As I went over to the Daring Kitchen, earlier this month, to check out what the challenge would be, I came away doing cartwheels and very excited. See I love puff pastry and homemade puff pastry rocks even more! But the challenge did not end there – no there was more.
We were to make puff pastry using a recipe I have often used. From the book Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan it was Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough, so I knew what I was getting myself into this month. With the puff pastry we were to form and create delicious vol-au-vents.
Ever since we made Gâteau Saint-Honoré all the way back in 2007, I’ve been often making my own homemade puff pastry at home. It is one of the most elegant doughs and while I am not a baker by profession, it was still my own aspiration to add this to my baking repertoire.
Making homemade puff pastry probably brings beads of sweat to many people’s foreheads, but the truth is, puff pastry is not very difficult to make, it is however, time-consuming. A flour-water dough encases a block of butter and then rolled into a long rectangle, folded into thirds like a business letter, a quarter turn, and then repeat the roll-fold-turn process several times to leave you with almost a thousand layers of dough and butter. When it is finally baked you will be rewarded with a puffy, light and crispy dough.
Vol-au-vents are hollow cases of puff pastry, where an opening is cut out on the top and once baked they are filled with a multitude of fillings – sweet and savory. It’s the perfect canapé for get-togethers and parties or makes a very elegant dessert when filled with pastry creams or mousse.
As I love to entertain vol-au vents are often on my list of things to make. One of my favorite filling is a very facile chicken spinach with ricotta. A hint of garlic and seasoned with salt and pepper it makes a delicious little appetizer for your guests. I sprinkled the vol-au-vents for my savor filling with some black sesame seeds too. On the sweet side I simply infused creamy mascarpone with vanilla seeds to make my creamy filling. Finally I topped it off with an enticing medley of baked figs, maple syrup and pecan nuts. The complementing warm and cold against the crispness of the puff pastry makes this dessert more than a dream.
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.
Homemade Puff Pastry
Puff pastry belongs to the “laminated dough” family, along with Danish dough and croissant dough. Laminated doughs consist of a large block of butter known as the beurrage, which is enclosed in dough known as détrempe. This dough/butter packet is called a paton, and is rolled and folded repeatedly in a process known as “turning”.This procedure creates the crisp, flaky, parallel layers you see when baked. Unlike Danish or croissant however, puff pastry dough contains no yeast in the détrempe, and relies solely on aeration to achieve its high rise. The turning process creates hundreds of layers of butter and dough, with air trapped between each one. In the hot oven, water in the dough and the melting butter creates steam, which expands in the trapped air pockets, forcing the pastry to rise.
Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough
From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough
[Printable version of recipe here.]
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.
- Keep things cool by using the refrigerator as your friend! If you see any butter starting to leak through the dough during the turning process, rub a little flour on the exposed dough and chill straight away. Although you should certainly chill the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns, if you feel the dough getting to soft or hard to work with at any point, pop in the fridge for a rest.
- Not to sound contradictory, but if you chill your paton longer than the recommended time between turns, the butter can firm up too much. If this seems to be the case, it is advisable to let it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to give it a chance to soften before proceeding to roll. You don't want the hard butter to separate into chunks or break through the dough...you want it to roll evenly, in a continuous layer.
- Roll the puff pastry gently but firmly, and don’t roll your pin over the edges, which will prevent them from rising properly. Don't roll your puff thinner than about about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick, or you will not get the rise you are looking for.
- Try to keep “neat” edges and corners during the rolling and turning process, so the layers are properly aligned. To keep the sides straight and at 90-degree corners cut the edges of the paton with a bench scraper to.
- Brush off excess flour before turning dough and after rolling.
- Make clean cuts. Don’t drag your knife through the puff or twist your cutters too much, which can inhibit rise.
- When egg washing puff pastry, try not to let extra egg wash drip down the cut edges, which can also inhibit rise.
- Extra puff pastry dough freezes beautifully. It’s best to roll it into a sheet about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick (similar to store-bought puff) and freeze firm on a lined baking sheet. Then you can easily wrap the sheet in plastic, then foil (and if you have a sealable plastic bag big enough, place the wrapped dough inside) and return to the freezer for up to a few months. Defrost in the refrigerator when ready to use.
