When last Jim and I were in Paris we had the good fortune to meet several times with my extended family. They entertained us as only Parisians can, in fine restaurants with lots of yummy champagne. My cousins also rounded up the family who were in town for a Sunday afternoon reunion in the house of my father’s cousin, Marie Claire, where we spent the afternoon reminiscing over days long past and laughing at our young foolishness, sipping champagne and nibbling on a gorgeous mirabelle plum tart made by my cousin Hubert’s wife, Anne. Marie Claire’s apartment had been her sister, Francoise’, and that was where I began my first adventure in France oh, so many years ago. Whenever I went to Paris I stayed with Francoise and having gone all over the city by foot I came to know her neighborhood of Neuilly-sur-Seine pretty well. With Mama and without, I took the Metro to get around, and found the walk to the station and back to the apartment an absolute delight. Magnificent maple trees lined the streets leading to her house and, I have to tell you, I never felt prettier or happier than when I my feet hit those sidewalks. I felt as though I was walking on air. Francoise’ building was, and still is, magnificent. The entrance hall was mahogany, the floor large black and white tiles whilst an antiquated brass elevator waited at the right…or was it the on the left? Regardless, it was there in all its creaky, rumbling glory. However, if you chose not to wait, an exquisite caracol staircase was ready to take you to the second floor. Although the elevator was majestic it was still a bit utilitarian so I always chose to take the staircase, resplendent with a dark ruby Persian runner held in place by old brass stair runners tacked into the well-worn mahogany steps, stained obsidian and sunken in the middle by years of use. And the apartment! I remember some rooms being sea-green in color, enormous oils of our ancestors hung in heavy gold frames on most walls and the dining room and her generous bathroom completely beguiled me with its charming fireplace and mammoth, cast-iron claw-foot bathtub. For me Francoise’ house was, and will always be, the height of luxury. She introduced me to the French press for coffee, the beauty and pleasure of engraved calling cards, the importance of knowing how to read a map and the notion that a sterling porringer makes a fine ash tray.
Meals were small and only when necessary. We were too busy to eat. We left the flat early in the morning. Most days Francoise went to her office where she wrote for various magazines while Mama and I were off to museums, shops and concerts, all possible by taking the Metro. Towards the end of the day we met up for a glass of wine or champagne then back to the apartment to dress for dinner. How I love that apartment and how special it was to be back in it with Hubert, Anne and their daughters and Grand-cousin, Marie Claire. Still lovely and well-appointed with family pieces but now with bursts of life and color from the artwork of many grandchildren. Merci encore, Marie Claire, pour un apres-midi splendide!
This pastry is not only easy but dramatic in its presentation. The puff pastry is store-bought and although it appears braided it is not. Strips of dough are folded over and the end result is one good-looking dessert. The dried and fresh berries compliment each other quite well, the dried berries mixed with cream cheese lend a creamy texture while the fresh give a juicy blast of flavor.
Double Strawberry and Cream Cheese in Puff Pastry
- 12-14 fresh, ripe strawberries, sliced vertically 1/4″ in thickness
- 1 tablespoon sugar, I like using vanilla sugar
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 1.2-ounce bag or 2 cups of freeze-dried strawberries, available at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s
- 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 (that’s 1 sheet) of a 17.3 ounce box of puff pastry, thawed but kept in the refrigerator until needed
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
- Pre-heat oven to 400°. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or tin foil.
- Toss the fresh strawberry slices with tablespoon of sugar and set aside to macerate.
- In a blender, mini-food processor or magic bullet process the freeze-dried strawberries until they are the texture of powder.
- In a small bowl mix the cream cheese until it becomes loose and easy to handle.
- Add the strawberry powder and confectioners’ sugar to the cream cheese and stir until both are completely mixed together.
- Remove the sheet of puff pastry from the refrigerator and gently unfold on top of the baking sheet lined with parchment paper or tin foil. Place the pastry so the fold marks run vertically. The pastry will look like 3 equal rectangles attached together by the folds.
- Working as quickly as possible so the dough stays chilled, lightly roll out the dough so that it measures roughly 9 1/2″X 10 1/2″.
- Leaving the inside rectangle intact, make 1/2″ diagonal cuts into the two outside pastry rectangles. Discard the 4 corners of the pastry.
- Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly down the center rectangle all the way to the cuts. Mound the fresh berries on top of the cream cheese mixture evenly.
- Fold the top and bottom flap of dough over the berry filling.
- Fold the diagonal cuts over the berry mixture alternating left and right until the entire pastry is braided. Tuck in any loose ends.
- Brush the pastry with the beaten egg.
- Bake pastry for 30-35 minutes or until golden.
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.