Store-Bought Puff Pastry is the Secret to Making Easy Desserts That Look Impressive
I want to let you in on a little secret—elegant and effortless are not mutually exclusive concepts, especially when it comes to warm weather entertaining. The bounty of vibrant, juicy produce that comes into season over the spring and summer months practically does the work for you. And my friends, you should let it. Rarely do any of us earn brownie points for making things more complicated than they need be, so don’t.
As someone who is, by nature, more inclined towards baking and sweet making (i.e. I’m the one who pretty much always volunteers to bring dessert), I consistently find that the desserts my friends are most enamored with or that go over exceptionally well at a party are those that are legitimately the easiest to make. And with plump berries and succulently sweet stone fruit coming into season, all you need is one smart, time-saving ingredient to really capitalize on this unspoken principle of simplicity reigns supreme; that one ingredient is store-bought puff pastry.
A good ol’ box of Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry sheets is the type of supermarket shortcut that even the most enthusiastic and prolific bakers stand to benefit from during the months when most of us look to minimize oven use. Sure, if you’re looking for a good weekend pastry project, you could try making your own puff pastry from-scratch; but in this case, you can also grab that box confidently knowing that going with store-bought generally doesn’t entail swapping quality for convenience. Frozen puff pastry is one of those pre-made products that yields legitimately impressive results—impressive results of the most flakey, buttery, and delightful nature. And because it is a freezer aisle find, there’s no reason not to simply keep a box stashed in your own freezer so that you can whip up something fabulous on a moment’s notice. Now let’s talk specifics about this “something fabulous” you could whip up.
After recently bringing up the idea of using packaged puff pastry as a summer dessert shortcut, one of our talented test kitchen recipe developers, Karen Rankin, reminded me of just how versatile this convenience ingredient can be. Using the same handful of ingredients for each, Rankin created the following low-effort dessert recipes. Both are eye-catching, easy-to-make, and provide a perfectly simple way to highlight ripe, peak-season fruit, but each provides a distinct aesthetic and serving format. Because, while you do always want dessert to be delicious, you don’t always want it to look the same; different occasions call for different serving styles. A box of prepared puff pastry allows you that flexibility. Take for example…
This show-stopper is easy to assemble and perfect for a group gathering where the food is being served family style. The only component of this effortlessly elegant tart that needs to bake is the puff pastry base itself. Once it’s baked and cooled, you’ll top it with a creamy, fluffy spread of sweetened mascarpone cheese mixed with marzipan (i.e. almond paste), vanilla, freshly whipped cream. Again, this mixture could not be simpler to whip up, but it delivers swoon-worthy flavor. You’ll top that off with macerated fresh strawberries, peaches, and plums (though, you could switch it up to use whatever ripe fruits you like)—and voila! Look at you go, Chef.
For a more personalized feel that works well for a slightly smaller group—say a luncheon or family dinner party where serving a plated dessert is the best option—go for stacked puff pastry “shortcakes.” You’re using the same almond-flavored mascarpone cream and macerated fruit mixtures, but rather than spreading them over a slab of baked puff pastry, you’ll be sandwiching them between cut, baked squares that stand in as an airy alternative to a traditional shortcake biscuits. And if you wanted to go a step further, you could even cut your puff pastry into smaller rectangles and layer three of the rectangles with your fillings to create Napoleons. Regardless of the direction you take, you’ll want to wait until right before serving time to assemble your dessert. All of those glorious summer fruit juices are going to start seeping into your puff pastry and will lead to sogginess if prepared too far in advance.
Now that you have the idea, you’re well on your way to crafting your own sweet and simple puff pastry creations. While it may look like something straight out of a French bakery case, your guests never have to know that the dessert you place down in front of them was the easiest part of the meal.