Daring Bakers September: Pursuing Puffed Perfection.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Okay, so I was getting a little cocky with these Daring Baker’s challenges. I’d completed all of two and thought, this is pretty easy, hey, hey, I could get used to this. Until this month’s challenge put me firmly back in my place.

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.

Home-made puff pastry Steph? Uh-oh….

Actually, the making of the pastry wasn’t too bad once I got the hang of it, but trying to bake “perfect” vol-au-vent cases? Very trying indeed.

In my case, over four tries! (My list of “issues” are at the end of this post).

Attempt number one yielded passable vol-au-vent cases. At first, I was very happy with my puff-pastry attempt and how I got around not having proper vol-au-vent cutters. I used round cutters for the outside and mini cookie/biscuit cutters for the inside.

Then I had a look at the Daring Bakers forum. And developed a serious case of puff envy. Look at all those TALL flaky layers! Suddenly my cases looked pathetically flat in comparison. At least they tasted good once I filled them with: beetroot jam and slivers of star-anise roasted duck (leftovers), some salmon mousse, and lemon scented ricotta topped with candied tomatoes and crisp basil leaves.

They made a scrummylicious Father’s Day feast and the mini-critics adored the candied tomatoes ( recipe by Valli Little in the Feb 2009 issue of ABC Delicious magazine.)

I also turned the leftover cut-out pastry scraps into palmiers – these I was extremely happy with because they looked like the real deal. They tasted awesome too and disappeared within half an hour of cooling.

After some trouble-shooting and advice from Audax and Steph our hostess, I went for attempt number two.

Aaaaarrghhhhh! Who invited Dali to my party?

Sigh…now I had puff, but no stability!

This batch I filled with some coconut buttercream icing/frosting I found in the freezer. Oooooh …I cannot even begin to describe how luscious and utterly sinful they were. I am so glad I only made half the amount of pastry both times, and in this second attempt, I only really ended up baking half the made–up pastry anyway.

Right! I’ll show you who’s boss you $%^*! vol-au-vents!

Reveal day was starting to creep closer but there were too many things on my plate (intentional pun). Finally, with a day to spare, I made attempt number three. This time, instead of rolling the whole thing out, I divided the dough into three parts just in case (yes it only took me 3 attempts to work this out even though Steph had suggested doing so in the actual instructions!). I also added some lemon juice to relax the gluten.

Luckily I did divide and conquer because attempt number 3a fell apart, I ended up with puff balls and towers with holes in them – ha ha very funny pastry gods! (I’d forgotten to eggwash the bottom layer).

Attempt 3b rose, didn’t quite fall over but was still “skewy”, and attempt number 3c? Still slightly unstable but at least they looked like vol-au-vents and I achieved some height (3.5 cms yay!). (Some of the cases look pink, that is the dough from attempt no. 2 - found half a batch leftover in the freezer. I added some food colouring to the dough just for fun)

This lot were filled with ricotta sweetened with honey and topped with toasted pine nuts and basil flowers from the garden.

Would I make my own puff pastry again? In a heartbeat!
Vol-au-vents – hmmm…ask me in a few months ☺

Thank you so much Steph for choosing a very Daring challenge. Check out what the other Daring Bakers have done and you can get the recipe for the pastry and vol-au-vent over at the Daring Bakers or from Steph's blog.

Here are a few issues I ran into along the way, and some possible causes:

1) While baking the first attempt, I found that the butter leaked out of the pastry and my baking tray was awash with oil. This possibly happened because the initial oven temperature wasn't hot enough.

2) Attempt number two fell over – the pastry was not weighted down enough. Audax suggested using a baking tray but I wasn’t sure because my baking tray was quite heavy. Out of sheer frustration, I did use a tray for attempt number three and it worked!

3) Attempt number one was made using generic butter – this probably affected the “rise”. As a famous blogger exhorts – “Use Real Butter!”. Interestingly enough, when I went butter shopping for the next attempts, I realised that all the “branded” butters show an 80% minimum fat content but the generic butter did not have any minimum content labelling.

Other things to remember when working with puff pastry? Chill, chill, chill – both in the fridge and in spirit. Rushing the pastry just ain’t gonna work. Also, don't overwork the pastry and use sharp cutters.

Thanks for visiting, see you real soon!


Conor @ HoldtheBeef said...

Tee hee, the Dali ones are brilliant!

