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Daring Bakers Challenge: Vols-au-Vent

Posted By U2Literary On 9.27.2009 @ 10:55 am In Food,Shutterbug | 8 Comments

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.

Well, this is it. My first challenge with the Daring Bakers [1].

The challenge was vols-au-vent, which are canapes (or larger tarts) made with puff pastry. They could be filled with whatever the baker chose, sweet or savory. Though I have a sweet tooth a mile wide, I broke with my usual tradition and made savorys with the last of the summer’s vegetables. I took them to a spa event I had organized to rave reviews.

Though in name the challenge was to make vols-au-vent, in actuality, the real challenge was to make the puff pastry that makes up the crust. Puff pastry is one of the most finicky things to make in the home since it requires cold, huge amounts of butter, prodigious arm stamina and nerves of steel. Early September is not the best time to be making this in Philadelphia. It’s still warm and could be disastrously humid. And it was warm that first weekend, which is when I made the pastry. But I knew my calendar was full, what with a trip on the horizon and dates and dinners and spas, so there was nothing for it. I had to make it that first weekend.

It was in the high 70′s and damp when I took that butter out of the fridge and the clock started ticking. I also have very cheap, very crappy, very 80′s countertops, so that didn’t help. Stone helps since it has a tendency to remain cool. I stayed in for most of that day, like a loser, since I could feel the heat getting to the butter. Originally, I had planned to make only half a recipe since I had plans for some of that butter and didn’t want to use a whole pound all at once. But, since it would be so much work, I said to hell with it and used it all. I used half pastry and half all-purpose flour and rolled that sucker like there was no tomorrow. A few of the bottom layers got kind of screwed up since I don’t think I’d done the original wrap quite right and had left a few thin spots in the dough. I used the bench scraper to keep everything more or less neat.

After I had finished the six turns and the laminated dough sat on the counter more or less dry and ungreasy, I wrapped it and threw it into the freezer. With nerves frayed and arms tired, I put some shoes on and went out. There has never been so much effort put into no immediate satisfaction.

Two weeks later, I took it out of the freezer, cut off about a 4th of it and put the rest back in. It was spa day and I had gotten up early to make the canapes. I decided against any creams or sauces or mousses or anything too heavy. I chose to highlight the summer’s produce and make a sham light filling since there was so much butter in the crust already. The previous day off, I had roasted and cooked the red peppers much like Jose Andres does in his book Tapas. I cut the CSA’s small yellow tomatoes in half. I filled each canape with a very small piece of aged rachlette (they’re invisible in the pictures), a strip of pepper, a tomato, and a leaf of fresh parsley. Boring, maybe, but Andres’ peppers have so much flavor that they enliven everything they touch.

The rest of the puff pastry sits in my freezer, awaiting its turn. Maybe I’ll make a tarte tatin when I come back from South America. I’m not in a hurry to use it. It cost me too much to make it.

Moral of the story: Puff pastry is a winter-only food. September in Philadelphia is still summer. To avoid emotional damage, avoid making it in the summer.


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[1] Daring Bakers: http://thedaringkitchen.com

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