September Daring Baker Challenge: Adventures in Vols-au-Vent

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.

This month, I was much happier to see this dough, from the laminated family of doughs, than I was the pastry of last month's disaster... I actually had been wanting to try making puff pastry for quite awhile, but never had the occasion. I did procrastinate it until 2 days ago, since that is in my nature lately- and because I seriously am trying to cut down on my sweets consumption. I'm running out of people to give food away to, and what a shame that is! Do you live in the Milwaukee area? Do you want something to eat? Let me know.

This dough was amazing stuff. I often am amazed by the sheer simplicity of baking. Add the ingredients with even the slightest care, and usually a pretty edible result will occur. But, as with my knitting as of late, sometimes I just need someone to say: DO IT, go on, just do it. What's the worst that can happen? That is how this dough began, a collection of ingredients in the food pro, whizzing about, and then resting (see above) in the icebox wrapped in a damp kitchen towel.

BeforeI began, I armed myself with video prompting, from Julia Child herself, a great video, since the written directions seem to make it a bit more complex that it actually is. I also rented Baking with Julia from the library, for more visual cues.

I had to pound my pound of butter with a meat basher, since a rolling pin wasn't working. I again have to thank Sasa, for bringing me this meat mallet from Europe back when I still was mostly vegetarian, and I at the time wondered why she was giving it to me. It pounds everything from ice and meat to the above butter now, and I don't know what I'd do without it.

You need a flat pound of butter about 1 inch thick to roll between the dough. Then, fold the soft dough around the butter, completely encasing it, and roll out. 6 turns of rolling and folding, and you have a silky, elastic dough that smells enticingly of butter. The dough is unique, since it has no levening and recieves its rise only from the layers of butter and the reaction of the oven heat to it.

This was the dough at the 4th turn mark, just before another rest in the fridge.

Since I wasn't using the dough right away, or withing several hours, I decided to cut out the vols-au-vent shapes, brush them with egg wash, and freeze them. It appeared from the directions that I could bake them directly from the freezer, so that is what I did.

Next time, however, I think I would let them thaw in the refrigerator - and also dock the bottom a bit more, since when I baked them they puffed up in the centers too. I was in no way upset at this, since the pastry itself was so delicious. It is a safe bet that I will never buy frozen puff pastry again.

I also think that because I froze them with the egg wash, they may have suffered a bit visually. But again, their flavor was so good, that I doubt that would be noticed. When filled, it was completely hidden.

I had no idea what to fill these with. The challenge was to fill them with something either savory or sweet. Since I've been recently obsessed with slightly healthier options, I decided savory was the way to go, and I concocted a filling of mushrooms, leeks and beef in a port wine sauce. I really added the beef for my husband, and really would have preferred them without it.

I got the mushrooms at the farm market Saturday morning, a beautiful mix of oyster, shitake and crimini. In retrospect, I think the oyster mushrooms would have been better used in a soup or scrambled eggs, but I'm planning on getting more next week to try that. Their smell reminded me at once of foraging through the Northwoods with my Dad to find mushrooms. That was probably my favorite way to spend a Sunday afternoon when I was about 8 - looking for honey mushrooms with my Dad in the woods, when everyone else was at home taking a nap. I guess, if I remember correctly, my brother sometimes came with though.

So this was last night's dinner. And below, my lunch today: scrambled eggs with bacon, and cheddar cheese on top. Had I not been in a hurry, I would have also included chives. The pastries were a day old by this point, and still delicious... I'd say I'm happy with the dough.

Knowing I'm armed with a few in the freezer, I've been trying to come up with another few ideas, but I'm sure nothing could compare to Audax really must check out this site, he made 25 variations on this basic recipe! Incredible. I like to think I can cook, but a chef, I am not - this man is. Truly inspired combinations, and most likely quite popular Down Under, where undoubtedly he is passing out platters of these vols-au-vent to passers-by. I know I mentioned him last month, when he built a 30 layer torte, but I am learning a lot just by reading his attacks on these challenges.

You can find the recipe for vols-au-vent puff pastry dough at the link for Audax Artifex's site above, or at the Daring Recipe Archive. On your visit, be sure to check out some of the others on the Daring Baker Blogroll! I need to earmark some time to look at some more.

Thanks to Steph for a great choice for a challenge! I'm looking forward to my 4th in October, and now each new month I am logging in with eager anticipation of my adventures to come. Not a bad way to start each month.