Wild Mushroom Pithiviers
I begin this post by noting that I don't know how long mypuff pastry would keep in your deep freezer (nor, for that matter, how it got into your deep freezer; give it back, please), but it seems to have lost nothing during its seven weeks in our refrigerator's freezer compartment. While I wasn't especially worried about its freshness, I was moved to use it for this past weekend's party in part because I like cooking with puff pastry and in part because the local Giant had a sale on veal at the same time it had a sale on sherbet, and V. had, apparently, decided to buy and freeze a whole calf at the same time I decided to buy two half-gallons of sherbet, leading to a congested freezer and some minor domestic discord.
I also found myself with a couple of pounds of mushrooms, mostly wild. And, no, despite what various roommates from my college and immediate post-college days may have said about my refrigerator hygiene, the mushrooms did not just grow there. I had bought both oyster and shiitake mushrooms (and some standard white mushrooms) for another use, and I still had plenty left. With my refrigerator and freezer overflowing like the proverbial cornucopia, I hit upon the notion of a wild mushroom Pithiviers. Someday, I really am going to make the traditional Pithiviers, with an almond filling (I still have a bunch of blanched almonds hanging around from a week or two ago when I blanched about a pound of them; blanching almonds is not difficult but takes a while, and it's a great thing to do while you're watching television: it instantly turns you from a couch potato into a multi-tasker, and you end up with blanched almonds), but I don't know when that day will be, especially since I used my last block of puff pastry this past weekend and probably won't get around to making any more until January or April (depending on how quickly and fiercely busy season hits).
Because I was serving the Pithiviers as hors d'oeuvres, I didn't want one big tart, which I reasoned would be difficult to cut into many thin wedges. Instead, I made three smaller ones, each between five and six inches in diameter. They were highly successful and much appreciated by my guests, none of whom had ever seen anything like them. (One supposes that wild mushroom Pithiviers are not yet trendy.) I think that the next time I want to wow some dinner party guests, I will go even smaller and make individual four-inch tarts for the first course. I might go so far as to pour a small amount of brown sauce into the top opening of each, but that is a decision for another day.
I am doing my best with the measurements on this recipe. Of course, I'm almost always just giving my best approximation, but I particularly didn't measure with this recipe. I don't think you'll go wrong with these amounts, though. You will have extra filling, but you can either make more Pithiviers or find another use for the filling. Or I suppose you could scale the recipe back, but where's the fun in that?
Wild Mushroom Pithiviers
2 T. butter
1/4 cup finely diced onion
24 - 32 ounces mushrooms of your choice, roughly chopped
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 T. grated parmesan or romano cheese
salt and pepper
1 pound puff pastry
Egg wash (1 egg yolk beaten with a teaspoon of water)
In a skillet, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until translucent. Then add as many mushrooms as will fit in the pan and continue to cook over medium heat until you can fit more mushrooms in the pan. Continue in this manner until you have put all of your mushrooms in the skillet, and they have stopped giving off liquid.
Add the red wine, and cook until it is nearly evaporated, then add the cream, stir well, and add the grated cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn the skillet off and let the mixture cool completely.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Roll the puff pastry out thin, about 1/8 inch. The sheet should be big enough for you to cut out six circles of equal size. Cut the circles out. Move three of the circles to a baking sheet.
Mound the mushroom mixture as high as you can in the center of each of the three dough circles on your baking sheet. Leave a half-inch border around the mushroom mounds. Brush the border with egg wash.
Take the remaining three circles and roll them out a bit wider so that they can cover both the mounds and the bottom circles. Using a small decorative cutter, cut a small piece of dough out of the center of each of the top circles. Fit the dough tops over the mushroom mounds. Smooth the dough down the sides of the mounds, and press the outer rims of the tops to the egg-washed borders of the bottoms.
Brush the tops of the pastries with egg wash. If you like (and you do), take the remaining dough scraps and use your small decorative cutter to make additional cut-outs and stick them on the dough where it slopes down the sides of the mushroom mounds. Brush the tops of these shapes with more egg wash.
But the pastries in the oven and bake for fifteen to twenty minutes, or until they are puffed and very well browned. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let cool for a few minutes (or longer) before cutting and serving.
I cut each of the Pithiviers into six slices, with three full-diameter cuts through the center. I actually only cut two of mine up at the party because I knew that I wouldn't get a chance to eat any, and I also knew that at least a couple of my friends won't eat mushrooms (and yet I do not cast these lunatics out of my house because that's just the sort of inclusive and tolerant guy I am). When the third was fully cool, I wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator, and the next day I put it in the toaster oven for seven or eight minutes, and it was decidedly yummy.
You could easily add another tablespoon of butter to this recipe. You could also replace the onions with shallots, though it was perfectly delicious with the onion.
The perfect cutter for the size of tarts I wanted turned out to be the lid from a Farberware one-quart saucepan. The part of the lid that forms a tight fit with the saucepan, though it is not sharp, makes a good cutter because it is pretty thin and does not deform, as many cutters do. The lids for other one-quart saucepans would also work, but if you're using a Calphalon-type lid, you'll also need a paring knife to cut around the dough.
If you are looking for efficiency, then you can skip the Pithiviers shape all together and just roll your dough out into a long rectangle and then either cut that rectangle into two narrower rectangles or just fold it over (you'd still need egg wash to seal). You would then, obviously, form your mushroom mixture into an oblong rather than circular mound. You could either cut shapes out of the top rectangle/portion you're folding over, or you could simply cut slashes in it with your kitchen shears after you'd folded it over and brushed it with the egg wash. It would be easier to cut and serve that way. You can still call it a Pithiviers if you like; you have my permission. Purists would perhaps balk, but we left the purists standing by the side of the road with their chins on their chests when we decided that we could call a savory dish a Pithiviers in the first place, so they won't be around to whinge about it.