I admire your puff dedication, and love the fillings you used. I one day hope to have such delectable leftovers in my house - beetroot jam and roasted duck? Oh my!

Ellie said...

Very nicely done!! Love all the different fillings and many attempts to achieve the perfections.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Great job! Your vols-au-vent look wonderful!



Audax said...

A most informative post and the number of attempts is impressive. Yes you seem to have covered all the tips and hints that you could possible cover. Wonderful that you got them to work at the end and the pink ones are so cute and I love the Dali clocks melting clever idea. You have a gift of combining flavours and a creative mind these are going to serve you well and if this a small taste of your baking skills then you'll be a top-notch pastry chef very soon. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

shaz said...

Thanks Connor - we don't eat like that very often but I happened to have duck that needed cooking - maybe I'll post the recipe soon, it's easier than it sounds :)

Thanks Ellie - some would call me stubborn

Thanks Rosa!

Thank you Audax - again, all your help was invaluable. You are too kind - I'm not sure I'd want to head down the pastry chef route, those guys work so incredibly hard :) . I'll settle for impressing the kids

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

You did a great job Shaz! :D I love the combination of flavours you used. And how cute, I love the Dali replica-that's a most apt styling and actualyl looks like it was meant to be like that in the setting!

Anh said...

Hat off to you! I only attempted it once. I think you have done a great jobb really!

Karen @ Citrus and Candy said...

I love the Dali photo! I love it when food imitates art! So sorry to hear about your troubles but I'm glad to hear that they were delicious nonetheless :)

Marcellina said...

I'm glad it finally worked for you. Great vol au vents and yummy fillings!

sweetakery said...

love the Dali photo! Very nicely done!! great work!

shaz said...

Cheers Lorraine - I was so frustrated with those cases then saw the funny side after I'd calmed down a bit.

Thanks Anh - but you only needed to do one, it came out perfect!

Thanks Karen - I had to salvage those cases somehow :)

Cheers sweetakery

shaz said...

Thank you Marcellina - Glad we both made it.Yay! I kept thinking of your success as I made the third batch.

Little Miss Cupcake said...

Wow! These look awesome and love the Dali inspired ones. So cute!

Wic said...

I adore your post. You are so funny and having had a few problems with this challenge myself I can understand the frustration. Your puff pastry looks lovely and I`m sure it tastes divine.

penny aka jeroxie said...

Have to applaude you for committment! I am still no convinced in making puff pastries. I am not a baker at all! I love the Dali ones though. So cute!

shaz said...

Thanks Little Miss cupcake

Thank you Wic - it was very frustrating but I'm glad I persisted, I'm not scared of th Puff anymore :)

Thanks Penny - the pastry itself isn't too scary but trying to get the vol au vent cases to rise evenly was my biggest challenge. You should try the pastry one day, it is achievable!

pierre said...

marvelous !!!
I am Pierre from Paris in France and love your blog and photos ; if you want come and visit my blog I try to be creative !! cheers Pierre

Lauren said...

All of yours look tall and flakey to me =D. Wonderful job!

anna said...

Haha, I love your Dali cases! They look really yummy.

6p01053695af5a970b said...

Three attempts? That's dedication! All of them look delicious...love the shapes in the first attempt and the candied tomato looks yummy.

Veggie Belly said...

wow! looks gorgeous!

Grace said...

i'm so very, very impressed. i've always said that puff pastry is something i'd never attempt at home, but you've done it magnificently! i love the variety of fillings, too--way to mix it up!

willowbirdbaking said...

I second your "chill" mentally advice! I needed my sense of humor for this one :) I LOVE your post -- especially your Dali vol-au-vents! Too funny! Your fillings all sound absolutely amazing. Way to go for persevering! I'd've been pleased as punch with those first cuties!

Lisa Michelle said...

You totally rocked this, shaz!! Not only do your vols au vents look beutiful, but your fillings are so unique and sound delicious! Great photos too! WTG!

shaz said...

Thank you so much everyone :) It was worth the effort in the end!

isa said...

Great post and beautiful photos!
I love your Dali Clock Melting vols-au-vent - so creative!

steph- whisk/spoon said...

i really admire your determination and i think you did a great job on the challenge! i'm in love with the dali puffs! LOL! thanks so much for baking with me this month!!

Frenchie said...

These are so beautiful. I think we all encountered some issues along the way, but what's important is that we over came them!