Some holiday discoveries are well worth making all year round.
This is one of them. It’s from Melissa Clark in The New York Times. It’s one of four recipes created for New Year’s Eve 2020. In “A Finger Food Countdown to 2021”, Melissa created two dips: a fig and olive tapenade and a sour cream and scallion version topped with an abundance of salmon roe. She also stuffed mushrooms with harissa, cumin, Parmesan, and dried apricots. But the one that we’ll serve again and again is this elegant tart topped with thinly-sliced fennel and marscapone topping an ultra buttery puff pastry crust. After a 15-minute cooldown, smoked salmon and capers give the tart a final topping that’s as sophisticated as it is tasty. And using store-bought puff pastry, it’s pretty well a snap to make.
What is Puff Pastry exactly?
Made using just flour, butter, salt, and water, layers and layers of each, the pastry rises up due to the combination of its ingredients and the minute quantity of air between the layers. While home bakers can achieve a home-made version, Puff Pastry is one of those ingredients that is better left to the pros. In my former career, one of my accounts was Sara Lee as in “Everybody doesn’t like something but nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee. I went to their ‘bakery’ outside Chicago. There I saw enormously sheets of pastry being used to create Sara Lee’s version. Astonishingly, there were 729 layers! The king of supermarket Puff Pastry is unquestionably Pepperidge Farm. It sells an astonishing 80 percent of Puff Pastry in the US.
Puff Pastry’s History comes with a side of controversy. And we love controversy.
In this case, even the name of the Frenchman who gets the credit for its invention is at issue. He’s variously called Claudius Gelée or Claude Lorrain. About 1645, while a pastry chef’s apprentice, he is said to have baked a loaf of bread for his sick father. Since the father was restricted to a diet of water, flour, and butter (!), the young apprentice folded butter into his dough ten times until he shaped it into a loaf. However, the first written recipe for puff pastry appeared in Spanish. “Libro del Arte de Cozina” (Book on the Art of Cooking) written by Domingo Hernandez de Maceras was published in 1607. Maceras was the head cook in one of the colleges of the University of Salamanca. Maceras published recipes for filled puff pastries and puff pastry tarts. Puff pastry’s use was widespread in Spain years before the first French recipe was published in France in 1653.
Here’s today’s recipe and after it, a couple of other savory puff pastry recipes you might like to try.
Smoked Salmon, Fennel and Marscapone Tart
An elegant tart topped with thinly-sliced fennel and marscapone on an ultra buttery puff pastry crust. After a 15-minute cooldown, smoked salmon and capers finish the tart.
- 1 large fennel bulb (or 2 small ones)
- 1 to 2 lemons
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided use
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, more as needed
- 1 cup mascarpone
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus more sprigs for garnish
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- All-purpose flour, for dusting the work surface
- 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed if frozen (about 14 ounces)
- 4 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained and chopped
- Step 1 Trim the fennel. Halve the fennel top to bottom, then use a paring knife to cut out the thick core in the center. Remove the tough outer layer. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, slice the fennel horizontally as thinly as possible. You should have 3 to 3 ½ cups.
- Step 2 Grate 1 ½ teaspoon zest from the lemon, then squeeze out 1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice, keeping zest and juice separate.
- Step 3 In a mixing bowl, toss together fennel slices, lemon juice, olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and a pinch of black pepper. Let sit for 20 minutes to soften the fennel.
- Step 4 Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Step 5 In another medium mixing bowl, use a rubber spatula to mix together the mascarpone, herbs, egg, lemon zest, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper until well-combined.
- Step 6 On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry out to form a 13-by-11-inch rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. With a sharp knife, lightly score a ½-inch border around the edges of the puff pastry.
- Step 7 Spread mascarpone mixture evenly inside the scored border. Drain the excess liquid from the fennel and arrange the slices in an even layer on top of the mascarpone.
- Step 8 Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden, 22 to 28 minutes. Let the tart cool on its baking sheet on a rack for at least 15 minutes before serving (or up to 4 hours).
- Step 9 To serve, cut tart into pieces. Drape each with a slice of smoked salmon, sprinkle with a little lemon juice, and garnish with capers, dill, and black pepper.