Monday, September 28, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: 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.

Well, better late than never, right? I was actually supposed to post this yesterday, but once again I waited until the last minute and just couldn't get these all assembled by last night. The main part of the challenge this month was to make your own puff pastry. It was really pretty enjoyable--not too hard, just a little time consuming. I really think I will be making my own puff pastry in the future, even if it's just to see if I can get it to puff up as much as it was supposed to. For some reason mine just stayed a little too flat.

Vols-au-vent can be filled with either sweet or savory fillings, and while my mouth watered at the idea of a homemade vanilla custardy filling topped with whipped cream and strawberries, I decided to fill mine with chicken salad so I could serve these for dinner. Oh, this pastry is good. It's so buttery and flaky, I had a hard time not eating them before they were filled. Here's the recipe for those of you wanting to taste the buttery goodness for themselves:

Puff Pastry Vols-au-Vent

-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.

*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

Steph’s note: This recipe makes more than you will need for the quantity of vols-au-vent stated above. While I encourage you to make the full recipe of puff pastry, as extra dough freezes well, you can halve it successfully if you’d rather not have much leftover.

There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book…I listed the recipe as it appears printed in the book.

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.

Butternut Soup with Parmesan Croutons

I love early fall. I say early fall because late fall, well, let's just say we're not the best of friends. But in early fall you still have plenty of warm days and green trees with just the slightest hint of changing color in higher elevations. Ah. Unfortunately, the warm weather can't always last and if the weather reports are right, we're in for quite the cold spell this week. So, for the sake of warding off that autumn chill, here's a recipe for some tasty butternut soup with Parmesan croutons that I tried a couple of weeks ago. Admittedly not everyone loves squash, but by way of recommendation let me tell you that my squash-averse husband said (with wonder) that this soup didn't even taste like squash. So there you go. Give it a try whether you're a squash fan or not.

Butternut Soup with Parmesan Croutons
(from Healthy Cooking magazine)
1 medium butternut squash (about 3 lbs.), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-in. cubes
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 Tbsp. minced fresh sage or 2 tsp. rubbed sage
3 cans (14-1/2 oz. each) reduced-sodium chicken broth (or regular if that's what you have on hand)

For Croutons:
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. minced fresh sage or 1 tsp. rubbed sage
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups cubed French bread (1/2-in. cubes)
Cooking spray
Additional grated Parmesan cheese, optional

1. Place squash in a 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan lightly coated with cooking spray. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. oil; sprinkle with pepper. Toss to coat. Bake, uncovered, at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-35 minutes or until tender, stirring every 15 minutes. Set aside.
2. In a Dutch oven/heavy stew pot saute the onion, celery and sage in remaining oil until tender. Stir in broth and reserved squash. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until heated through. Cool slightly.
3. In a blender, puree soup in batches until smooth. Return to the pan; heat through.
4. For croutons, in a small bowl, combine the cheese, oil, sage and garlic. Add bread cubes and spritz with cooking spray; toss to coat. Place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 5-8 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Serve with soup and sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese if desired.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monkey Cupcakes for My Littlest Sous Chef

A little over a week ago my son had his second birthday. Man, that feels weird to type that when I could swear up and down that he just turned one. Nevertheless, he is now two and I wanted to make something monkey-themed for his birthday given the fact that he has been obsessed with Curious George in a big way for the past three months. So, after a google search for monkey cupcakes, I decided on one I saw on the Taste of Home website, with some slight modifications. They were a hit, and I took it to be an especially good sign when even my two year old could tell what they were. So in case you are planning a monkey-themed bash of your own in the not-too-distant future, here are the instructions:

1 package (18-1/4 ounces) chocolate cake mix
1 can (16 ounces) chocolate frosting
vanilla wafers
Black and red decorating gel

Bake cupcakes according to cake mix instructions. Cool completely. Set aside about 1/4 cup chocolate frosting. Frost cupcakes with remaining frosting. With a serrated knife, cut off a fourth from each vanilla wafer. Save these fourths, as these will become the ears. Place your remaining 3/4 wafer on each cupcake, with the rounded edge of wafer near edge of cupcake, for the face. Add dots of black gel for nostrils. With red gel, pipe a mouth on each.
Pipe dots of black gel for eyes. Using reserved frosting and a #16 star tip, pipe hair. Place two reserved wafer fourths on either side of the monkey's head for ears (you'll need to cut extras from other wafers--there won't be enough if you just use the ones from making the faces). Yield: 2 dozen.