V.I.P. Ham

(for small gatherings or pint-size kitchens)

You want something especially impressive or especially festive or both. Maybe it is for a Very Important Person or for a Very Important Occasion or both. Well, how about one of those glamorous hams in pastry crust that star on Southern buffet tables? Wait, don't panic--you don't have to be a chef to do this one. It took us less than 10 minutes to get the ham into the oven when we tested this in our travelling kitchen. On other occasions, when our children were little and helped with the decorating--that did take a bit longer, but the results were splendid creations fit for the fanciest holiday table. Incidentally, a variation of this recipe won us a prize in the Chun King Swing American recipe contest.

1 3-pound fully-cooked boneless ham
1 17 1/4-ounce package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry (or substitute 1 15-ounce package refrigerated pie crusts or your own favorite pastry for a two crust pie)
Orange marmalade
1 egg

Take pastry out of freezer and allow to get pliable (about 20 minutes at room temperature). Skin ham if it has one. Drain off excess juice. Use heavy-duty foil or 2 layers of regular aluminum foil to line a baking sheet with a lip (a pizza pan will work fine). Place ham in center of baking sheet. Slather top and sides of ham with orange marmalade (about 1/2 cup will do it). In a small cup make a simple egg wash by mixing egg with a half eggshell of cold water (about 1 tablespoon).

Wrap top and side of ham in 1 sheet of puff pastry, using egg wash to make the corners stick--don't worry about the pasty overlapping. (If you are using pie crusts, extra overhanging pastry can be trimmed off.) Give the pastry an overall coat of egg wash, using a basting brush or a piece of paper towel. (Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F at this point.)

From second sheet of pastry, use scissors, a small knife, or cookie cutters to make flowers, leaves, winding stems, abstract shapes, or whatever you fancy. (You will probably use about 1/4 of the sheet, put the rest back in the freezer for another time.) Dip each cutout in the egg wash and arrange attractively on the ham. If there is a gap in the pastry wrap at the front or back of the ham, patch the space with a decorative shape. You can shape leaves and roll up little flower buds with your fingers, add vein marks to leaves or print a message on a banner of pastry with the edge of a table knife: Have fun.

Give the whole crust and decorations another light going over with the egg wash. Wipe up the marmalade and egg wash that has dribbled on to the foil. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Allow ham to rest for 10 minutes or so and transfer to a cutting board or platter to serve.

Tips: To be at its best the pastry shouldn't get too warm while you're working with it. You can take your time cutting out the trims if you do that step while the pastry is still quite cold. By the time the other sheet is defrosted enough to wrap the ham, you'll be all set. Cookie cutters that have embossed designs work especially well: Press the pastry gently into the cutter to make clear impressions before you carefully remove the pastry shape by an edge from the cutter.

The juices that dribble out as the ham is baking tend to make a mess out of the baking pan and burn. If you would like to bake whole yams alongside the ham, wrap them in foil as you would for outdoor baking and be sure they don't touch the pastry.

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This recipe is copyright ©1999 William and Loretta Marshall.
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Page last updated 4/25/99.