The Mysteries of Puff Pastry Dough and Sweet Potato Pot Pie

Before I launch into these little cooking blogs I do the research behind the recipe.  I mentioned the Simply Ming Show on Public TV and his recipe for Sweet Potato Soup and Potpie is on my list.  The potpie calls for puff pastry dough.  After talking to my local experts, Bill and Richard, who both have made the hand made variety and tell me it takes a lot of work; I am opting for the frozen pastry.  My research tells me that there are three companies that produce puff pastry – Pepperidge Farm is made with vegetable fat, Dufor can be found at Whole Foods and is made with butter and Trader Joe’s has there own that is made with butter.  Of course, the original pastry is made with layers and layers of butter. (Who doesn’t like butter? Raise your hand.)

The online article by Elliot Essman, which I happened upon, gives the best explanation of the mystery of puff pastry.  The key is to handle it gently, gently, gently. Oh, it takes two, count ‘em, days to make puff pastry from scratch. Here’s an excerpt from a master. For the entire and very fun article to unlock the mystery of puff pastry click on the link above to read it.

Puff pastry is a product that must be treated with care, even if you buy it frozen. First rule: work with the puff in a cool area, less than 80 degrees, or the butter will melt and the layering effect will be ruined. Over-handling, or too much heat from your hands, will also compromise the result. Most frozen puff pastry comes folded in three, like a business letter. If you try to unfold the pastry right out of the freezer, it will probably snap. The best thawing trick is to fold a clean kitchen towel around the tri-folded sheet, then leave it on top of a wooden cutting board. The towel will wick off excess moisture as the puff warms. Give the puff a preliminary unfolding test after about fifteen minutes; leave it partially unfolded and wait a little longer if necessary. Once you have a flat sheet, gently crimp the seams together, dust with a little flour (for savory pastries) or sugar (for sweet pastries), and roll out with very gentle pressure. (Too much rolling encourages gluten formation, which destroys puff’s evanescent lightness.) If the puff seems to be warming up at any stage–rolling, cutting or shaping–refrigerate briefly to protect your delicate layers.” Elliott Essman, “Style Gourmet” Retreived September 21, 2010.

There is the art of cooking and the artists who prepare it.  Ming Tsai is one of these artists.  He incorporates east west cooking and creates a fusion that appeals to me. Ming, like Julia Childs, on her still continuing (repeat) TV show, has guest chefs cooking each time.  Ming treats his chefs, as Julie did, with deference and is always respectful. (He has a great aura.)  Many of his recipes seem reproducible. He often does one pot cooking. (Love that, ‘cause it’s less clean up. Whew!)

Try this one.

Sweet Potato Pot Pie Serves 4


2 onions, 1/2-inch dice

2 tablespoons minced ginger

2 large carrots, peeled, roll cut

4 ribs of celery, 1/4-inch dice

3 sweet potatoes, peeled, 1/2-inch dice

1 teaspoon five spice powder

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups heavy cream

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed and kept cold in fridge

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Canola oil for cooking


In a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat coated lightly with oil, combine onions and ginger, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes. Add carrots, celery and potatoes and season.  Sauté for a few minutes to, add five spice and deglaze with wine, scraping up and caramelized bits on the bottom of pan. Reduce mixture by 75%, about 5 minutes, and add cream. Check for flavor and season again. Bring to a simmer cook until potatoes are cooked through and liquid is reduced by 25%, about 25 minutes.  Check for flavor. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chill in refrigerator until cool, about 1-2 hours. Remove from fridge and top with a round of puff pastry. Crimp edges of puff pastry around pan and cut a few air vents into top. Bake in oven at 350 until golden brown and heated through, about 30-45 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Mine’s in the oven baking.

Sweet potato pie

Notes:  I used Pepperidge Farm brand, because it was available nearby and it is made without butter.  It’s the fat and cholesterol that I must avoid.  (How can I cook?)

By the way, the puff pastry package has a recipe for Strawberry Napoleons. Hmmm. Next recipe on my list!

Your comments and recipes are welcome!

About kunstkitchen

Visual artist and writer hunting words, languages, visions, and insight in my kitchen - connecting Art (Kunst) and culture and slow food cooking. Credits: Do not own a microwave oven and never have. Do not own a food processor. Chopped veggies in a Zen monastery for a weekend. (Seriously) Classically trained artist. Paint and draw with traditional materials. Live in the Northland where it's six months of winter. Appreciate the little things in life. Sharing food and art experiences and the lessons that my talented and generous friends have given me.
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