Since I’m one of the featured bloggers for the 1,2,3 Puff Pastry contest this month, I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about puff pastry and its applications. Fortunately, it’s pretty versatile. Vol-au-vents are cases made of puff pastry. They look like cylinders of pastry, with high, crisp sides and a light, buttery base. The top of the vol-au-vent remains open and can be filled with just about anything, although they’re primarily used for savory appetizers and main dishes. When they’re used for desserts, these same pastries are more likely to be called tarts or simply shells. I’ve stuck with that theme here and opted to call these caramel and pear filled vol-au-vents Caramel Pear Puff Pastry Tarts, instead.
These treats have a great combination of textures and flavors. A crispy, buttery shell is made very easily with puff pastry and the sweet, fruity filling is rich and satisfying. Eating one is a lot like having your own personal pie – only without the fuss of making a regular pie crust and waiting for the filling to bake. The filling is made on the stovetop, just a quick caramel sauce with lots of pears in it. I thickened the sauce with a little bit of cornstarch, since pears will release a lot of juice as they cook and you get a nice, thick consistency by helping it to thicken just a little bit. I used brown sugar and a hint of vanilla to accent the pears.
The cases are also easy to make. Start with a sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Cut out about a dozen 2 or 2 1/2 inch rounds with a circular cookie cutter. Cut a smaller circle out of the centers of half of those pieces. Stack the donut-shaped round on top of a solid piece, using a bit of water or lightly beaten egg to hold them together, and bake until golden. If you don’t want to make them yourself, it is possible to find this type of pastry shell ready-made in grocery stores, too. Both options are pretty quick to work with.
If all else fails, or if you simply have leftover filling, the pear-caramel mixture is great on top of vanilla ice cream, too.
Caramel Pear Puff Pastry Tarts
6 puff pastry shells (store bought or homemade)
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
3 cups ripe pears, peeled and diced (2 large)
2 tbsp milk
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400F.
Place room temperature puff pastry shells onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Cool until ready to use.
In a medium saucepan, melt together the butter, brown sugar and salt, stirring frequently with a spoon or spatula. Add in diced pears and cook over medium heat until pears are tender.
Combine milk, cornstarch and vanilla in a small bowl, stir well, and add to the saucepan and continue to cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, or until mixture thickens.
Spoon into cooled puff pastry cases just before serving. Serve with a side of vanilla ice cream, if desired.
Note: This post is sponsored by Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry, who wants to encourage you to come up with your own puff pastry creations (in addition to trying mine!) and enter them in their 1, 2, 3 Puff! Recipe Contest. If your recipe is selected as a winner, you could receive an all-expense paid trip to New York City for a taste of the sweet life! Find more great recipes and enter to win at 123puffpastry.com.