Back in my twenties (late 1970’s & early 80’s… yes, I’m that old…) I toted my “signature appetizer” to every potluck, picnic, and post-ball-game gathering: “Chicken Puffs.” Despite their unimaginative name, those bite-size lil’ pastries filled with delectable homemade chicken salad disappeared faster than Houdini. (David Copperfield for you young’uns.)
With an infallible choux pastry recipe (sorry, I can’t remember where it originated — but it doesn’t require milk or shortening, only the basics: butter, flour, salt, water, and eggs), I’d stir, split, and stuff to my heart’s content — a Julia Child wanna-be — decades before “Julie & Julia.”
Fast forward to present day and my hubby’s imminent arrival home…
I needed something to tide him over until dinner was ready, but a hurried forage through the fridge and pantry only yielded cubed ham and the aforementioned “basics.” Well, okay then! (Please pardon my “Minnesota speak” after my recent sojourn there… I’m still in withdrawal.) How ’bout ham puffs?!
The Man Of Few Words has a penchant for ham salad — it’s one of his favorite sandwich fillings. In fact, that’s what he requested for our wedding reception many a year ago. (And who am I to quibble when true love runs rampant and my fiance’ volunteers to help?!) TMOFW stood at the reception hall counter cranking out pound-after-pound of ground ham with my Grandma’s hand-operated grinder — for hours — while a dear friend & I whipped together “the filling” in large bowls. All told, we made over 300 sandwiches!
Thankfully, today’s effort was on a smaller scale. Wheeeeeee….
For the “puffs”:
1/2 cup hot water
4 Tbsp. (1/4 cup) butter
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs (at room temperature)
For the filling:
1 cup cubed cooked ham
1/4 cup salad dressing or mayonnaise (might need a lil’ more)
2 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish
Optional add in’s: grated onion, finely diced celery, chopped hard cooked eggs, minced pimento (for color), minced water chestnuts (for crunch), a smidge of Dijon mustard, and “what have you”
. . . . . . .
Preheat oven to 400° F.
In a medium-size saucepan bring water and butter to a boil; remove from heat.
Add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon until a ball of dough forms around the spoon. Scrape off the spoon and cool dough slightly.
Beat in the eggs one at a time with an electric mixer. (Be quick about it or you’ll have scrambled eggs.) NOTE: The dough will be sticky! (Scrape the beaters, too.)
With two teaspoons, drop small balls of dough on a large un-greased baking sheet. (Bear in mind the “puffs” will double in size during baking, so make them smaller than you think you need or you’ll end up with gigantic appetizers.) Alternatively, you can shape them into artistic lil’ swirls with a pastry bag for “fancier” occasions. :)
Bake 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately split each puff with a serrated knife. (My new steak knifes worked great for this.)
Place puffs on a wire rack with the “lids” open to cool completely.
Meanwhile prepare the filling.
In a food processor (gotta love modern day inventions) pulse the cubed ham until finely ground.
Stir in the mayonnaise (or salad dressing), pickle relish, and optional ingredients (if desired) until combined. Add more mayo or salad dressing only if needed to bind the mixture together. (You don’t want “soupy” filling.)
Fill each cooled puff with ham salad and serve immediately.
P.S. This choux pastry also makes fabulous “bite-sized éclairs”… just sayin’. :)