Indulge in a culinary fantasy, if you will. Imagine being gifted a product that would save time and money in the kitchen without skimping quality. Enter the premade pastry, a must-have that enables chefs to fine-tune their finished product—instead of waiting for dough to rise.
Chefs in the know share their experiences using premade pastry products: how it boosts productivity and gives them more opportunities to focus on menu planning and recipe execution.
A Sure Bet
It was members’ good fortune this past June when Pastry Chef Jennie Miller left the casino industry for a new position at the Union League Club of Chicago. While both markets have their own banquet and a la carte operations, the private club environment allows Miller to understand her clientele better. “At the club, you are seeing the same faces and are able to get to know their preferences and cater to them more efficiently and personally,” she explains.
Miller allocates her resources wisely to fulfill members’ expectations, particularly as the club rebuilds its pastry program. And because she is working with a limited staff, that means relying on premade pastry products like croissant dough, Danish dough and tart shells, all of which provide considerable savings to her bottom line. “There is no sheeter [at the club], and the labor involved with making [croissant dough] from scratch would make the cost astronomical,” she points out. Premade pastry in Miller’s current repertoire includes a 3-inch tart shell for key lime pie (“the perfect size for plating”) and a 2.1-inch tart shell for buffet setups.
Of course, the downside of premade pastry usage is quality control, prompting Miller to take extra steps to ensure consistency. Shipping woes are also contending; products must be effectively packaged to minimize damage and additional fees.
Miller expects to rely heavily on premade pastry for the upcoming holiday season when she’ll employ a variety of products on her menus. The upside: having more time to create homemade fillings, including different flavors of ganache, curds and mousse, as well as house-made pecan pie, frangipane and clafoutis tarts. “If I want to take it to the next level, I will fill the tart shell with, say, a ganache or Namelaka and then create a molded mousse to put on top of that,” she adds.
At the Everglades Club in Palm Beach, Fla., premade puff pastry sheets are a hot commodity for Executive Pastry Chef Matthew Ratliff, WCMPC, CMB, CEPC, who lauds them for their myriad benefits. “As the need for puff pastry comes in, I don’t have to divert labor or use overtime to produce it,” he says. It’s a must for banquets, which are plentiful at the bustling Florida club.
Determining which pastry products Ratliff can outsource stems from a storied culinary experience that began fresh out of high school at the Silver Lake (Ohio) Country Club. He recalls how a limited staff and lack of equipment prompted the kitchen to rely heavily on premade pastry (“Take them out of the box, garnish and go.”) This approach was especially familiar when Ratliff first joined the Everglades Club as an assistant pastry chef 15 years ago when a five-person staff limited operations and premade pastry became a necessity.
Today, Ratliff’s kitchen has beefed up its staff to 18, enabling more products to be made in-house—something that does come at a cost. “I feel very fortunate to have a membership that is aware and wants as much of their food made from scratch as possible,” he says. Even with a solid workforce, his kitchen still uses premade puff pastry sheets and premade hazelnut paste. High-quality puffs have their advantages over other standard products. “Because it has no yeast, its shelf life in the freezer is six months-plus, unlike croissant or Danish dough, which deteriorates in weeks,” notes Ratliff. Because of the premade puff’s versatility is used for savory items, like vol-au-vents and fleurons, and sweet pastries, including apple turnovers, mille feuille and pithivier.
Premade pastry gets plenty of mileage at the Everglades Club, particularly during banquets, when headcounts range from ten to 800 guests. “Being able to buy a high-quality, consistent product with no labor spent means you can accommodate any size banquet without sacrificing product quality,” says Ratliff. “Premade products might be the difference in accepting the party or turning it down.”
Having a supply of premade products also helps when calculating costs because prices are more predictable, unlike basic ingredients that fluctuate with supply and demand.
Before the kickoff of the holiday season, Ratliff expects to have extra puff pastry on hand to serve the club’s growing number of pop-up events. He can easily use premade products for plated desserts, petit fours and other buffet-style pastries.
For any skeptics who are not 100 percent sold on premade, Ratliff recommends experimenting and taste-testing house-made versus purchased pastry items. “This will weed out those inferior products,” he says.
Premade Dough: The Way to Go
In addition to employing this staple for the past five and half years in his kitchen at The Country Club of Birmingham (Ala.), Executive Pastry Chef Chad Starr has relied on it his entire career.
“It’s a real-time and money saver,” he says of the club’s reliance on outsourced puff pastry, pie shells, phyllo dough and tart shells. “I have always used it in menu planning if it fits the idea I am going for.”
Because there’s a lag between dough making, chilling and rolling, outsourcing pastry products enables Starr to devote more time to enhancing his finished product. “Pastry doughs are very simplistic and neutral in taste,” he notes; “If you make a great filling and add lots of flavors, the pastry will shine.”
Starr uses premade pastry largely for special events due to the sheer volume, as well as in a la carte classic desserts, such as a Napoleon with fresh raspberries and key lime diplomat cream with white chocolate shavings and raspberry coulis. To counteract the lack of flakiness in premade products, he makes a point of baking it thoroughly, ensuring a crisp texture.
Premade pastry will have a starring role at the club this coming season. Starr plans to use purchased pie shells for staple desserts like chocolate fudge pie and pecan pies and tart shells for apple crumb tarts on banquet tables. On the savory side, pot pies will also incorporate premade puff pastry, offering dinner diners a chance to experience the pillowy delicacy.