar. However, no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Saucy Dressings version uses lardons, because, well, they are already conveniently cut into small dice. It uses British cheese, because it’s local, and it’s damn good. And it uses Dijon mustard, because it gives more of a kick than the mild, grainy type, but not the knock-out blow with a sledge hammer which is what Colman’s would deliver.
About melting cheeses and which to use
Cheddar works perfectly well if that is what you happen to have, but it doesn’t melt so well as the French and Swiss raclette, Gruyère, or Comté. Ogleshield, Kern, Bermondsey Hard Pressed, Lincolnshire Poacher Double Barrelled and Summer Field Alpine (delightfully from Yorkshire) all do. And some of them do the job with fuller flavour. But it is a very robust dish – in an emergency, or a lockdown we’ve used a mix of Philadelphia cream cheese, instead of the crème fraîche, and Cheshire cheese, instead of the melting cheese, which has worked extremely well.
To find out more about British melting cheeses, follow this link which gives details of these six wonderful cheeses.
Why we turned it into an open pastry
The Saucy Dressings team has made one further tweak, this one with a nod to health concerns, as well as the move to a lighter style of eating. The original feuilleté jambon fromage mostly have the cheese and ham completely enveloped in the pastry. We’ve turned it into more of an open sandwich to make it less heavy and stodgy.
Nevertheless, it’s still pretty rich, so all it needs with it is a crisp green salad…or, if you are catering for children, maybe some minted peas.
In any case, it’s quick to make, and hugely popular with children (except Antonia) and adults alike.
Here’s what to do.
Bacon and cheese feuilleté
Serves – 4
- 320g/11 oz ready-rolled, all-butter, puff pastry
- 160g/6 oz/1 cups grated melting cheese – see paragraph about for suggestions
- 120 ml/½ cup crème fraîche, or mascarpone
- 150g/5 oz lardons
- 1 tbsp of Dijon mustard
- 150g/5 oz log of soft goats cheese
- Olive oil for frying
- 2 onions
- Some fresh herbs if available…tarragon, or rosemary…not a disaster if omitted
- Freshly ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 210°C.
- In a big frying pan fry the lardons gently with a little olive oil, while you peel and chop the onions. Add the onions to the pan and continue to cook gently.
- Meanwhile mix together the crème fraîche, the pepper, the herbs and the mustard.
- Lay the puff pastry out on a baking sheet on a piece of baking paper (you can use the one it comes with). Score a line around it with a knife, not cutting right through the pastry, about an inch/2 cm in from the perimeter. This will make a raised pastry border which will help contain the filling.
- Spread the cream mixture over the pastry, inside the scored line you’ve just made. Sprinkle over the grated melting cheese.
- Cut the goats cheese into discs and distribute over the cream cheese bed you have just created.
- Spread the lardons-onion mix over the top.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes – the pastry around the outside will be golden.