Somehow, with all the food and food learning this blog has produced, my favorite thing has been learning how to copycat things that one could normally buy at the store. It’s like a specialized hobby within the more general hobby of baking and cooking. Maybe it’s lazy, because I’m taking someone else’s idea and just trying to figure out the details, but the end result is the same: I get to make my favorite things at home, which means I get to eat them at the peak of freshness.
As you read this, I’m most likely on a plane and my vacation is somewhere on the ground beneath. I am headed home, which is fine: three weeks is a great length for vacation, because you don’t have that pesky “I wish this vacation could go on forever” feeling; you don’t. you start to miss your own life and routine a little bit. I didn’t make all the food things I was going to make for you while here, but that’s okay too, because I did get lots of other things done. This vacation gave me the chance to do what I like to call my Mid-Year Strategic Plan, which is me sitting down with all the goals that I had for myself and this space at the beginning of the year, congratulating myself for the things I’ve accomplished, chiding myself for things I haven’t completed yet, and quietly removing the things that don’t seem like a good idea anymore. I retool the list, add some new ideas (there’s a big idea in there that I think you’ll like quite a bit), and figure out how to get back on track. The geographic break in the action is nice, because I go home with a whole renewed purpose thing (I’m so dramatic today) and the food you see here is better because of it.
We made some really great things while on vacation, but they were versions of things we’ve always liked on vacation; a little like a greatest hits. Lots of tomatoes, avocados, turkey burgers, slaws, salads, fish, mangos, chips. We went out a few times, we stayed in lots more. A few great recipes came out of it, and the standout is this one: a copycat from my favorite vacation grocery store, Publix.
Publix grocery stores are bright, clean, well-organized, and have tons of things. They are not located in St. Louis. They are wrong for that, friends, because they make me long for them while here, and I get super sad to leave them. My favorite thing about Publix? the bakery. Shocker, I know, but the smell of a Publix bakery can infuse a joy into your life you may have never known before. It’s like they’re baking with love in there, and they make some beautiful things. Among these are the pastries you see above you: they are called mini-strudels, and they are easily one of the most dangerous things to have in any home. I have made them even more dangerous, because I figured out how to make them just like they do. Potential problems:
- I can eat these fresh from the oven now versus the less desirable but still delicious “fresh from sitting in the bakery department” way
- I don’t have to wait all year to eat these on vacation.
- Instead of limiting myself to raspberry, cheese, strawberry, or apple, I can now have any fruit inside that I want
- They are so easy, all I really need is a freezer full of store-bought puff pastry, some fruit, an egg, and some sugar, and I’m ready for action.
Perhaps the best thing about this is the quick assembly: they come together no time, so you can have hot mini-pastries for breakfast whenever you want. During our experiments, we fell in love with this black plum version, which is tart and sweet all at the same time, and a nice twist on the regular flavor offerings. Certainly you can use any type of plum, but the black ones, in my opinion, are the best for these.
I really want to encourage you to make these with anything you wish: just strategize how best to do it before proceeding. Blueberries, for instance, are lovely in them, but they are round and tumbly so you have to watch them falling out; this goes for most any berry except strawberry, which are large enough to slice flat. Anything else you can slice, like peaches, apricots, apples or pears work well for bundling and tend to stay in place. I’m fine-tuning a cheese filling for these you could use alone or pair with things like the blueberry or raspberry to help them stay put, as well; you’ll see that soon.
Announcement (for those of you who like to skim-read; we all do it)
Big news: it’s almost my two-year blogiversary. I mark it as the Wee One’s birthday, because right after her first birthday, I embarked on this project. It’s taught me so much about food, provided me a wealth of incredible opportunities, and most importantly, allowed me to meet and befriend all of you. It continues to do all of those things, so this is not the “I’m tired of blogging, I’m done” declaration; don’t worry. On the contrary, I’d like to think I could keep this going forever, because I love it more and more.
But I need a small break, people: the vacation has been a great way to figure that out. And I need to take that break during “real life” and not on vacation because we have loads of things coming up in the next month or so that I have to focus on. I recently became a regular contributor to Feast Magazine (as in the print version!), so my duties for them have swiftly ramped up from occasional online contributor to monthly print contributor, which is way more awesome a feeling than I can sufficiently express in words. Why? Because I love Feast Magazine, and they all know that by now, as I have explained this to them repeatedly. I’m lucky and honored and thrilled to be part of their beautiful publication. Beyond that, I’m working on a larger graphic design project for a client, the largest portion of which will wrap up in the fall, and that’s taking up lots of time at the moment. Finally, I’ll be attending my first ever food blog conference here – the Saint Louis Food Media Forum – and I plan to be really nervous about that. What to wear, what I’ll say to people, convincing myself that everyone knows each other but me…there’s a lot of ridiculous, nerdy things to obsess over with that particular event, and I plan to do some serious nerding out. Probably I’ll fall on something; I’ll let you know.
