Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Vols-au-Vents (by Kat)

Today is the 27th, so I finally get to show you my Daring Baker's challenge for September. I finished the challenge early this month, and have had to keep quiet until now. This is no easy task, to be sure! It was even harder not to share because I was so excited about the results.

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.

This doesn't look too appetizing, does it? It's flour, water, and salt. Oh, but someday, little pile of wet sticky dough, you will become something so great, so unimaginably wonderful, that you'd blush if you knew right now.

The criss-crosses cut into the top are to help the gluten relax. Even though pastry flour is used to reduce gluten formation in the dough, the criss-crossing helps just a little bit more. While the dough was relaxing, I was able to vent my feelings of unease concerning this big project by pounding out a pound of cold butter into a rectangle.

As you can see below, the rectangle of butter is enveloped into the dough, and hopefully that's the last you'll see of it.

So the package of butter and dough is rolled out, forming a large rectangle of thin layers of dough, then butter, then dough. The rectangle is folded into thirds, and then re-rolled back out to the same size as before, about 24 inches long.

Again, the dough is folded into thirds, this time yielding six of layers of butter and twelve layers of dough (if my math is right...). This completes the first two "turns" of the dough, which is then refrigerated for about one half of an hour. Two more turns ensue, then another chill. Then two MORE turns, for a total of six, and a longer chill.

An hour or so seems to be the Daring Baker consensus for the length of the final chill, but it really depends on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen. I actually let mine chill overnight, and proceeded the next day. Here's my dough, wondering what the four basic ingredients it consists of could ever turn out to be...

Rolling the dough, and cutting circles with my brand-spankin'-new-to-me set of three biscuit cutters from Saint Vinny's. Cost? Fifty cents, in an unopened wrapper. Fred Meyer's? Didn't have any cutters. So, score a BIG one for the second-hand shop once again!

The pastries are brushed with an egg wash just prior to baking. My girls lay very yellow-yolked eggs, adding quite a bit of color to the final product.

Even though I docked the bottom layer of the vols-au-vents, they still puffed up a little too much, and I wanted mine to hold as much as they possibly could, so I tamped down their centers to make them nice and deep.

Now for the fun part! These little guys can be stuffed with anything your heart desires. Sweet, savory, vegetarian, meaty, you name it!

On the left is our garden vol-au-vent. It stars freshly picked tomatoes and cucumbers. In the back is a mushroom and leek creation, and on the right is smoked salmon mousse with prawns.



Lemon curd, raspberries, and lemon balm.
My daughter put these together.

More savory..

Homemade vanilla bean espresso ice cream,
chocolate ganache, and dulce de leche (aka boiled can).

What a feast!

This challenge was outrageously fun, and all of us had a really great time assembling our own favorite combination of fillings. My daughter wants to do these for her birthday in April. I'm all for it! In fact, I want to do these for my birthday in January! Me first! Me first!

A note I'd like to make is that we were able to incorporate many of our home-grown foods into this challenge, which gave me even more pride in the final product. Here's what we used from our garden and yard: eggs, leeks, cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, basil, lemon balm, grapes, and garlic.

PBS has a video online of Michel Richard and Julia Child making this exact recipe. It's a hoot to watch, but also really helpful to view prior to making puff pastry.

I think I'll make some more dough soon, and keep it in the freezer as Michel suggests. It stays good for quite a few months. I'm thinking it could come in handy during the holidays.

Here's the recipe, and I hope you'll try it.

Now, what do I do with myself until the next Daring Baker's challenge is unveiled on the first?

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

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

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.


  1. Gorgeous job! I love the different fillings you made =D. Your photos are beautiful as well!

  2. Thanks, Lauren. We really did have a lot of fun inventing the combinations. Yum!
    I'm also impressed by your gluten-free examples. What a lot of work it must be to figure out how best to alter the recipes. Way to go!

  3. Greta job! Lemon curd and raspberries sounds absolutely awesome :)

  4. Thanks, Shaz.
    They were as tasty as they were beautiful. It was really hard to capture their good looks in the waning evening light, though.