Daring Bakers – Vols-al-Vent

Do you speak french? Well I don’t, it seems to be the hardest language for me to mimic. I’ve got Italian and Spanish down but not French. I need a little work. Vols au Vent is a noun that means something like “puff paste shell with a savory meat mixture”. As much as I love savory meat ragouts I didn’t want to stick to the literal translation. Instead I decided to go with a version of the suggested translation, “After one Bite I could die and go to heaven,” and devise a sweet creation that seemed to fit “heavenly dessert.” I also decided to try a savory puff though it has nothing to do with meat.


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.


Puff Pastry.


After I ran away screaming I thought it best to come back prepared to tackle this dreaded delicacy. Most home chefs will not make this for themselves – it takes too much time and is quite finicky. I am one of those chefs (or bakers in my case) and I actually dreaded making this pastry for the month of September. I decided to save Saturday the 26th for Pastry day since the recipe suggests that it might just take 5 hours to make. If I had a cold marble slab (as my Aunt Joy suggested at dinner the other night) I might have been able to cut out the chilling time… I didn’t do so bad though. From start to finish I managed to only need 3.5 hours total! Including the time I needed to make the fillings.



I kept the filling simple. Roasted Figs with Honey and Mascarpone Cheese, and my savory treat was Roasted Tomatoes with Caramelized Onion, Feta, Goat Cheese and Thyme. I have had some figs frozen from my produce box before my Hawaii trip. I decided this was the perfect occasion. And although I would have enjoyed making these with fresh figs, roasting them with honey made them delicious and it was quick and simple.


I actually ended up loving the savory pastry much more than the figs. Not that the fig was bad, but the tomato dish had much more depth of flavor. The caramelized onions were a must. If I make this again I will definitely just do the savory filling instead of dessert filling. For the construction of the pastries I used two base layers and two wall layers. I don’t have a biscuit cutter (I know crazy… I should probably just buy one) so I made them square. I think the sides would have risen better if I had a sharper knife as well but they did just fine with my sharp pizza cutter. It was fun and not as scary as I thought to make this puff pastry. It took more time than skill – even though I was nervous about rolling a rectangle perfectly. Puff pastry is filled with so much butter that the taste is good too. All those layers of fat trapped in the dough making pockets of puffed air. Delicious. I might make it easier on myself next time and just make a long rectangle and add fillings to cut in squares later, but the little tarts were beautiful. If you are not into making your own pastry, I hope you try the savory filling with store bought pastry, it was so good!


Roasted Figs with Honey and Mascarpone Cheese

1 fig per tart halved

1 T honey (per 3 figs)


Preheat oven to 350˚. Toss figs with honey to coat. Roast in the oven 8 minutes stirring half way through. Allow to cool. Place on top of finished puff pastry and add a dollop of mascarpone cheese. Drizzle some honey on top.



Roasted Tomato and Cheese Tarts

Goat Cheese

Tomato slices 1/4″ thick

1/3 C onion sliced thin and separated – caramelize over low heat with a tiny bit of butter

Thyme

Feta Cheese


Roast the tomato slices in a 400˚ oven until edges start to brown (about 20 minutes). Smear some goat cheese on top of the finished puff pastry. Stack two layers of tomato for each tart (I used yellow tomatoes and red tomatoes). Then add about a tablespoon of caramelized onion on top. Sprinkle with crumbled feta and fresh thyme.


Both were best warmed before serving (just try not to melt your mascarpone cheese or it becomes difficult to eat!)



Puff Pastry

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

Steph’s note: This recipe makes more than you will need for the quantity of vols-au-vent. While I encourage you to make the full recipe of puff pastry, as extra dough freezes well, you can halve it successfully if you’d rather not have much leftover.


Prep Times:
-about 4-5 hours to prepare the puff pastry dough (much of this time is inactive, while you wait for the dough to chill between turns…it can be stretched out over an even longer period of time if that better suits your schedule)
-about 1.5 hours to shape, chill and bake the vols-au-vent after your puff pastry dough is complete

Equipment:
-food processor (will make mixing dough easy, but I imagine this can be done by hand as well)
-rolling pin
-pastry brush
-metal bench scraper (optional, but recommended)
-plastic wrap
-baking sheet
-parchment paper
-silicone baking mat (optional, but recommended)
-set of round cutters (optional, but recommended)
-sharp chef’s knife
-fork
-oven
-cooling rack

Ingredients:
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.



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


In addition to the equipment listed above, 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. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.)

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).


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13 thoughts on “Daring Bakers – Vols-al-Vent

  1. I'm so impressed, C. I saw this challenge and briefly thought about giving it a try, but it seemed way too time consuming. I'm lazy. I'm glad you're not! Beautiful!

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