The Wee One, as always, figures prominently into my schedule: her third birthday is coming up, and I like to go big for that in terms of decorations, favors, and food. This year, she and her tiny friends are old enough for games (yay!) so I’m tasked with making those as well. She’s also starting preschool this fall, so I have all the required obtaining of physicals, purchasing of clothes, and soothing of fears that other mothers do. She’s at home with me, as you know, so she’s never really been around large groups of her peers for any length of time; needless to say, neither one of us are really looking forward to this, but I know she’ll learn a lot, and that’s great. I also plan to meet with her teacher ahead of the school year beginning to let her know how special the Wee One is in relation to her peers; I’m obviously going to be their favorite parent, and I bet they’re looking so forward to the daily updates they’ll be giving me regarding her progress. I can’t wait until I get kicked out of school.
So my break will only be for a few weeks, if that’s okay. I’ll be back at it sometime mid-August, if not before, so until then, consider it one less thing filling up your reader or email. I’ll still be a commenting fool on fellow bloggers’ posts, because not keeping up with other blogs on vacation is very similar to leaving a full-time job on vacation and coming back to roughly 3,000 emails in your inbox: it’s overwhelming. I’ll be on Twitter and Facebook regularly as well, and if you follow me on either of those, you can see the birthday party coming together bit by bit, which is always a good time. I may need some help. I’ll definitely need some help. Please help.
This is the longest post ever; I’m so sorry. Thank heavens the recipe is a short one. If you need me, you let me know; I’ll be here. I just need to divert the brain power away from baking and cooking and tremendous amounts of words for a tiny amount of time. See you in a few weeks on this space: see you regularly over at Facebook and Twitter.
Adapted from my heart and inspired by the wee strudels at Publix Markets Bakery.
Black Plum Mini-Strudels
- 1 package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
- 4 black plums, pitted and cut into 12 slices each
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 egg + 1 teaspoon water (for egg wash)
- 4-5 tablespoons Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
a note before we begin: You don’t have to use lipped sheet pans to make these work, but it helps to contain any of the fruit juice that leaks out. You may notice that I do something I never do, and tell you to line two sheet pans with parchment. This is not so you bake them at the same time: rather, it’s so you can continue to prepare the second sheet pan of pastries while the first sheet is cooking; your puff dough is easier to work with if you do them all at once. Finally, the Demerara sugar makes a big difference here in the texture: you could try to skimp with sanding sugar, but you won’t get that nice brown sugar crunch that Demerara alone provides.
Preheat oven to 425˚F. Line 2 lipped half-sheet pans with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine the sliced plums and sugar and toss to combine. Set aside.
Leave one thawed puff pastry sheet in the refrigerator and place the other on a lightly floured cutting board (so you don’t damage your counters) vertically, like the portrait position versus landscape, if you know what I mean. Roll out a few times to seal the folds together; you don’t need to make it too much larger than it already is. Use a sharp, thin-bladed knife to slice the pastry sheet in half lengthwise, then the opposite direction into strips around 2 inches wide, 10 strips total per pastry sheet.
Peel one strip up and away slightly from the others. Top in the center with two plum slices, and fold one side over the top of the fruit. Use a little egg wash in a line on top of the folded edge (a la glue stick), then fold the other side over top of the first side. add a little more egg wash, and press gently to seal. Flip over and place on prepared sheet pan. Repeat with remaining strips (and with the remaining parchment sheet in the refrigerator, when ready), spacing the finished pastries 1 inch apart on the pan. If you’d like some visual aids for putting these together, here you go:
Once you have a full pan of pastries, use a thin-bladed knife and cut three slits on the top of each; you don’t have to cut all the way through, just make a slit, working gently and using two fingers to stabilize the dough so the insides don’t press out. Using the pastry brush, coat the top and down the sides with egg wash, and sprinkle generously with the Demerara sugar.
Bake for about 20 minutes, checking at the 18-minute mark for doneness. Your pastries will be golden, puffed, and flaky, but not at all dark brown. Remove and let cool at least 15 minutes on the pan. You can serve these warm, but they’re perfectly wonderful at room temperature as well.
I think these are best the first day you make them, but there’s nothing wrong with them the day after: like all things puff pastry, they lose a little bit of the flaky from the pastry and the crunch from the sugar, but they’re still delicious. For guests, serve the same day. Eat your leftovers the next day, storing them in an airtight container overnight.
Makes 20 mini-strudels.