One of the things I love about Daring Bakers is that it stretches me to do things that I normally wouldn't. After co-hosting last month's Daring Bakers challenge I was pleased to see how many felt the same way and I thankfully witnessed very few meltdowns. As I tell people, you join Daring Bakers to step out onto the proverbial baking ledge - or perhaps more appropriately, you step out on the ledge of a hot oven door. After all the name Daring does suggest doing something a little extraordinary.
When I saw this month's challenge I was excited as I had never made Vol au Vents before. I've eaten my share of them often buying them from the supermarket but I'd made puff pastry (which is about a million times better than any puff pastry you will get at the supermarket). So whilst I was happy I wanted to try to do something that I hadn't done before so I thought hard about a nice filling for my Vol au Vent and decided on a Quail's egg salad and asparagus topped Vol au Vent with a fresh Hollandaise sauce to go with it. My friend Miss America had warned me about Hollandaise before, telling me that it was notoriously hard so I was suitably fearful. Thankfully it worked out just fine and I can cross another item off my list. Unfortunately as there was so much soft butter involved in my left hand and whisking in my right that I neglected to take any pictures of the Hollandaise although let me assure you that it's much, much easier than I thought it was.
With the Puff Pastry, I dutifully watched the video of Julia Child and Michel Richard (no not Michael Richards or Kramer from Seinfeld :P ) make it and after that it was absolutely clear. I know the instructions seem endless but please, do not let that put you off. I think if there's one pastry that I think is so worthwhile making from scratch, it's Puff. The reason is the layers, From one 4mm layer of uncooked puff dough you can get a rise of 5-7cms and if that doesn't fill one with a sense of baking accomplishment I don't know what will. Also using the best butter you can get your paws on will help - much like buying the best chocolate when making chocolate truffles, the best butter will absolutely show up in the flavour of the puff.
As for the taste? Ambrosial and buttery. Sure it's not light on the calories given the butter in both the puff and the Hollandaise sauce but when you use good butter, you really notice the difference. I ate one and was moaning with pleasure so I ate another and another after that. I had to stop as I was dangerously close to having nothing to serve for dinner. Picture my dilemma: the pastry sits on my left shoulder saying "eat me" and a devil sits on my right shoulder also encouraging me to eat it saying "Yes you could whip up something quickly and no-one would ever know that you ate them all". I did a quick calculation of the amount of butter in the entire batch and resoundingly frightened I put them down and set to work again. I also made a sweet version easily filling it with some rose flavoured mascarpone topped with a sliced strawberry which my husband adored.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever eaten a whole batch of anything or come close to doing so? And what was the item?
Oh and my wonderful friend Duckie from A Duck in Her Pond has featured me as a Creative Woman of the Pond! She's a master storyteller and a published writer and has just started a story that I love called "The Old House on Elm Street". You can guess the theme right? ;)
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.
Quail's Eggs & Asparagus Vol Au Vents with Hollandaise
Michel Richards Puff Pastry Dough
From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough
Stephs note: This recipe makes more than you will need for the quantity of vols-au-vent stated above. While I encourage you to make the full recipe of puff pastry, as extra dough freezes well, you can halve it successfully if youd rather not have much leftover.
There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show Baking with Julia that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book I listed the recipe as it appears printed in the book. http://video.pbs.org/video/1174110297/search/Pastry
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:
Step 1 - 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.
Step 2 - 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.)
Step 3 - 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.
Would have been a smarter idea to cut the butter in half and make a square
Step 4 - 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.
5.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.
Step 6 - 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.
Step 7 - 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!).
Step 8 - 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.
Step 9 - 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.
Poke 2 light holes to show that you've done two turns
Step 10 - 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.
Step 11 - 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.
Baking Vol au Vents
Step 1 - Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
Step 2 - 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.)
Step 3 - 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 chefs 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 stackingnot wadding upthe 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.)
Step 4 - 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.
Step 5 - 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.
Step 6 - 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.)
Step 7 - 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.)
Step 8 - 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).
Stephs extra tips:
-While this is not included in the original recipe we are using (and I did not do this in my own trials), many puff pastry recipes use a teaspoon or two of white vinegar or lemon juice, added to the ice water, in the détrempe dough. This adds acidity, which relaxes the gluten in the dough by breaking down the proteins, making rolling easier. You are welcome to try this if you wish.
-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, I advise letting 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 chuncks or break through the dough...you want it to roll evenly, in a continuous layer.
-Roll the puff pastry gently but firmly, and dont 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. Give the edges of the paton a scooch with your rolling pin or a bench scraper to keep straight edges and 90-degree corners.
-Brush off excess flour before turning dough and after rolling.
-Make clean cuts. Dont 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. Its 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 vols-au-vent).
30 quails eggs, soft boiled and carefully peeled (you can also use 2-3 large tins of quail's eggs)
1 quantity Hollandaise sauce (see recipe below)
12-24 asparagus spears (depending on whether you want to put 1 or 2 spears on each Vol au Vent)
Salt and black pepper
Step 1 - When Vol Au vents are out of the oven, put aside 12 of the best looking quail's eggs and chop up the rest and mix with some Hollandaise sauce. Season to taste.
Step 2 - Break the woody ends off the asparagus (if you hold the asparagus at each end and snap it towards the bottom, it will snap at the correct place). Blanch the asparagus spears briefly and carefully run under cold water and set aside.
Step 3 - Spoon the egg mixture into the Vol au Vents and spoon some extra Hollandaise on top. Top with a quail's egg and 1 or 2 asparagus spears. Put a little salt on top of the whole quail's egg and grind some pepper if you wish.
3 egg yolks, at room temperature
2 tablespoon water, at room temperature
150g unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes, at room temperature
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Step 1 - It is important that everything is at room temperature and that the water is barely boiling as you whisk. Bring a saucepan one quarter filled with water to the boil and choose a heatproof bowl that sits snugly on top of it (whilst not touching the water). When it has started boiling, turn it down until there is little to no boiling (unlike melting chocolate where the water simmers). You just want some heat on the bottom of the bowl. Whisk for 3-5 minutes until it becomes pale, thick and fluffy.
Step 2 - Add the butter, 1 cube at a time and whisk until thoroughly incorporated. Add lemon juice and whisk again and season with salt and pepper. It will thicken slightly on standing.