Sunday, September 27, 2009

More Fun with Puff Pastry and the Daring Bakers



I was so excited to see puff pastry as this month's Daring Baker's challenge! I absolutely loved all the puff pastry goods I made at my pastry class last month, and this was a great opportunity to try even more. Cakes are definitely my comfort zone, and I've always thought of pastry as being so much more time consuming, but it's really not! I did all 6 turns of the dough in one evening in about two hours, including chilling time, while I regularly spend at least 6 hours on a cake. And it tastes SO good! I'll definitely be getting out the rolling pin a lot more often from now on - although my golden retriever Tsuki was definitely looking at me very strangely as I attacked the butter with my rolling pin.

This recipe was from Julia Child, and was a little different than the recipe we used at ICE. We did 6 turns, rather than 4, and each turn resulted in 3 layers rather than the 4 we did at ICE. Both recipes yielded wonderful results!

I used one-third of the dough for the vols-au-vent filled with a chocolate pastry cream, and the other two-thirds for mille-feuille filled with a Nutella pastry cream. Puff pastry is now up there on my list of favorite desserts (and I really am a cake girl!), it was really that delicious!

I'm so happy to finally be one with my rolling pin.

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.

Recipe for Puff Pastry:

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

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.

Dough/Butter Package

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.

(Allie: I did all 6 turns in one evening, then put all the dough in the fridge for a few days. I made the vols-au-vent one evening with a third of the dough, then put the rest in the freezer (unrolled) for another week. After defrosting the dough in the fridge for almost one day, I made the mille-feuille.)

Steph’s extra tips:

-Keep things cool by using the refrigerator as your friend! If you see any butter starting to leak through the dough during the turning process, rub a little flour on the exposed dough and chill straight away. Although you should certainly chill the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns, if you feel the dough getting to soft or hard to work with at any point, pop in the fridge for a rest.

-Not to sound contradictory, but if you chill your paton longer than the recommended time between turns, the butter can firm up too much. If this seems to be the case, I advise letting it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to give it a chance to soften before proceeding to roll. You don't want the hard butter to separate into chuncks or break through the want it to roll evenly, in a continuous layer.

-Roll the puff pastry gently but firmly, and don’t roll your pin over the edges, which will prevent them from rising properly. Don't roll your puff thinner than about about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick, or you will not get the rise you are looking for.

-Try to keep “neat” edges and corners during the rolling and turning process, so the layers are properly aligned. Give the edges of the paton a scooch with your rolling pin or a bench scraper to keep straight edges and 90-degree corners.

-Brush off excess flour with a pastry brush before turning dough and after rolling.

-Make clean cuts. Don’t drag your knife through the puff or twist your cutters too much, which can inhibit rise.

-When egg washing puff pastry, try not to let extra egg wash drip down the cut edges, which can also inhibit rise.

-Extra puff pastry dough freezes beautifully. It’s best to roll it into a sheet about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick (similar to store-bought puff) and freeze firm on a lined baking sheet. Then you can easily wrap the sheet in plastic, then foil (and if you have a sealable plastic bag big enough, place the wrapped dough inside) and return to the freezer for up to a few months. Defrost in the refrigerator when ready to use.

-You can also freeze well-wrapped, unbaked cut and shaped puff pastry (i.e., unbaked vols-au-vent shells). Bake from frozen, without thawing first.

-Homemade puff pastry is precious stuff, so save any clean scraps. Stack or overlap them, rather than balling them up, to help keep the integrity of the layers. Then give them a singe “turn” and gently re-roll. Scrap puff can be used for applications where a super-high rise is not necessary (such as palmiers, cheese straws, napoleons, or even the bottom bases for your vols-au-vent).

For the Vols-au-vent:

Egg Wash: Whisk one egg in a small bowl.

On a lightly floured surface, roll one-third of the puff pastry dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to a baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.

Use a 1.5" cookie cutter to cut out rounds from the dough. (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, 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. (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.

Fill with chocolate pastry cream (recipe below), and serve.

Recipe for Chocolate Pastry Cream can be found here.

Recipe for Nutella Pastry Cream: Follow the recipe above for chocolate pastry cream, but replace the 3 ounced melted chocolate with 1/2 cup Nutella.

For the Mille-Feuilles: (makes 8 servings)

Divide 2/3 of the puff pastry into two equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rectangle, approximately 12" x 18". Lay the dough on a piece of parchment paper on a half sheet pan or cookie sheet and refrigerate for one hour.

Dock the dough (prick all over with a fork), and cover with another piece of parchment. Place another cookie sheet or half sheet pan on top of the parchment paper (the extra weight will keep the dough from puffing too much). Bake for 35-40 minutes at 350, rotating the pans every 10 minutes or so. The pastry should be a rich golden color. Cool completely.

Use a ruler to cut each rectangle into 3 equal strips. Cut each strip into 3 equal strips.

Assembling the mille-feuille:

Each serving uses 3 strips of pastry. Brush 2 of the 3 strips with melted chocolate, and top with Nutella pastry cream. Place the final strip of pastry on top, and dust with powdered sugar. You can refrigerate the pastry for a few hours before serving, but it will taste best if you serve immediately.

*Thanks to Ed for taking a few of the vols-au-vent pics!

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  1. Mille-feuille has got to be one of my all-time favorite desserts, and yours looks amazing. You've inspired me to use some of my frozen puff pastry that's left over for mille-feuille!

  2. Beautiful! I have been trying to do the puff pastry for the past two weeks, but it is SO hot here (los angeles). I will try it when it cools down.

  3. I love the shape of your Vols au Vent. I had a great time with this one too. Great choice with chocolate, mmmmm.

  4. fantastic going on these vol-au-vents they look great! chocolate is always the perfect filling!

  5. Gorgeous job!! The vols-au-vent look delicious =D. Love the filling!

  6. My favourite is the mille feuille ... very pretty!

  7. They look beautiful! :) And you're so clever making a Mille Feuille! I should have done that as I love eating it!

  8. I love the sweet flowery shapes! The vol-au-vents look gorgeous, and that mille feuille is darn impressive :)

  9. These look exquisite, I love the star shape. Congratulations on a challenge well done.

  10. Love the shape of yours! They look delicious, good job!

  11. Thanks so much, the puff pastry was so much fun to make. Can't wait for the October challenge!

  12. mmmm nutella cream! great job w/the challenge!