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.
When I read that my first Daring Bakers challenge would be to make puff pastry, and then form them into vols-au-vent — a French phrase that roughly translates to “windblown” for their lightness and airy height — I was trepidatious. Why couldn’t my de-virgination be a nice cake or something? Sure, it might be a complicated cake, but it would have a basis in something recognizable.
After several weeks, I took a deep breath and jumped in.
The result was light, flaky, buttery pastry baked in shaped shells, begging to be stuffed with fillings sweet or savory.
how to make vols-au-vent
1. well-chilled puff pastry dough, thawed from frozen or made from scratch
2. egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
3. filling(s) – a few are described below
5. baking sheet
6. parchment paper
You may cut your vols-au-vent into any shape you desire. Round shapes are easiest to work with. Have two cutters for each shape you plan to make, one for the main shape, and one that’s half to two-thirds as large as the first. Small, appetizer-sized vols-au-vent can be made with 1-1/2″ and 3/4″ circle cutters, while a large, main course-size would take more along the lines of 4″ and 2″ to 2-1/2″ cutters.
Cut a piece of parchment sized to your baking sheet and set it on your work surface. Marble works best, because it keeps the chill. I did mine on a large wooden cutting board, and they still came out fine.
Flour the parchment paper lightly. If your puff pastry is in a sheet, lay it on the parchment. If it’s in a block, roll it into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Lightly flour the top and beneath the dough as you roll it out if it becomes sticky.
Transfer the dough and parchment paper to your baking sheet and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, get the dough back out. Using your larger sized cutter, cut out several circles. You’ll get 4 to 10 circles from a sheet of puff pastry dough, depending on the size you’re making. Cut out an even number of circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides.
Scraps: this process will create scraps of dough, much like when making cutout cookies. Unlike when making cutout cookies, don’t ball up the scraps. Simply stack them up. They can be re-rolled. They will not rise enough to make vols-au-vent, so don’t attempt to re-use the scraps in this recipe. However, they make mighty nice palmiers.
Using your smaller cutter, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. The rings will be the sides of your vols-au-vent. The small center discs can be baked as little “caps” for your vols-au-vent. The whole rounds will be the bases.
Prick the bases and small center discs gently with a fork, making sure not to go all the way through the dough.
Brush the bases and small center discs lightly with the egg wash. Keep egg wash clear of the sides.
Place the rings on the bases and press lightly. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, keeping the egg wash clear of the sides.
They don’t look very tall yet, do they?
Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Once the oven is heated, get the vols-au-vent from the fridge. Lay a piece of parchment over top of them. This will help the pastry to 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 350 degrees, and remove the 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. The center caps may be done already; otherwise check closely while the vols-au-vent continue baking, as they will be done before the shells.
Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more.
Cool baked shells and caps on a rack, and fill with your desired filling.
I filled mine with three different things.
One was julienned roasted summer vegetables.
Another was oven-caramelized Italian plums and lemon curd.
And the third was apple pie filling.