Vol-au-vents (pronounced vō′lō vän′, that is "vol-aw-vahn") means flight with the wind. They were supposed to have been invented by an early 19th century French chef named Carême, who declared that these small pastry shells were as light as the wind and hence the name.
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.
Vol-au-vents are made by cutting out circles of puff pastry (pâte feuilletée) and baking them into very airy, layered, flaky and beautifully risen pastry cases. These are then filled with filling of choice, usually savoury.
Smaller vol-au-vents make excellent appetizers while larger ones can be served during the main meal.
You can find the challenge in detail with recipe here.
My vol-au-vents experience:
This month has been one of challenges of sorts. My first one was the French Macarons I made with a gang of fellow food bloggers and this was the other one.
One thing I have learnt, again and again, especially after joining the Daring Bakers is never to take anything for granted where recipes and outcomes are concerned! I have now learnt to approach each month's challenge with a slight sense of impending doom.
If something goes wrong, I can tell myself "I told you so!", and nothing goes wrong I can feel good that my "intuition" was way off mark.
While I am nowhere near a puff pastry expert, I have made it at home before successfully. Readymade puff pastry is the stuff that dreams are made of, where I live. I'm not complaining because it means that I go the extra mile to try out techniques and recipes that are totally foreign to me.
So when I saw this month's challenge, I felt I could handle this. We had also made similar laminated dough for Danish Pastries last year. So I went ahead and made dough, beat the heck out of some butter and then lovingly wrapped it up in dough, rolled and folded everything 6 times as specified with ample chilling time in between.
Everything was fine until the pastry cases were baking. They rose quite nicely and then my oven beeped signifying they were done.
I pulled out the tray only to see that my pastry cases were almost drowning in an ocean of melted butter! Alright, I am exaggerating a bit but you get the idea. Looks like the butter decided to take its revenge for being beaten and abused!
And so my vol-au-vent story was over as soon as it had begun. Well, we aren't called Daring Bakers for nothing are we?
So I decided to give puff pastry a second chance. In the olden days (about 2 years ago), I would have probably given up on puff pastry at this point. There is, however, something very compelling about the thought of having to do a blog post, only to admit to failure.
So, in the hope of a successful DB post I ventured into puff pastrydom again. This time, I am very happy to report reasonable success.
What did I do differently the second time?
Helen told me the butter needed to be cold but just right and pliable. If it was too hard, the butter would crack when being flattened and would ooze if too soft. The other thing I did differently was to bake my puff pastry at a higher temperature as suggested by Audax. So I baked the cases at 220C (instead of the suggested 200C) for about 18 minutes.
I didn't use the egg wash so my cases look a little pale.
We were required to use the given recipe to make puff pastry and had to make vol-au-vents. Creative freedom was ours regarding size, the fillings we used and what else we made with the puff pastry.
So I made savoury vol-au-vents and filled them with sautéed vegetables (onion, carrot, peas and sweet corn) in a herbed and slightly spicy cheese sauce. This isn't really a recipe but something I just make as I go along.
I also made a sweet variation using the puff pastry mille feuille style by sandwiching thin layers of pastry with chocolate mascarpone mousse.
I mentioned in my previous post that we had this for dessert on my birthday. I had used home-made mascarpone cheese to make this mousse, and it was the best mousse (finger-licking good) we have ever eaten. Here is the recipe, like I promised.
Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened dark coca powder
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp coffee decoction, cold or orange juice (optional)
1 cup mascarpone cheese
2/3 cup chilled cream (I used 25% fat)
In a bowl, combine the powdered sugar, cocoa and salt. Add the coffee or orange juice or substitute with 1 tbsp of cold water if you do not want to use coffee or orange juice. Add the mascarpone and with an electric mixer, beat on low speed till everything is well mixed and looking a little fluffy. Now add the cream, and slowly increase the speed and continue beating till the mixture forms soft peaks. Do not over beat.
Scrape the mousse into a bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but overnight is preferable. Serve as dessert or use to make other desserts.
Puff pastry involves using a lot of butter and entails quite some effort though this would probably come down with practice. So it is criminal to throw out the scraps leftover from making vol-au-vents. So I just piled my scraps one on top of another and rolled out the pastry to make palmiers. I used brown sugar here and baked them at 230C for about 18 to 20 minutes.
Where I live, summer is quite warm and the cooler months (July through January) are still too warm to comfortably make puff pastry. Having said that, a bit of practice with rolling and folding the dough is all it takes to make good puff pastry at home. Just ensure that you refrigerate the dough the moment you feel that the butter in the dough is becoming too soft to handle. Let the dough stay in the fridge until the dough has chilled enough to handle and this might take longer than mentioned.
We enjoyed the vol-au-vents and the mille feuille as, in both, the contrast of buttery crispness with the soft filling was interesting as always.
Puff pastry with savoury filling is something we have eaten a lot in the form of "puffs" (a turnover with a variety of savoury filling which is quite popular here) and enjoy very much.
So while we liked the savoury vol-au-vent, the sweet one wasn't quite to our liking. The puff pastry was great and the mousse was fantastic but they didn't really work well together for us. Luckily, I had sandwiched only a few, so we ended up eating the puff pastry and the mousse separately.
As for the palmiers, they puffed out beautifully and were all gone before the evening was done! That's how good they were.
And now it's time to visit the other Daring Bakers and see what they've come up with this time.