- You can also freeze well-wrapped, unbaked cut and shaped puff pastry (i.e., unbaked vols-au-vent shells). Bake from frozen, without thawing first.
- Homemade puff pastry is precious stuff, so save any clean scraps. Stack or overlap them, rather than balling them up, to help keep the integrity of the layers. Then give them a singe “turn” and gently re-roll. Scrap puff can be used for applications where a super-high rise is not necessary (such as palmiers, cheese straws, napoleons, or even the bottom bases for your vol-au-vents).
Forming and Baking the Vol-au-Vents
Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vol-au-vent or 4 4” vol-au-vent
You will need:
-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe above)
-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 vol-au-vents 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 vol-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d'oeuvre sized vol-au-vents, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vol-au-vents, 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 vol-au-vents, 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 vol-au-vents, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for your vol-au-vents, 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 vol-au-vents on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). (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 vol-au-vents, 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 vol-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 vol-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 vol-au-vent shells can be stored airtight for a day.
- Shaped, unbaked vol-au-vents can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month (bake from frozen, egg-washing them first).
Baked Maple Figs with Vanilla Mascarpone Vol-Au-Vents
[Printable version of recipe here.]
4-6 vol-au-vents cases using homemade puff pastry recipe above and tips for forming vol-au-vents
4-6 fresh figs
30-40g butter, cut into cubes
40g pecan nuts, dry roasted
3-4 tablespoons maple syrup
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out (reserve the bean to make vanilla sugar)
1 tablespoon fine sugar
- Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C. Butter a baking dish.
- Cut the figs crosswise, making sure not to cut all the way through – about 3/4 way so that they spread out a little. Place a cube of butter into each fig and then line the figs tightly together in the baking dish.
- Scatter the roasted pecan nuts over the figs and then drizzle with the maple syrup. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, glazing with the butter-syrup mixture as it bakes.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together vanilla bean seeds and sugar with the mascarpone until smooth. Cool for 30 minutes.
- Fill each vol-au-vent case with approx. 1 tablespoon of vanilla mascarpone and top with the maple figs. Drizzle some of the fig-maple syrup over the top. Serve immediately.
Ricotta Spinach Chicken Vol-Au-Vents
[Printable version of recipe here.]
8-10 vol-au-vents shells using homemade puff pastry recipe above and tips for forming vol-au-vents
200g ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
400g chicken filets, cut into small cubes
250g frozen spinach leaves
50g carrots, cut into juliennes
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper
- In a non-stick pan heat the olive oil and gently sauté the garlic until aromatic.
- Add the chicken cubes and cook until just beginning to brown. You do not want them to color too much.
- Throw in the spinach leaves and cook until thawed and the liquid has evaporated – approx. 3-4 minutes.
- Stir in the ricotta cheese, season to taste and cook the mixture for another 1 or two until the ricotta has heated through. Finally add the carrot strips and then turn the heat off. Allow the mixture to cool in the pan.
- Fill vol-au-vent shells with the mixture. This can be served either cold or warm. In both cases fill the vol-au-vents only minutes before serving.
Always a hit with both my men and my guests. I really like the recipe for puff pastry from this cookbook as I’ve always achieved really great results. It’s also probably because Dorie Greenspan simply makes something as intimidating as puff pastry sound so easy – and in the end it is.
Would I make this again?
Yes – over and over. As I said earlier it’s not difficult one just needs a good plan and a lot of time to make puff pastry. Once you have made and tasted homemade puff pastry it will be hard to go back to store-bought (unless you have found a super butter tasting store-bought puff pastry brand).
What did I learn from this challenge?
As I have often made this in the past – I will say that puff pastry in general is almost like therapy for me. It always teaches me patience. It’s not one of my strong traits I admit. But usually the endless rolling, folding, turning and waiting really helps me strengthen this weak feature of mine.
I really want to thank Steph for choosing this great recipe and going with the vol-au-vent idea. It was a lot of fun and therapeutic!
You might like these laminated dough delights from WFLH:
|Chocolate and Raspberry Danish Braid||Strawberry Sin||Gâteau Saint-Honoré|
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