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Sunday, September 27, 2009

September Daring Bakers' Challenge

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan. Thanks Steph! 'twas a brilliant challenge!

Christmas vol-au-vent, with his little cap discarded carelessly

Yep, it's been another month, and luckily this time I had the time and window of good health to let me tackle the scariness of making my very own puff pastry...... from scratch! Dun dun dun!

In fact, this actually wasn't half as scary as I thought it would be. Making your own puff pastry takes some time, as you need to allow quite a lot of chilling time in the process, but the actual work time is quite short (It also allows you to justify the purchase of a marble pastry board, and I'm exceedingly happy to state that no extremities were harmed in the dropping of said pastry board during the making of this challenge). Forming the vols au vent does actually take a little while, but they can easily be made ahead of time and frozen (uncooked) until you need to use them so you don't have to be slaving over a sharp cookie cutter, covered in flour, when you would rather be greeting guests and enjoying a beer.

My four creations: a breakfast flower, Christmas circle, tuna star and apple flower.

I decided to try out four different fillings for my vols au vent:
  • Breakfast: creamy scrambled eggs with bacon and fresh chives, served with a panfried mushroom perched atop;
  • Tuna Mornay: tuna, corn and sweet mustard pickles stirred through a cheesy white sauce;
  • Christmas: turkey breast, English spinach, leek and cranberries with a light white sauce;
  • Apple Delight: stewed apples (with cinnamon, brown sugar, orange zest and sultanas) served with warm custard.
Clearly I had high hopes that my puff would actually live up to its name, as I invited friends around for dinner to enjoy some puffy action with me and my housemate. I figured that if the puff didn't rise to the occasion then at least I could just plop the fillings on top anyway and it should all still taste good.

Some of my vols au vent cooling and patiently awaiting their fillings

It was an anxious wait after putting the first batch into the oven, peering through the door to see any sign of rising. As I'd made my shells the night before and kept them in the freezer, they took a little longer than the recipe states to start rising, and just as I was beginning to think my dreams of being a pastry chef (in my own kitchen) were oozing away like the butter in puff pastry that's been left out too long, I began to see some rise! Oh man, happy days. Yep, I'm not ashamed to admit that a well risen puff gets me excited. In the pants (to quote fellow blogger Steph).

It was a bit of a kitchen juggling act to have all the fillings ready to go at once, but soon we were all sitting down to a plate of three pastrified treats with a little side greenery.

Dinner is served

We all decided that it only seemed proper to begin with breakfast, and ate our "breakfast" ones first. We were unsure which of the two remaining ones would be more for lunch or for dinner, but I think I went with the tuna next and followed it up with the turkey. And then we followed all three up with a little extra of the leftover fillings and wished we had saved our little "caps" to dunk in the extra filling. Nevermind, more pastry goodness was soon on the way, with dessert.

Apple delight vol au vent, with stewed apples, sultanas, a sprinkling of coconut and apple skin curls, sitting in a bed of warm custard

So, my verdict of this challenge? I had heard there is nothing quite like freshly made puff pastry, and now I realise how true this is. I have seen the light. Quite frankly, if you eat too much of this you may well be seeing the light, and your life flashing before you, as it's not exactly for the calorie-conscious but it is totally worth it. Plus you get to bash the crap out of a massive pile of butter with a big rolling pin. What's not to like?

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent

Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

You will need:
-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
-your filling of choice

Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.

(This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d'oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)

Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.

Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.

Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)

Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)

Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.

Fill and serve.

*For additional rise on the larger-sized vols-au-vents, you can stack one or two additional ring layers on top of each other (using egg wash to "glue"). This will give higher sides to larger vols-au-vents, but is not advisable for the smaller ones, whose bases may not be large enough to support the extra weight.

*Although they are at their best filled and eaten soon after baking, baked vols-au-vent shells can be stored airtight for a day.

*Shaped, unbaked vols-au-vent can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month (bake from frozen, egg-washing them first).

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

Steph’s note: There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book…I listed the recipe as it appears printed in the book. http://video.pbs.org/video/1174110297/search/Pastry

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.


Karen @ Citrus and Candy September 27, 2009 at 1:36 AM  

Ooh, fun shapes... love it :) I wish I had all this to eat today!

Ravenous Couple September 27, 2009 at 3:26 AM  

gorgeous pastries and unique fillings! glad to discover your site via anh's.

eatlivetravelwrite September 27, 2009 at 5:05 AM  

Those are BEAUTIFUL! Congrats - puff pastry IS scary...

Anonymous September 27, 2009 at 5:27 AM  

Great job Conor - my favourite is the Christmas combination but I do love each and everyone you made. And oh, by the way, you are so lucky to have bought a marble pastry board. I'm very jealous!

Rosa's Yummy Yums September 27, 2009 at 8:48 AM  

Very well done! Your pastry looks very flaky!



shaz September 27, 2009 at 9:00 AM  

Awesome work Connor! Love the Christmas one - so festive. And the apple skin curls are such a good idea - very inventive.

Hmmm...if only I'd thought of that excuse for getting a marble pastry board "but I neeeeeed one for my challenge" :)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella September 27, 2009 at 10:04 AM  

Ooh I love all of the shapes you made and all of the variations. You're so creative Conor! :)

Anh September 27, 2009 at 10:12 AM  

Brilliant! Everything looks so cute!

