Ham Pockets – Puff Pastry Handpies with Ham, Brie and Kale
And the HAMFEST festivities continue!
One of the most anticipated uses of leftover ham in our house is the creation of Ham Pockets, both for their sweet-salty-cheesy-crusty deliciousness and for the opportunity to sing the name Ham Pockets over and over again, a la early 90’s Hot Pocket commercials.
Don’t be fooled by the intense expressions of Hot Pocket ecstasy above – the real things manage to be both burn unit-level scalding and icy cold in the center all at once, harboring unintelligible ingredients smothered in a belly-aching combination of molten cheese and regret.
While that may not be enough to stop you (we’ve all made a regrettable Hot Pocket choice or two in our lives, right?), there is a better way – HAM POCKETS!
When I was a dorm-dwelling freshman in college, I had a meal plan where you could go to different restaurants and cafeterias around campus and purchase a plate or combination that would cost you a meal credit. While I’m sure there were healthy choices to be had, that is clearly not the direction most students went. Instead, there were a lot of late-night pizzas, Chick-fil-a bags, sprawling cafeteria buffets and, perhaps most tragically, corner store “meals.”
I say this in quotations, because a corner store meal credit consisted of the following balanced and nutritionally dense dinner: not one, but TWO boxes of Hot Pockets (flavor of your choosing), a Coke and a King-sized candy bar.
Did your heart just squeeze a little in revolt? Mine did.
I would usually limit myself to a reasonable one Hot Pocket with my Coke and candy bar, and so the remaining dump truck of Hot Pockets would pile up, uneaten, frost-bitten and overflowing the tiny freezer section of my miniature dorm fridge. And the worst of it? They really weren’t even that good.
Oh, that and each Hot Pocket meal probably reduced my life expectancy by at least a month or two. That is probably also the worst part.
Don’t worry, though – I’m not here to give these hand-held bad decisions a healthy makeover (though I did throw in some token kale). Rather, let’s respect and honor the noble intentions of the Hot Pocket – oozy cheese, nuggets of ham and other goodies, all lovingly wrapped in a warm, crusty hug.
For the crust, ethereally flaky and desperately buttery puff pastry is my weapon of choice, though you can also use a pre-made Pillsbury-style pie dough from the store in a pinch. I prefer the Dufour brand puff pastry (this and Pepperidge Farm can be found in the freezer section) because it uses only butter (no shortening) to create sky-high puffy layers. An added bonus, the Dufour dough is folded neatly into fourths, so you can just slice the dough along the fold lines and have perfectly portioned Ham Pockets (1 rectangular fourth = 1 pocket).
When working with puff pastry, it’s important to keep the dough chilled the whole time you are working with it to ensure it will rise and become flaky when baking. Puff pastry is made up of multiple paper-thin alternating layers of dough and butter; as the butter heats in the oven, it creates steam between the layers, puffing the dough to give it height and delicate flakiness. If the dough gets too warm before baking, the butter just melds and mixes into the dough, eliminating the special layers that give it lift in the oven – it will still be edible, but not as puffy and flaky.
For your Ham Pockets, you will let the dough defrost in the refrigerator for a few hours (or as your package directs). Assemble all the fillings next to where you will be working with the dough so you can work quickly. On a lightly floured surface, take the dough out and slice along the fold lines to create four rectangular squares. Take three of the four squares and place back in the fridge while you work with the first piece.
Much like their frozen brethren, you can use some creative license when it comes to the fillings – I prefer to slather grainy dijon mustard and spicy sweet blackberry jalapeno jam inside for flavoring. Use a creamy, mild brie-style cheese for ooey-gooey decadence and maximum meltability – just throw in chunks rind and all, you wont notice the neutral flavor or texture once it is mixed in with the other ingredients.
Fromager d’Affinois, a soft, French double-cream cheese similar to brie, is my standard Ham Pocket-making cheese – it’s a step above some of the cheaper, waxy-tasting grocery store brie, but not so fancy or expensive that you feel guilty tucking it into a crusty pocket. Any leftovers are tremendous in sandwiches or for snacking with pears or apples, though most cheesy leftovers in my house are eaten directly off of the knife. By me.
I always feel less bad about indulging in a meal if there is something green peeking out of it, don’t you? Sauteing roughly chopped lacinto kale (the flat kind) with sweet shallots helps tame any bitterness in the leafy greens, while lightly braising with a splash of water renders the leaves tender. Leaving a half-inch border around the right edge and filling in only half the dough, place a tablespoon of greens on top of a pile of chopped leftover ham on the right side of your dough rectangle. Top with cheese, all a light egg wash border along the edge of the pocket, then tuck all of that goodness in with the other side of the dough, pinching or pressing with the tines of a fork all the way around to seal.
A little egg wash on top for browning and shine and a couple of slits for escaping steam, and you are ready to pop your pockets into the oven. They emerge puffed, sealed and full of tasty pieces of leftover ham draped in rich melted cheese. I opted for a fork, but you can happily eat them with your hands once cooled – just be prepared for a flaky mess!
All you need is a candy bar and a coke to relive the college dream (consider a nice green salad, instead, though. We’re adults now.)*
*Note: I did not eat a salad. But no candy or Coke, either! Growth.
- 1 package frozen Dufour Puff Pastry*, thawed in refrigerator
- 1 shallot, sliced
- Leaves from 3 stems of lacinto Kale, chopped
- Heaping 1/2 cup chopped leftover ham (roughly 4 oz)
- 1 egg
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt/pepper
- 4 oz brie or brie-style cheese**
- 1-2 Tbsp dijon mustard for smearing
- 1-2 Tbsp blackberry jalapeno jam for smearing***
- Parchment paper
- Preheat an oven to 400 degrees.
- Lightly roll the rectangle until smooth and 10-15% larger (you're mostly rolling to get any wrinkles out). Try to keep the rectangular shape in tact.
- Place the rectangle with the long edge toward you. Fold the let side to meet the right, crease, then reopen to create a guide line showing you how to contain the filling.
- Smear the right side of the dough with desired amount of mustard (roughly 1/2 tsp), stopping at your center crease and leaving a 1/2 inch border on top, right and bottom sides. Smear the other side with desired amount of jam (roughly 1 tsp), stopping at the center crease and leaving a 1/2 inch border on the top, left and bottom sides.
- Place 2 tablespoons chopped ham on the right side.
- Place 1 tablespoon kale/onion mixture on top of ham.
- Divide 1 oz cheese (roughly 2 Tbsp) into chunks on top of fillings.
- Paint the top, right and bottom edges (up to the center fold) with egg wash, then fold the left side of the dough over to align with the right. press edges together with your finger, then press the edges together more firmly with the tines of a fork to seal.
- Brush top of pocket with egg wash, then make two one-inch steam slits on top of the pocket.
- With a large spatula, gently lift the pocket onto your prepared baking sheet and place in fridge to chill.
- Repeat with remaining three rectangles of dough, then bake pockets at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until browned and shiny on top.
- *May sub other puff pastry or pre-made, uncooked pie dough - roll out and divide into fourths, then shape into rectangles.
- **I prefer Fromager d'Affinois, but any creamy brie-style cheese will be fine
- ***Spicy fruit jams are my favorite in these, but plain raspberry jam would work well, too.