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Puff the Magic Crowd-Pleaser

How to improvise last-minute puff pastry "pizza"

The doorbell is buzzing! The dinner guests are here! They're on time, the bastards.

You've got the ingredients for some overwrought hors d'oeuvre but haven't started anything.

It's okay. There's an app(etizer) for that. It's in your freezer or should be: frozen, readymade puff pastry sheets.

Time to improvise "pizza."

There are many beautiful recipes for this concept, but master a few basic principles and you'll always be prepared.

If possible, defrost the puff two hours before baking. If you don't have time, just microwave the pastry dough for one minute, then carefully unfold. It may break apart, but that's okay. You can pinch the broken pieces together. No one will notice, because they're too busy drinking the wine they brought.

Set that oven to 375 degrees. Unfurl the dough onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. No parchment? Lightly oil the sheet.

Use a paring knife to gently score a one-half inch border around the perimeter. Prick the dough rigorously ten to twenty times with a fork.

Now dig in that fridge for creative toppings. Grated bits of hard cheese, dollops of ricotta, slices of mozzarella, "roses" of prosciutto (or leftover lunch meat), chunks of ham, roughly cut fresh vegetables, even a few raw eggs are fair game. If you're nervous, know that it's hard to go wrong with the trifecta of cheese-veggie-meat. 

Layer each topping artistically on the dough (symmetry is the essence of style!), salt and pepper with a heavy hand and bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and your ingredients are delicious looking. Not delicious looking? Sprinkle on some more cheese, or hide your mistakes with a layer of fresh greens and herbs lightly tossed in olive oil, vinegar and more salt!

Next time, branch out with those toppings, but keep a couple principles in mind.

First: The toppings will only have about 45 minutes to cook completely, so go wild with raw soft and medium-soft veggies like asparagus, zucchini or sliced mushrooms. Harder vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower should be quickly pre-cooked with a sauté, blanch or trip to the micro.

Second: Keep liquid content in mind. Soft vegetables like slices of raw tomato will surely cook in 45 minutes, but they also release a ton of water. So don't use more than one extra-juicy topping.

Finally: Like any non-recipe, this one requires that you carefully monitor the baking so that you don't burn the toppings or the puff. If baking for more than 50 minutes, peek at the bottom of the crust by carefully lifting the parchment.

Next dinner party, you'll likely get your fancy hors d'oeuvres done in time. And as soon as you look around the table with a smirk of self satisfaction for your accomplishment, some guest will mumble, "What happened to that puff pastry pizza from last party?"

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