Sunday, September 27, 2009

My First Daring Bakers' Challenge: Vol-au-Vent

I think I may have missed my calling as a pastry chef not so much because of my talent, but because of the relaxed state I was transported to while working on this month's Daring Bakers' Challenge (my first!). The Daring Kitchen, founded by the fabulous Lisa of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, started out as a fun challenge to try the same recipe for soft pretzels and compare notes. It's now grown into a monthly challenge among foodbloggers and foodies all over the world who all bake the same recipe and then post their results simultaneously. I'm thrilled to now be a part of this amazing group of cooks and bakers. 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.

So, when I found out my first challenge was to first make puff pastry from scratch and then to form them into vol-au-vents, those beautiful little puffed cups you often see filled with chicken salad or creamed shrimp or strawberries and whipped cream, I was a little afraid. You see, I'm a great baker and cook, but when it comes to rolling out dough, I tend to get very angry because I seem to be physically unable to do it. Whenever I make a quiche or pie, I require the hubby to be on hand to roll out any and all dough. It's easier this way - fewer tears and cuss words and baby girl is very adept at imitating cuss words.

Puff pastry includes making a dough of water and flour, rolling that out and then pounding four sticks of butter into a quarter inch thick square. Then you place the butter on top of the dough and wrap it up like a present. You roll it out being careful to incorporate the butter without letting it leak out of the dough. The key is for the the butter to move in harmony with the dough, folding it like an enveloped turning it, rolling again, folding again, turning again and on and on until you've completed six turns. After reading the recipe, I nearly resigned from the Daring Bakers right there. There was no way I could keep the butter from oozing out of the dough and the dough from sticking to my roll-pat. And yet, while I can't seem to roll out a simple pie crust to save my life, making puff pastry was a pleasure. Really! Truly!

A pleasure yes, but a resounding success? Probably not. While I got a little lift going and I definitely achieved a puff pastry, the pastry itself was a bit dense and it wasn't as lifted as so many of my fellow DBs. However, that being said, I am kinda hooked on puff pastry and I'm going to continue on with it until I get it totally right (not just kinda right). And, on the very bright side, I did discover that I can actually roll out dough without the hubby right next to me.

To try out Puff Pastry for yourself, go to The Daring Kitchen Blog for the recipe and, while you're there, check out the other fabulous daring bakers who undertook and conquered this month's challenge!

All that being said, while my puff pastry wasn't to die for, the apple filling I created was really tasty. When thinking about what I'd fill my vols-au-vents with, apples were piling into the markets and I thought hmmm, tarte tatin! Well, tarte tatin is generally apples caramelized in a pan and then baked in the oven with a pie crust on top, so I decided to do the caramelized apples, but piled into a vols-au-vent shell. The results were delish!

Vols-au-Vent with Apple Tarte Tatin Filling
 (You could try the puff pastry recipe, buy some frozen dough or just make this yummy apple filling and serve it with a scoop of ginger or vanilla ice cream. Any which way, c'est magnifique!)

What You'll Need:
3-4 Large apples peeled, cored and sliced into eighths
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar
4-5 sprigs of thyme
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
Juice of half a lemon

Set a frying pan over a medium high heat and place all ingredients, but the apples in. Mix briefly and then place the apples in the pan in a single layer. The the mixture under the apples will come to a boil, let it go for 10 minutes. Turn the apples over and let it go for 10 more minutes. If you see any signs of burnage, then remove the pan from the heat immediately and serve.

To serve: If you are using vols-au-vents, layer the apples in 4 medium shells and serve with a scoop of ice cream. Or, just spoon 4 servings of apples into four bowls and serve with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of heavy cream. Enjoy!


  1. Welcome to Daring Bakers. Your filling sounds similar to one of mine but rather more thought out, I just caramelised a few apple slices and served with cream underneath!

  2. Your vol-au-vents look amazing! I made them once, back in the days when I lived in France and was going through The French Chef one recipe at a time, the way Julie did with such literary success. Julia had us fill them with some Coquille St. Jacques mixture, as I remember. They tasted great, but what a lot of work! Thanks for reminding me of that time of my life.

  3. This is simply beautiful and you should be so proud of yourself. I would probably have a panic attack too at the thought of all that dough rolling, but it looks like you were successful!

  4. I think your puffs look great. I thought the experience was really great too. The way the dough just keeps getting smoother is pretty cool... and yes, relaxing.

    Great filling! I did caramelized apples for some of mine too.

  5. Congratulations on your first DB challenge! And great choice for your filling!

  6. I do feel a sense of accomplishment from this challenge. Thanks so much, everyone!

  7. They look great! no need to be so hard on yourself for your first puff pastry attempt. I completely agree with your comment about feeling relaxed and serene while rolling out the dough.

  8. Beautiful flaky layers!
    Great job on this challenge and welcome to the Daring Bakers!

  9. Great job on your first DB challenge! Mmmm... caramelised apples are so yum!



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