Big Little Recipes

The Mysterious Origins of Grandma's Mushroom Puffs

December  8, 2020

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. This week, we’re baking up a family favorite.


When I asked my grandma when she started making her family-famous mushroom puffs, she started counting backward by husbands. In total, there were three, all of whom have been dead for years. She didn’t make them for Jerry and probably not Bob, but definitely Arnie, which shakes out to (give or take) 30 years.

Grandma knows she stumbled on the recipe in a magazine and first tried it as a Thanksgiving appetizer. But the publication, let alone the year and issue, are long gone: “No idea!”

Still, this fact, that the recipe came from somewhere, means that as it traveled to her home in New Jersey, it also ventured to many other homes in many other states, where toddlers like myself ate mushroom puffs by the fistful and eventually had trouble recognizing a family gathering without them.

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Top Comment:
“It is called Flaky Mushroom Tartlets and the original also called for a little bit of blue cheese (but is otherwise identical to your grandmother's) and also included a recipe for Easy Puff Pastry (made in a food processor), although frozen puff pastry is admittedly easier. It is my favorite holiday appetizer, especially since they freeze well.”
— wallace
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There is comfort in knowing that a tradition is as unique as it is universal—that this recipe is just as cherished by people I’ve never met.

Photo by James Ransom. Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth. Food Stylist: Sam Seneviratne.

If I Google “mushroom puffs,” one of the top results is a doppelganger of my mom’s scribbled recipe card. The photo is uncanny. Every ingredient is the same. Even some of the instructions.

Except for one. Grandma included the lemon juice (a measly half-teaspoon, barely a squeeze) for years. Eventually, though, she ditched it. “Supposedly lemon juice brings out the flavor in something. But these have enough flavor without it.”

Indeed, mushroom puffs are just what they sound like: a shattering bite of puff pastry, giving way to a filling that can only be described as cream of mushroom soup-but-not-soup. It’s suspiciously simple—just diced mushroom and onion, sauteed in a lot of butter, thickened with flour, simmered with cream—and impossible to eat just one.

Because I write and edit recipes for a living, I couldn’t help but change a couple things. (“You better not!” Grandma warned. But I hope she’ll forgive me.) I increased the small onion to medium for surplus savoriness. And I swapped in louder baby bellas, instead of soft-spoken buttons.

Otherwise, these are indistinguishable from the mushroom puffs that my grandma has made for Thanksgivings and Hanukkahs and Sunday suppers for decades. Who knows, maybe your grandma has too.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in October 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

28 Comments

goodvuduis December 22, 2020
So good! Then I tried a couple other additions... One, I deglazed w/ a hint of brandy, Delish. But when I tried again and threw in some Truffle oil & Parm, AMAZING!!!

Thanks so much for the recipe!
 
wallace December 17, 2020
I've been making these for 30 years or more...working from a tattered xerox from a cookbook that credits the original recipe to Flo Braker, a SF Bay Area pastry teacher and cookbook author. It is called Flaky Mushroom Tartlets and the original also called for a little bit of blue cheese (but is otherwise identical to your grandmother's) and also included a recipe for Easy Puff Pastry (made in a food processor), although frozen puff pastry is admittedly easier. It is my favorite holiday appetizer, especially since they freeze well.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. December 17, 2020
Blue cheese! Sounds so good, gotta give that a whirl.
 
Anita December 11, 2020
This recipe is deceptively amazing! I was a little skeptical going in, wondering how cream of mushroom soup (which I hated Campbell's every step of the way as a kid) could make for a tasty appetizer.

I added extra butter & thyme and used Phyllo pastry from the local Greek grocery. I think deglazing with a touch of white wine and adding cream later could also add a nice flavor. But honestly, these made my quarantine Friday night, esp paired with a crisp white wine!
 
Alanc9 December 11, 2020
My family tradition includes something similar, using sandwich bread instead of puff pastry, Cut the crusts off, roll the bread out thin, roll up the filling inside, cut into bite-size pieces, brush with melted butter, and bake. Works pretty well, and I'm more likely to have sandwich bread around than puff pastry.

I wonder if maybe this is the original version, and the recipe got upscaled when frozen puff pastry became widely available.
 
Patti P. December 13, 2020
Yes...similar to the recipe you mentioned which my mom hit in Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Cookbook. She always had these in the freezer, ready to brush with melted butter and pop in oven for company. DELICIOUS! It’s basically a duxelles filling, which can also be put in cream puffs.
 
