Quite often, the best things in life are wrapped in pastry.
We can all agree a pain au chocolat is a thing of beauty, especially if the chocolate is slightly molten.
Apple turnovers and eclairs were mine and my sister’s chosen bakery treats – as I bit into the sugar-speckled shell of a crisp apple turnover, I always felt incredibly superior to my sister with her soggy excuse for a dessert, eclairs were just so disappointing I thought to myself, aged seven.
Then, twenty years later, I ate an eclair in France and shut up. It was full of glossy chocolate crème pâtissière, and the chocolate shard on top was so thin it was like glass and snapped under my teeth. I savoured every bite and still think about it now.
There is very little pastry cannot do and even less it cannot make appetising. It spreads the love. Take a sad, sorry onion, on its last legs. Caramelise the slices in a pan with balsamic and sugar then spread them, along with some goat’s cheese, over shortcrust pastry for a simple galette and oh la la très chic, and your dinner party guests will never know that you’re essentially using them to eat your old ingredients. Add pastry and you become a chef extraordinaire.
One thing that pastry has got spot on, for centuries I’ll add, has lived through the embarrassment of the dry ready-made and frozen varieties, the children’s party grub and picnic fodder, is the sausage roll.
A sausage roll is the quintessential snack food, a summer lunch in the park or a warming winter treat from the bakery, flaky pastry sprinkling down your front. Even though the shop-bought packets are always utterly disappointing, we can’t really resist – they are the embodiment of something so nostalgic, and are helpfully (or unhelpfully depending on your perspective) moreish. Personally, I think it’s thanks to the pastry.
Not only that, sausage rolls are effortless to make ourselves! Normally satisfied by a sausage roll with caramelised onion chutney, I thought I would dress these up a bit, put a mature spin on a childhood snack. Maybe the prunes take it to the elderly end of mature, and that glamour of a onion and goat’s cheese galette is immensely reduced, however just wait until you take a bite.
By mixing the pork sausage meat with finely chopped prunes, cooked onions sweet with balsamic and crushed fennel, the meat is light and juicy, while the flavour is a balance of salty and sweet, delicate with anise and punchy sage. Meanwhile, that sacred pastry, easily rolled out from a shop-bought block, is buttery, breaking into flakes with each mouthful.
Now, I want to know what else I can wrap in pastry? Maybe Gaylord wouldn’t mind…
Prune and fennel sausage rolls
Adapted from Rose Lloyd Owen’s recipe
- 1 red onion
- A splash of balsamic
- 450g pork mince
- 100g dried prunes
- 1 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
- 1 ½ tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed + ½ tsp for decoration
- 360g puff pastry
- 1 egg
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Finely dice the red onion and pour a big glug of olive oil into a frying pan and set it over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and fry gently for five minutes. Add a drizzle of balsamic and stir to spread evenly around the pan. Continue to cook until lightly caramelised and soft.
- Chop the prunes (first making sure there are no stones left inside!) and tip into a big bowl with finely chopped sage, the lightly crushed fennel seeds and cooked onion. Mix and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Add the sausage meat and another grinding of salt. Get your hands in there and mush it all together!
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F. On a floured surface, roll the pastry into a long rectangle and slice it in half lengthways – you should have two long, thin strips. Beat the egg in a small bowl.
- Using your hands, shape a long snake of sausage mix down the centre of both. (Depending how thin you roll the pastry, there could be some leftover.) Run egg wash down the pastry edges. Flip the side of pastry further away from you over the sausage meat, ease the pastry snugly around it and press the edges together. Using a fork, press the tongs into the pressed edge for extra security and a nice pattern!
- Repeat with the other half of pastry and meat. Egg wash both sausage roll logs and sprinkle with the remaining fennel seeds. Cut the logs in half, then half again.
- Line the sausage rolls on a non-stick baking tray sprinkled with flour. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the meat is piping hot in the centre.