Daring Bakers Challenge:Vols-au-vents

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.

Puff pastry is in the ‘laminated dough” family, along with Danish dough and croissant dough. (Laminated dough consists of a large block of butter (called the “beurrage”) that is enclosed in dough (called the “détrempe”). This dough/butter packet is called a “paton,” and is rolled and folded repeatedly (a process known as “turning”) to create 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.

Once we have our puff pastry dough made and chilled, we are going to roll and form a portion of it into vols-au-vent, which are little puff pastry cases designed to hold a filling. They can be made large enough for a full meal, or made small for little one-bite canapés. Vols-au-vent are typically served hot and filled with a creamy savory filling (often poultry or seafood-based), but cold fillings, such as chicken or tuna salad, work, too. Whipped cream or pastry cream with fresh or stewed fruit often goes into sweet versions.

-food processor (will make mixing dough easy, but I imagine this can be done by hand as well)
-rolling pin
-pastry brush
-metal bench scraper (optional, but recommended)
-plastic wrap
-baking sheet
-parchment paper
-silicone baking mat (optional, but recommended)
-set of round cutters (optional, but recommended)
-sharp chef’s knife
-cooling rack

Prep Times:
-about 4-5 hours to prepare the puff pastry dough (much of this time is inactive, while you wait for the dough to chill between turns…it can be stretched out over an even longer period of time if that better suits your schedule)
-about 1.5 hours to shape, chill and bake the vols-au-vent after your puff pastry dough is complete.

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent

Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

In addition to the equipment listed above, you will need:
-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-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 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.)

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 chef’s 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 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 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.

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 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.)

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.)

Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings. Fill and serve.

I chose two savory fillings for the Vols-au-vents. One was a cold Egg Salad (chopped boiled egg, chopped red peppers, salt, pepper and a tbsp of mayo)and the other was caramelized onions and green peppers seasoned with herbs and garnished with crumbled feta cheese.

*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).

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough
From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

This makes a whole lot of dough, so I halved the recipe.

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.

Apart from the vols-au-vents I made these. Baked puff pastry topped with marinara sauce and a tri-color salad consisting of black beans,sweet yellow corn, onion, peppers, salt and topped with crumbled feta (yup, feta is the 'in thing' in my refrigerator these days :D)

The puff pastry was flaky and very delicious. Puff pastry was another thing I had been meaning to make at home from scratch but never got around to doing it until now. Thanks to Steph for a great challenge!!

Onion Paddu

Paddu is a savory dish made out of dosa batter using an Aapam or Aebliskever pan. I didn’t know it was called an Aebliskever pan until I googled it today. Typically this pan is used to make Danish pastry balls.

Mom usually made Paddu (aka Gunthapanganaalu in Telugu) whenever there was leftover Set dosa batter which has slightly turned sour. You could use other dosa batters but the taste won’t be the same. Mom has a pan which has different shapes like stars and crescents instead of only circles. So this made breakfast exciting as kids.

You will need:

2 cups leftover Set dosa batter ( click for recipe)

2 tsp Green chilli paste (fresh green chillies, ground)

1 tbsp Chana Dal, soaked in water for 2 hours

1 small Red onion, chopped

1 small carrot, grated

Oil, as required

Salt to taste

Special Equipment : Aapam pan (either cast iron or non-stick)

Mix all of the above ingredients and set aside for 15 minutes. Heat the aapam pan. If using a non-stick pan you don’t need oil, but if you are using a cast iron pan, add about ¼ tsp of oil to each cavity. Using a ladle pour batter into each cavity until filled. Cover and cook on low heat for 2 mins. Uncover and when the sides of each paddu are set, using a spoon flip each paddu to cook on the other side (insides). You will know when the sides are set by slowly running the spoon or spatula along the edges, if its sticky then it needs to cook longer,if its done it will come loose almost immediately.

Cook for 30 seconds or so on the other side and remove paddus from pan and serve immediately. This tastes best when eaten with coconut chutney. Repeat above steps to make more paddus.

Three herb Farfalle in a Creamy sauce

The hubby and I are in Worcester, MA on his work travel. The weather back in Atlanta was gloomy and rainy when I left and I was hoping the weather here would be better...but nah, looks like the Rain Gods and the gloomy clouds followed me all the way here. I've been pretty much stuck in my room; its cold outside!! Summer is almost over...ugh..!

