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!