Long before juice joints and farm-to-table salad bars made their way to campus dining halls, I found myself in a "heated" romance with my freshman dorm's battered communal microwave. (Don't worry, we weren't exclusive.) Parked right next to that ticking time bomb was the vending machine of my 18-year-old dreams. It was stocked to the brim with every sodium-laden, powdered cheese junk food you could think of with plenty of sugary treats to spare. Too bad I only had eyes for one thing, and my E.T. finger never failed me the many, many times I dialed myself up a Hot Pocket prize.
I must admit that while my culinary prowess has moved well beyond discard wrapper, heat, and eat, there are still some lingering food memories that I'll never quite be able to shake. When I think of guilty pleasures, the ham and cheese, pepperoni pizza, and broccoli cheddar varieties of Hot Pockets immediately come to mind. And while these days, no, I don't get the urge to microwave a late-night Hot Pocket (or four) after a particularly raucous night, that doesn't mean I don't still crave those oh-so-delicious freshman flavors.
Thankfully it's beyond easy (and so much better!) to make these store-bought favorites at home. I've played around with different crusts and fillings over the years, and this one is definitely my gold standard. My recipe goes just a tad further than your typical chopped ham and grated cheese filling — it has a silky cheddar sauce laced with salty specks of diced prosciutto that provide a hint of grown up flair.
But let's be real here, I'm not claiming to reinvent the wheel. This recipe may not win any James Beard awards, but that doesn't mean it won't give the vending machine version a run for its money.
Grown-Up Prosciutto & Cheddar Hot Pockets
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
1 packed cup freshly grated cheddar cheese (about 3 ounces)
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard powder
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/8 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoons hot sauce, such as Tabasco
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
3 ounces diced prosciutto or ham
1 egg, lightly beaten
Unwrap one sheet of puff pastry on a clean work surface. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the pastry lengthwise into into 3 wide strips of equal size (follow the seams as a guide). Cut each strip in half crosswise for a total of 6 equal-sized rectangles. Transfer the rectangles to a parchment lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining pastry sheet. Transfer the baking sheet to the refrigerator while continuing with the recipe.
Combine cheese, cornstarch, and ground mustard in a small saucepan and toss to combine. Add evaporated milk, Worcestershire, and hot sauce and cook over low heat, whisking occasionally, until melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in the prosciutto and set aside to cool slightly and thicken up.
Sort through the rectangles and remove the 6 widest to use as the tops, keeping the 6 thinner rectangles on the baking sheet to fill. Mound 2 to 3 tablespoons of the cheese mixture on to each rectangle, leaving a 1/2-inch space along the edges. Brush the space along the edges with the beaten egg and top with the larger rectangles of pastry. Gently press the edges of each pocket to adhere. Press a fork along all the sides to fully seal. Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes before baking.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°F. Remove the pan from the freezer. Lay a sheet of parchment over the "pockets" and nestle another baking sheet on top — this will prevent the pastry from puffing too high. Transfer the sheet pan(s) to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Transfer the oven rack to the broiler position and remove the top baking sheet. Adjust oven setting to broil and continue cooking the pockets, rotating the pan as needed, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
To freeze the pockets, bake according to directions and allow to cool completely. Freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet, then transfer to an airtight zip-top bag and return to the freezer. To reheat, cover in aluminum foil and warm in a 350°F oven, or cook in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes until hot.
(Image credits: Nealey Dozier)