Stephcookie September 27, 2009 at 12:18 PM  

Wow you did so many great variations! I love all of them and the Christmas one is a fantastic idea. I totally agree, there's nothing like fresh home-made puff pastry!

Anonymous September 27, 2009 at 1:16 PM  

Love all of your choices of fillings especially the christmas vol-au-vents. Getting into the christmas mood already!!! lol!!

Conor @ HoldtheBeef September 27, 2009 at 6:03 PM  

Karen - thank you! Fun shapes = fun eats :D

Ravenous Couple - thanks! Glad to have found your site now too, you've got some beautiful photos!

eatlivetravelwrite - cheers! I have banished the fear :)

trissalicious - thank you, and yes I'm a lucky girl! It looks so professional ;)

Rosa - thank you! Yes, I believe we were brushing flakes off our mouths :D

Shaz - thanks a lot! Luckily I had the excuse of the pastry board being half price. It would have been foolish not to buy it! Foolish I say!

Lorraine - aww thanks!

Anh - thanks very much :)

Steph - Cheers! I'm a changed woman now I've learnt the joy of freshly made pastry. Hopefully this won't translate into a change of jean size.

Ellie - thank you! I know, I'm almost as bad as the supermarkets. I'll be putting tinsel up next!

Jenni September 27, 2009 at 9:44 PM  

Your puff pastry looks fantastic! And your fillings are so creative! Great job!

Jo September 27, 2009 at 10:43 PM  

Really fun shapes and great filings as well. Good job on your challenge.

Lauren September 27, 2009 at 11:38 PM  

So cute!! I love the shapes you made =D.

Olive September 27, 2009 at 11:54 PM  

your puff pastry looks really nice, I actually made it in the same shape (flower) but mine was a failure, it didn't rise nicely.

Great job!

Anonymous September 28, 2009 at 12:07 AM  

Wonderful applications for the vols-au-vent! Beautifully done!

Conor @ HoldtheBeef September 28, 2009 at 9:34 AM  

Jenni - thank you very much!

Jo - thank you! And now I have cool new cookie cutters for more fun later :)

Lauren - Thank you! I almost bought some heart shaped cutters but resisted the extra splurge :D

Olive - thanks! Oh I am sure they were still great - flowers make everything better!

culinography - Thank you!! Yay for eggs :D

Carly September 28, 2009 at 5:04 PM  

They look fantastic!!!
Your filling choices look great too.

I should be finally accepted into the secret forums for October so I'm looking forward to joining you all.

Maria@TheGourmetChallenge September 28, 2009 at 6:48 PM  

holy crap!! Is the marble board still ok?? It sounds like it made it to the end of the day unscathed, but I held my breath for a second! What an awesome experience. I'm yet to make my own puff pastry, I'm a little scared, and your's looks so puffy and perfect!

Cheap Ethnic Eatz September 28, 2009 at 11:25 PM  

Awesome job Conor! Love the different shapes you made!

CaptnRachel aka Tha Pizza Cutta September 29, 2009 at 12:16 AM  

Superb! I didn't participate in this month's challenge but boy am I loving check out yours ;)

Belle@OohLook September 29, 2009 at 8:04 AM  

I'm envious of anyone who can follow a recipe that's more than 10 lines long! That's a great effort, Conor; I especially love the cute shapes you cut from the pastry.

Rilsta September 29, 2009 at 11:54 AM  

Great work on the pastry! I love the star shapes the best - you can't buy star shaped vol-au-vents at the shops! :)

Yikes, just the length of the recipe turns me off!!

Short and Bald September 30, 2009 at 1:20 PM  

great job! those pastries are not easy to make... you did a wonderful job! tuna mornay filling sounds delicious.

Conor @ HoldtheBeef October 1, 2009 at 9:55 AM  

Carly - thank you! Ooh, how exciting, I look forward to seeing your creations.

Maria - I don't think you could damage the board with a sledgehammer, it's quite robust! Scarily so. Thank you so much!! Puffy and perfect is exactly what I was aiming for :D

Cheap Ethnic Eatz - thank you! Stars and flowers make everything taste better :)

CaptnRachel aka Tha Pizza Cutta - Cheers! Next month for sure!

Belle - thank you :) I know, what a crazy recipe, just printing it out was a task in itself, letalone reading and doing it! Luckily there is lots of waiting around time involved in the process!

Rilsta - thanks! No, I believe you are correct, you can't buy them! There's an untapped market there for sure :D

Short and Bald - Thank you! I'm pleased that there was extra tuna mornay mix leftover for pastas and toasted sandwiches the next day.

anjelikuh October 2, 2009 at 12:56 AM  

lovely vols au vents! Love all the different shapes you made and the little star caps. It's almost too pretty to eat!

Alaskan Dermish in the Kitch October 2, 2009 at 12:46 PM  

Beautiful puff!!!

Vera October 4, 2009 at 8:21 AM  

I like them all! Delicious looking vols-au-vent!

Conor @ HoldtheBeef October 4, 2009 at 9:13 AM  

anjelikuh - thanks very much! Luckily, they weren't quite pretty enough not to eat :D

Alaskan Dermish in the Kitch - thanks!!

Vera - thank you :)

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My love of cooking is surpassed only by my love of eating, though I never quite recovered from the beef I was served at college. I'll try almost anything once, but it takes a very special piece of offal or beef to get me to try it again.

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