Sunday, September 27, 2009

Vol-au-Vent = roll till you drop

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.

I was a little concerned and really put this off till the end of the month, but in the end it wasn't too bad.  I think the part that really scared me was the 5 hour prep time.  I'm proud to say now that I've made puff pastry from scratch, but the bruises this challenge left on my palms and forearms (when my palms got tired, I used my forearms to roll it out), make me want to buy the ready-made version in the future.

I thought I'd take the opportunity to make this baker's challenge a savory one since neither me nor my boyfriend have much of a sweet tooth.  I filled the vol-au-vents with a red wine beef stew.  The recipe I found was less than specific and I had to improvise, which doesn't work for me, since I'm used to baking, which is more of a science and doesn't require interpretation.  Regardless, it turned out alright.  Here's the recipe for the vol-au-vent:

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.

Here's a picture of mine being rolled out and "turned" the second time.  It's now back into the fridge for a while...

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.

Here are some pictures of my vol-au-vents baking:

Here is one nice and puffed up:

I used 2 rings on each base to get better height since I knew I was going to use these for a main course.  Here's more of an ariel view:

And here's the "recipe" for the red wine beef stew:
1.Heat oil in a hot pan, add garlic, fry for a bit. Add onions, fry for a bit. Add diced beef and fry till beef is sealed
season with thyme, salt and pepper pour in stock and red wine, once it starts boiling turn down heat. Season with more thyme, basil and place bay leaves into the liquid whole. Simmer for 1 hour uncovered to let the liquid reduce.
3. pour in stock and red wine, once it starts boiling turn down heat. Season with more thyme, basil and place bay leaves into the liquid whole. Simmer for 1 hour uncovered to let the liquid reduce. 

4. Add button mushrooms to pan, simmer for another half hour. While mushroom cooking, prepare pastry/vol au vents:

The finished product...

Wait, it's missing something....

There we go!  Perfect!

P.S. Thanks Steph for a great challenge!  I really enjoyed it despite the bruises and look forward to the next excuse I have to make a sweet version!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes w/ Fresh Strawberry Buttercream

Is using others people's life events as an excuse to bake wrong?  If so, I don't wanna be right!  That's right, I said it. 
A girl in my office recently got engaged.  So I thought it would be fun to bring in chocolate cupcakes with strawberry buttercream.  Here's a close up of one.  I thought about dying the frosting a bit, but ended up going with the au naturale look with the little strawberry specs. 
I have to say, they were incredible (not to mention gone within an hour).  Here's the whole lot...
I used Martha Stewart's One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcake recipe from her most recent cupcake book.  You can also find the recipe here.  The cupcakes themselves could have been a little more moist (since they were mini cupcakes they probably didn't need to bake for longer than 10-12 minutes and I went for 15), but the strawberry buttercream more than made up for it.  That recipe is also from Martha's (yes, we're on a first name basis) cupcake book, but you can also find it here.  It's fantastic!