Judyblue December 9, 2020
Emma, I enjoyed your video so much. I’m from southwestern Kentucky, and I have a hundred food memories; one is yellow cake with caramel icing, homemade of course.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. December 10, 2020
Hi Judyblue, thanks! Yellow cake with caramel icing, yum—could use a slice right now with my coffee.
 
L December 9, 2020
This filling is nearly identical to my great aunt's beloved recipe for stuffed mushrooms (including the lemon juice). In her recipe, the filling is made from the minced stems and used to stuff the caps before baking. Also identical-- it's not a family gathering without them!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. December 10, 2020
Ooh mushrooms stuffed with mushrooms! That's so smart. Gotta try that next.
 
laschnit December 10, 2020
My Aunt has a similar recipe where she uses the mushrooms stems but with the addition of parmesan cheese. Haven't tried it with heavy cream but I may add it this year!
 
Deane Y. December 10, 2020
I do a vegan version of stuffed mushrooms with OO, shallots, garlic, fresh parsley, dried chervil and thyme, seasoned with vegetable bullion cubes, S&P
and Madeira. They are bound with Ritz crackers.
 
Deane Y. December 10, 2020
I forgot the chopped mushrooms.
 
bellsneer December 9, 2020
My grandmother is from England and she has a similar family recipe, but the filling is ground sausage. We always have her sausage rolls during Christmas. I recently went vegetarian so I was so happy to come across this, which I will definitely try as an alternative! Thank you!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. December 10, 2020
Yay hope you enjoy! I love how the mushroom filling is very "meaty" without needing meat.
 
Ann S. December 9, 2020
Can there be a sub for the heavy cream to vegan-ize this recipe?
 
bjm December 9, 2020
I have not yet made these, however, in other recipes I have made for my vegan granddaughter calling for heavy cream, I have substituted Coconut Cream. I put the can of Coconut Cream, unshaken, in the frig. When chilled , the cream portion can easily be spooned off the top. When using, you may want to thin the cream portion slightly with the coconut water as you deem necessary. I also use melted cocoa butter as a substitute for the regular butter. It has a much better flavor, and no additives, then the available brands of vegan butter. Good luck!!!
 
Jani P. December 11, 2020
Have you ever substituted oat milk for cream? I know it's not thick but I actually have used it to create a sort of roux and it worked well. I used to make stuffed mushrooms often and would use shallots instead of onion, a splash of sherry (along with herbs etc.) and a bit of bread crumbs. It's fun to read everyone's variations.
 
William H. December 9, 2020
Can you add a touch of sherry or maybe Madeira to this recipe?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. December 10, 2020
I haven't tried that, but I bet it would be delicious!
 
joyce December 9, 2020
OK, you look way too young to have attended Kirkland College! (Joyce Schaefer, Kirkland '1976) Love the sweatshirt!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. December 10, 2020
Ha! I technically went to Hamilton but my Kirkland sweatshirt gets a lot more wear :)
 
Michele December 8, 2020
Oh man these look delicious!!!! Gonna have to make these for sure at my next family gathering! Thank you Emma! :)
 
Author Comment
Emma L. December 10, 2020
Hope you enjoy, Michele!
 
Constance I. December 8, 2020
Oh my word, these are delightful to the senses! And I enjoyed the tutorial video from start to finish. We'd be soul sisters in the kitchen ❤️ Keep the magic flowing, my dear, and shine, shine, shine!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. December 10, 2020
Aw thanks Constance! <3
 
Didi S. December 8, 2020
These look heavenly!!! I look forward to making them when the pandemic is over. As to memories, years ago, I was up visiting my mum, and for some reason, cranberry raisin pie popped into my head... we hadn't had it in YEARS. I thought I'd never find the recipe, but I looked into my mum's old 1950's era Joy of Cooking.. and there it was!!! I made it later for a dinner party I had. I cut it up out in the kitchen, and had to taste it before bringing it out. The wonderful familiarity of it flooded over me. I'll never forget that moment! On an unrelated note, is your sweatshirt for Kirkland College? I couldn't quite tell with your towel over your shoulder. My sister was in the very first class! She was on the cover of Life magazine... we were quite chuffed!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. December 10, 2020
Mmmm cranberry raisin pie! So special you were able to track down the recipe. And yes to Kirkland College—I went to Hamilton, such a small world!