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How to Make The Ultimate Holiday Appetizer (or Dessert) Without A Recipe

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Inspired by Comté's ancient production methods and its varied cheesemakers, we set out to learn more about the world of cheese and recipes to use it in.

Puff pastry will save you. It doesn’t complain like pie dough can. It’s there for you when things like this cross your mind: Oh, sugar! I’ve got 40 minutes until 10 people show up for dinner and I don’t have a suitable appetizer outside of this bag of half-eaten, mostly crushed potato chips.

“Don’t worry,” puff pastry assures you (hypothetically, of course). “Just defrost and make me into a tart. It’ll be thawsome—er, awesome.” Puff pastry’s right, too: A tart is the perfect quick holiday appetizer or dessert or even weeknight dinner. It’s the kind of thing you can throw together with a just a little know-how and even less work. A tart accepts your filling whims, random condiments, and cheese dregs. It’s happy sweet, savory, or sweet-savory.

Here’s how to make a puff pastry tart without a recipe:

1. Roll with it.

First thing’s first: preheat the oven to 475° F. On a lightly floured surface, roll a sheet of puff pastry into a 13-inch square, fold the corners in, and re-roll into a round. Don’t worry if the round isn’t perfect. It doesn’t have to be! Transfer the puff pastry to a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate until you’re ready to add your filling.

2. Get your fill.

Sweet or savory: The choice is yours (and what a choice to make). Cheese! Vegetables! Herbs! Jam! All the exclamations! Here are some ideas to get you started:

Depending on your filling, saute your aromatics (shallots, garlic, etc.) and add your prepped vegetables (or roast separately) and some chopped or minced herbs. Cook and season like the filling-making pro you are—or will be. If you’re going sweet and using thinly sliced fruit like apples or pears, toss with some lemon juice, brown sugar, and salt to keep them from browning.

Whatever you do, let your filling cool—we’re not trying to cook the pastry on contact (or melt any cheese prematurely).

3. Build it, baby.

Here, we’re making a leek, Comté, and prosciutto tart. We used a 1/2 pound of coarsely shredded Comté and sprinkled half the cheese over the puff pastry, followed by the leek mixture, thinly-sliced prosciutto, and the remaining cheese. If you’re taking the sweet route, dust the puff pastry with a tablespoon or two of sugar before adding your filling.

Whatever you use (except if it’s a super melty thing like Nutella, which should be spread on after the tart shell is cooked), leave about a 1-inch border around the tart’s edge. Try adding the filling to the center and spreading outwards for evenness and ease. Season everything (if applicable, flavor-wise) with salt and pepper.

4. Fold, bake, and wait.

Fold the dough’s edge over to form a rim, pressing lightly to adhere. Bake the tart for 20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. To avoid burning and sad, blackened bits, add things like chopped, toasted nuts and sugary sauces like dulce de leche or caramel after the tart comes out of the oven. Things like pickled peppers can be added post-oven, too, to preserve that “oh, that’s freshhh” quality.

If excess fat irks you, blot the tart with a paper towel. Slice into wedges and serve! Yes, it was that easy. 

Photos by Bobbi Lin

Inspired by Comté's ancient production methods and its varied cheesemakers, we set out to learn more about the world of cheese and recipes to use it in.

Tags: Appetizer, Holiday, Bake, (Not) Recipes, Holiday Entertaining