Daring Bakers: Puff Pastry

Once again I waited until the very last minute to complete this month’s challenge.  What kind of crazy person decides to attempt puff pastry from scratch for the first time with a time constraint?  This crazy person, that’s who.

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 printed out the recipe and read through it and the instructions for the puff pastry vols-au-vent many times to mentally prepare myself for making this daunting pastry.  I watched the episode of Baking with Julia where Michel Richard demonstrates making the pastry.  Ben and I both watched in awe.  It’s as if he could produce a smooth and beautiful puff pastry dough with his eyes closed and both hands tied behind his back while balancing some spinning plates on his head.  Really, he makes it look that easy.

The dough itself is in fact easy.  Flour, salt and water in a food processor.  The stress level rose for me when I had to pound 4 cold sticks of butter in between pieces of plastic wrap to produce a nice, neat slab upon which the rest of the pastry relied.  Other than the one time I pounded my finger instead of the butter, this was also easier than expected.


I was fortunate enough to come across my beautiful marble slab that has been MIA for the past few years.  I thought it had been lost in one of the moves, but it turned out to be at my parents place, so they were kind enough to bring that to me this past week.  Just in time!

puff8Now it’s time to bring these two simple ingredients together.  The dough rolls out nicely, and with a well floured marble surface there is little risk of serious stick-age.  Just err on the side of caution and check as you’re rolling for any sticking.

This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.  The first layer of butter and flour all wrapped up.  A parcel of future decadence.



Now we begin the rolling.  Again, make sure your pastry is not sticking to your work surface.  I find it helpful to have my flour close at hand to take a pinch when I need it to toss under the dough.

Another issue when rolling your square dough into a long rectangle is making sure that your butter does not escape.  I didn’t have any problem with that the first few turns, but on the last two I noticed some butter renegades.  There was nothing I could do now.  This was either going to produce light, airy puff pastry or my leaking butter would lead to un-puffed and unimpressive un-appetizers.  I’d just have to move along in the process and hope for the best.

After the 6th turn I covered the pastry with plastic wrap and a towel and chilled it for almost 3 hours.


I rolled out 1/3 of the dough and began cutting my rounds.


I didn’t have a small round cutter, so I used the large end of a decorating tip, and it turned out to be the perfect size.


puff17To make 18 vols I used 2/3 of the dough.  All of them were assembled and ready to bake for later.  I covered the baking sheet and let them chill for about 45 minutes while I made the fillings.

The moment of truth had arrived.  It was time to bake these little wonders.  To ensure even rising, a silpat (or piece of parchment) is placed over the rounds for the first 10 minutes, then removed for the last 10.  A miracle occurred…they rose…and they were perfect!  Perfect little rounds with visible layers of goodness.  I was pretty excited, as anyone who was at my house last night will tell you.  We removed some of the excess inner pastry and then began filling the cute little puff pastry bites.


I sautéed some mushrooms in olive oil, salt, pepper and a little white wine.  After cooling them to an easy to handle temperature my friend Jackie chopped them up and we mixed the mushrooms with some grated gouda cheese.  After the vols were baked we filled them with the mushroom mixture and popped them back in the oven for about 4 minutes to melt the cheese.  Ben and Tim thought they were heaven.


The other filling was my favorite.  Diced pears, Gorgonzola cheese and toasted walnuts all combined then scooped into the puff pastry.  They were delicious.


It is of the utmost importance to keep everything chilled in order to make this pastry, so it is a bit time intensive.  Waiting an hour between turns, and then all the chilling time takes…well, lots of time.  Taking the time to chill the dough if you have to is a bit frustrating, especially for those of us without a lot of patience.  I promise, your patience will be rewarded.