Now that I'm done ranting about the weather, its time for a pasta dish to brighten my mood (and hopefully yours too!)

I love Alfredo sauce...the thick creamy fatty goodness ...ya ya not 'healthy' in the least, but hey, once in a while is ok right? Well it is, atleast according to me :) And if its home-made then its definitely ok!

Alfredo is a white sauce typically used in pasta dishes. Traditionally its made using butter, heavy cream and parmesan. In the past I've had major disasters while making Alfredo at home -- too 'floury', too buttery, too thin...but we all learn from our mistakes and this time around I whipped up my own version of the classic Alfredo, and thankfully it turned out right. I left out the Butter and Parmesan, instead added the flour to thicken the sauce and give it some body.

You will need:

2 Cups dried Farfalle (Bow-tie pasta)
2 tsp Olive oil
1 tsp Minced garlic
1 Red bell pepper, cut into strips
½ onion, thinly sliced

For the Creamy Sauce:
1 tbsp Flour
½ cup Heavy cream
½ cup Milk, at room temp
½ tsp Dried Oregano
½ tsp Dried Basil
½ tsp Dried Thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
A dash of nutmeg

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Season with salt and then add the pasta. Cook for 12 minutes or more, depending on how well done you like your pasta.

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the minced garlic, sliced onions and red bell pepper. Saute till the veggies are soft.

Sprinkle the tablespoon of flour over the veggies and cook on low heat for a minute or two, while stirring continuously to prevent the flour from turning too brown or burning. Now add the milk and cream. Stir and continue cooking till the sauce begins to boil. Season with salt and pepper,nutmeg and also add the herbs. Reduce heat and simmer till the sauce reduces and thickens, about 3-4 mins.

Add the cooked pasta and toss to coat evenly with the sauce. Turn off heat and serve.

I wish I could have some of the pasta now, while I sit and stare at my take out 'lunch'...sigh!

Chilli Gobi

A week ago it was raining here almost everyday and each day felt as though it was Winter already with gloomy clouds hanging low and no sun anywhere in sight. Rainy evenings had us craving for spicy warm food, to perk us up.

Chilli Gobi is very similar to Gobi Manchuri but with spice levels at a new high. If you like spicy food then this will make your taste buds sing, or scream if you can't take the heat!

You will need:

½ head Cauliflower cut into florets
1 Green beller pepper cubed or thinly sliced
1 Onion cubed or sliced
8-10 Green chillies slit (vary to suit your taste)
½ cup Corn flour
2 tsp Dark soy sauce
2 tbsp Red Chilli sauce ( I used Sriracha)
1 tbsp Ketchup
½ tsp White pepper powder
Salt to taste
Oil for frying plus 2-3 tbsp

Bring a small pot of water to boil and add 1 tsp salt. Add cauliflower and par boil, for around 4-5 minutes. Drain and keep aside. Heat oil in a deep pan for frying. Make a thick batter of the corn flour with water. It should be thick enough to coat the floret evenly, otherwise the coating will fall apart when tossing with the sauces. Dip each floret in this batter and drop in hot oil. Fry till light brown. Make sure oil is not too hot(not smoking), this will lead to fast and uneven browning. Drain excess oil from fried florets on paper towels.

In a small bowl, mix the dark soy sauce, chilli sauce and ketchup .Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan. Add green chillies and fry for a minute. Then add onions and sauté till half done. Add the bell pepper and sauté till both onions and bell pepper are cooked through. Add the fried florets and salt. Pour the prepared sauce mixture over the florets and veggies and toss to coat completely. Toss well to combine. Taste and season accordingly. Garnish with chopped scallions.

We loved every bit of this dish. It had enough spice to leave us panting but not quite enough to stop us from eating more! :D

Cake time again!

I have done a lot of cakes this month and I know its been very long since my last cake update here, so here goes!

Butterfly cake - Garden theme

Babyshower cake

Chocolate Cake with vines

Cricket Cake

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Cake

I am currently working on a space dedicated entirely for my cakes, will let you all know when its ready. I also did a few other simpler cakes which I will save for another post. Too much sugar load in this one already! :D

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