My dad’s favorites were James Bond flicks. He had a line-up of them ready to go, and they accompanied him through his chemo-recovery. “Intrigue, adventure, and three skin scenes.” That’s how he described his Bond fun.
He and my mom watched a lot of movies and enlightened my sister and me to the delight of the foreign film house early on. The Odeon in East Lansing had it all: a smaller crowd, hot popcorn with real butter, and the best movies of my impressionable young life: Babette’s Feast, Cinema Paradiso . . . the great films that my sister and I love (and that my brothers love to consider a form of torture). The theater was a stone’s throw from my grad school apartment, making it a perfect late-night study break. I’d go from a head full of literature’s great stories to a head full of stories in film.
Despite my movie obsession, I considered the Oscars such a trashy, unnecessary, mindless activity that I refused to watch. I denied my own curiosity for the show, knowing deep down that what I wanted to watch was less for the flick honors and more, everything more, for the threads. Checking out at the grocery store, I remember stealthily reading as many magazine covers as I could lay my eyes on, to see what everyone wore. I kept it on the down-low; wouldn’t want to be seen caring about that. I know. Silly, and I lost a lot of fun Oscar-watching time those heady years.
It wasn’t until I was in Chicago and hanging out with my sister and co. that Oscar night became a thing I couldn’t resist any more. Our friends came over and everyone had to abide by one rule: sweats only. The softer the waistband, the easier we could lounge around for hours eating our spread and assessing every dress worn and every word said.
The coffee table was filled end to end with a big guacamole, cheese plate, my mom’s chocolate frosted brownies (always), and some concoction or other of mine made with frozen puff pastry. The dough is so easy and bakes up so crisp and light in a million different ways, it’s perfect to serve at any gathering, from formal gowns to soft clothes.
When we learned to make puff pastry in culinary school, I was bowled over by how much better it tasted than the standard frozen pastry. Before you go thinking that my blog is transforming to one that is “almost homemade,” after my recent boxed brownie confession—not to worry. Promise. Just this one more.
Even our cooking school teacher knew though that puff pastry was not going to be a regular thing in any of our kitchens unless someone went on to work the pastry counter at Boulette’s, so she told us about the finest, all-butter, frozen puff pastry out there. I hadn’t seen Dufour before, and I haven’t too often seen it since. It’s one that specialty markets carry. Or maybe your everyday grocery carries Dufour and it’s just that my Michigan groceries don’t (nobody here wants to make a great sesame twist? Come on!).
If you can find the Dufour, snap it up. If you can’t, Pepperidge will do. Rolled out gently with a dusting of flour, the pastry becomes your canvas. I like to wash it with egg, then sprinkle toasted sesame seeds and sea salt over top to bake my own version of a cheese straw. Makes a lot and comes together quickly. The sesame seeds, already toasted, have a great nutty flavor and can bake or be used as they are (try them atop a tahini avocado toast).
My equation since grad school days has now flipped completely. I’ve hardly seen any of the Oscar nominees this year (except one: Joy, oh Joy! Such strength!), but you can be sure I’m done with hiding; no more stealth magazine stalking. After I find my way to the kitchen to put together my smorgasbord, I’ll find my way to the television to keep making up for lost time embracing all the fun.
- 1 box Dufour or other Puff Pastry, thawed
- 1 egg, lightly beaten with a tablespoon water
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds (toasted or not)
- Sea Salt
- Heat the oven to 375°F. Line two sheet pans with parchment.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out the thawed puff pastry just a bit to about 10 x 12 inches.
- Brush the dough with egg wash, leaving about an inch untouched around the edge. Sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds and sea salt, gently pressing them into the pastry with your hands or rolling pin.
- Using a pastry wheel or a pizza cutter, cut the rectangle in half crosswise (so the twists aren’t too long). Then cut rows about ½-inch wide. Carefully pick up each piece and transfer to the lined sheet pan, twisting and pressing the ends to the parchment to hold the twist.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool and serve.