Flaky, sweet, spicy, and so delicious, these Cream Cheese and Pepper Jelly Puff Pastry Bites are made with minimal ingredients for the perfect holiday or party appetizer!
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My husband and I could binge on pepper jelly anything--it's a must whenever we have a cheese board. In this recipe, that combination of sweet and spicy (and salty--a little like these Caramelized Onion Tarts) fits the bill perfectly. The creaminess from the cream cheese and the flakiness of the pastry will be the talk of the appetizer table with these little bites. And the bonus is that they are simple to put together!
The biggest question you'll need to ask yourself is whether or not you are willing to make the puff pastry from scratch. I highly recommend it because it will be better quality, more delicious, and cheaper, but if you prefer, you can also use store-bought puff pastry with similar success.
So, let's get to making it, shall we? The article below is jam-packed full of useful information. You can jump around using the menu below or skip to the end of the article for the full recipe.
Ingredients Needed and Substitutions
Here is a brief overview of the ingredients needed for this recipe. See the recipe card that lists the full recipe with quantities below this text.
- puff pastry (if you are going for simple, store-bought puff pastry is the way to go--however, I also have a recipe for a simple rough puff pastry which is amazing, as well as a traditional puff pastry recipe if you're feeling ambitious; see more info below)
- hot pepper jelly (I love love love Stonewall Kitchen Hot Pepper Jelly, but use whatever is your favorite)
- cream cheese (make sure to use full-fat brick cream cheese; I'm an unapologetic Philly Cream Cheese Fan)
- fresh thyme (though fresh chives would also be a good choice here too!)
- egg wash (which is just egg and water!)
What Type of Puff Pastry to Use
For this recipe, you can use either my homemade rough puff recipe (it's easier than you think!) or frozen store-bought. If you really want to do the thing, you can also try my Traditional Puff Pastry Recipe.
If you do choose to make the puff pastry, this recipe only requires half the batch (about 18 ounces). So, you can save the other half for another recipe like these Puff Pastry Cheese Straws or something sweet like these Puff Pastry Cinnamon Rolls, or you can make a double batch of this recipe.
Is store-bought puff pastry good?
Yes, it's totally fine to use! Just note: depending on the type of puff pastry you buy, the exact quantity of puff pastry bites you get may vary.
Purchased puff pastry typically either comes in one folded 14-ounce sheet or in two folded 8-ounce sheets. But I haven't tried all brands, so your store-bought puff pastry may be different than this.
A Quick Note about the Steps
There are many different ways to make this type of puff pastry appetizer. Lots of recipes call for baking the bites in a muffin tin to avoid more complicated shaping steps. However, I found that while that shortcut certainly reduces the effort required, the tradeoff in the final product wasn't worth it.
This recipe calls for baking cut-and-docked puff pastry that has been made into a mini tart (more on this below in the step-by-step section), then, after the pastry has partially baked, knocking down the middle and filling it with the jelly and cream cheese, before going back into the oven to finish baking.
I chose this method for two big reasons:
- Adding the cream cheese and the jelly directly to the unbaked puff pastry resulted in both of those elements getting over-baked.
- Using a muffin tin results in a less-than-ideal puff pastry bake.
So, while this recipe has a few extra steps compared to other similar recipes, please trust that it's worth the effort. Not only are these appetizers actually very stunning, but the taste and texture of the final result make up for the extra 15 minutes of prep work.
Want to Use the Shortcut?
Fine! Bake these in a mini muffin tin with the pepper jelly and cream cheese all together. I just don't think the final result is as good as following the steps called for in this recipe.
To stamp out the tarts, I suggest using a 3-inch circle cutter. If you don't have that exact size, something similar will work, though it will yield different quantities depending on the size.
You'll need a smaller circle cutter to "dock" the puff pastry. This will help it puff up around the filling to create a crust. Please reference the photos below for a visual guide for how to dock the crust.
To dock it, press the smaller cutter into the middle of the circle pastry until it makes an indentation. Just be sure not to press it all the way in. If you don't have a smaller cutter, then you could use a knife to draw the circle in the middle. Then, use a fork to stamp into the center of pastry to create steam holes. Both of these steps direct the pastry where to puff up.
Once the pastry is ready, place it on a sheet pan, brush the edges with egg wash, and bake!
Step-By-Step Recipe Overview
This is a quick visual overview of the steps needed to make this recipe. This is not the actual recipe, which is located at the end of this article and has much greater detail to ensure success.
Step 1: Prepare the puff pastry and stamp out circles.
Step 2: Press a smaller cutter in the center of the pastry, but avoid going all the way through it. Use a fork to create steam holes in the center. This helps pastry puff in the right places.
Step 3: Cut up the cream cheese into pieces.
Step 4: Either leave the cream cheese as-is or roll it into balls for a neater final product.
Step 5: Blind bake the puff pastry, push down the puffed-up middles, and fill with pepper jelly.
Step 4: Place the cream cheese pieces on top, then return to the oven to finish baking.
You can tell the puff pastry bites are done when the pastry is evenly golden and the cream cheese is starting to puff up.
Let me start this off by sharing the golden rule for working with puff pastry: if at any point your pastry is getting too warm, simply place it in the refrigerator or freezer to chill. Warm puff pastry is not only sticky and tricky to work with, but it won't bake up well either.
A few more tips:
- Chill the puff pastry before baking! Chilling the pastry before baking makes the puff pastry bake up higher.
- Bake on the middle rack: this ensures the puff pastry bakes throughout but doesn't brown too much on the bottom.
- This recipe requires taking the puff pastry out to add the filling before it is actually done baking. To ensure the best results, work quickly when filling the par-baked puff pastry shells and put it right back in the oven as soon as possible. Making sure all your mise en place is ready before you put the pastry in the oven to par-bake is important.
Once the tarts come out of the oven, let them cool briefly. Then, sprinkle them liberally with fresh picked thyme leaves (or minced chives!). These taste best when still warm, but are good at room temperature, too.
These puff pastry bites are at their best when consumed on the day they are made. However, I have stored them in both the refrigerator and freezer. Although they don't taste as good as the fresh ones, once defrosted and reheated, they still taste pretty good! I have had success toasting them from frozen as well as defrosting and then toasting.
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