Every now and again I get nostalgic thinking about my culinary school days. The cooler weather these past few days brought me back to those first months at Cordon Bleu; traditional puff pastry was lesson seven in the basic pastry curriculum. I remember we did puff pastry and croissant in several workshops, always late at night. It was fun to trudge home to my tiny apartment, clutching my paper bag of pastries, exhausted but full of satisfaction with the results. These apple turnovers are one of my favorite uses of puff pastry. Known as "chaussons aux pommes" (apple slippers), they are a delicious treat. Light, buttery, pastry filled with chunky apple compote makes them an ideal seasonal addition to a breakfast or brunch tray. I made my own puff pastry, but you could very easily use store-bought pastry and have equally good results. Be sure you purchase an all-butter product, such as Dufour brand. I have heard that Trader Joe's also sells an all-butter version of ready to use puff pastry. I will try to post the method for puff pastry at some point here; it's a challenging task because it requires detailed instructions and my kitchen is not a photo-friendly venue. In the meantime, this recipe will give you some really good apple turnovers. Give it a try and see if you don't agree.
Chaussons aux Pommes (Apple Turnovers)
(makes eight 5-inch pastries )
3 apples, peeled, cored, and diced (Golden Delicious work well)
Freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon
2 to 3 tablespoons granulated sugar; more for sprinkling on the pastries before baking
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Vanilla extract, to taste
Pinch of salt
2 pounds prepared puff pastry, well chilled (2 packages store-bought or 4 sheets)
1 large egg, beaten with a little water
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced apples, lemon juice, and sugar. Cook at a simmer until just tender but still chunky in texture. Season with a little vanilla (and cinnamon, if you wish), and a pinch of salt. Set aside to cool. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper. If using your own puff pastry, roll it out to a little less than 1/4-inch thickness (purchased pastry will be fine as is). The traditional "chausson" is made from a 5-inch circle; I used a teacup saucer as a guide. You can also make smaller pastries using a 3 1/2 or 4-inch pastry cutter. Roll your round shapes a little to make them into ovals. Place the pastry ovals on the prepared sheet. Moisten the edges of the pastry with a little water and place some of the apple filling on one side. Bring the pastry over the filling to form a half-circle shape, and press the edges firmly to seal. At this point chill the pastries in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour or freeze for about 15 minutes. Before baking the turnovers, brush them with a little egg wash. Take care not to spill the egg wash over the edges or the turnovers will not rise as well. Score a leaf pattern over the surface of the pastries, and sprinkle with a little additional granulated sugar. Make several vents in each turnover for steam to escape. Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, until well puffed and handsomely golden brown. Cool a little before enjoying, the filling will be very hot!
**Reserve any scraps of puff pastry but do not roll them into a ball. I may have some suggested uses for these in the days to come.