Feuilleté aux jambon et fromage

Is it a pie or a pasty? Depends where you live, in England this would certainly count as some sort of pasty while in the States one might be more inclined to call this a pie. Pasty-pie, who cares, it is a delicious heart-warming and rib-sticking french Traîteur staple and makes a nice supper. The pie has a subtle and savoury flavour, depending on the strength of the cheese you are using and of course the ham. Serve together with a salad of bitter leaves (like endive, Belgian endive/chicory, radicchio, rucola, treviso, frisée) with a sharp mustard and nut oil vinaigrette (see below) and some little gherkins or pickles. Leftovers are always appreciated as a weekend lunch in our kitchen. Good enough for 4 to 8 depending on serving sizes.

Puff pastry with ham and cheese filling – Feuilleté au jambon et fromage

Adapted from Linda Dannenberg’s Paris Boulangerie Pâtisserie. Recipes from thirteen outstanding French bakeries. New York (1994) 22005.

1 or 2 packets of butter puff pastry
1 cup or 125ml of milk
1 cup or 250g gruyere, grated  (you may use any other sharp cheese, like an old gouda, cheddar or comté)
2 eggs
½ cup or 125g of crème fraîche
½ cup or 100g of flour
salt & pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
a pinch of paprika or cayenne
150g ham, about 2 to 4 slices depending on the size of the ham
1 egg for an egg-wash

Firstly, make the cheese filling since it needs time to cool down. Over medium heat bring the milk and cheese in a heavy saucepan to the boil, stirring constantly to ensure that nothing catches and the cheese has melted. Take from the flame.

Mix the eggs with the crème fraîche and heat in another saucepan over medium heat, add the spices and flour, stirring all the time and ensuring the mixture does not boil (eggs would split). Turn the heat down and cook while stirring for about 5 minutes until sauce has a homogenous consistency and the taste of flour has disappeared. Take the sauce of the hob, add the cheese and blend the two sauces together. Let the cheese sauce cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) or 180°C fan oven which is what I use. Roll out one or both sheets of puff pastry on a piece of baking parchment to a thickness of 3-4 mm (1/8 inch) and cut out two circles of 30cm (12 inches) in diameter. Conveniently, in France good butter puff pastry is already sold like that. Move one circle on its baking parchment onto a baking sheet or a tarte form and cover the centre with half of the cheese sauce, leaving an outside rim of about 2cm (3/4 inch). Add the sliced ham and cover again with cheese. Place the second pastry sheet on top and seal the edges by pinching the pastry together or using the teeth of a fork to create a nice pattern. Beat the remaining egg with a little water and use to glaze the top with a pastry brush. Using a knife cut a little round hole in the middle for the steam to escape, you might want to go to town and decorate the top with cut pieces or lightly score a diamond pattern on top.

Bake the feuilleté in the centre of the oven for about 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 175°C (350°F) or 160°C fan oven and continue to bake for another 30 to 40 minutes until the crust is a rich golden brown. Take from the sheet and let it cool down on a wire rack and serve still warm with pickled cucumbers or gherkins (GB), some mustard and a bitter salad with a sharp mustard-nut oil vinaigrette. May I recommend a glass of Chardonnay or Muscat with it?

Mustard & nut oil vinaigrette

This vinaigrette harmonizes especially well with bitter salad leaves like endive, treviso, radicchio, frisée, Belgian endive/chicory, watercress, rucola etc. For extra crunch add some nuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds.

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon coarse Dijon mustard
½ garlic clove, finely minced or grated
½ teaspoon tarragon, dried or fresh
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
salt & pepper
4-6 tablespoons nut oil (walnut or hazelnut oil are very nice here, if it is too intense, mix with a mellow olive oil, I buy quite a nice mixed nut oil in France)

In a salad bowl mix the mustards, garlic, tarragon and the vinegar and season with salt & pepper. This way, the salt and pepper melt into the sauce and are not suspended in the oil and do not mix properly. Add the oil and mix to get a nice vinaigrette.

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