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 this month's challenge was revealed I was ecstatic and terrified in equal measure. I have always wanted to try puff pastry but never had the courage. So thanks Steph for pushing me out of my comfort zone - the challenge was awesome, the pastry was out of this world and I had a blissful weekend making it.
The dough was so simple it was laughable - water, flour and salt blitzed in the food processor then rolled out to a rough square with a thicker pad in the centre. The dough was silky and smooth, like playdough, and a joy to work with.
Next came the butter - a full pound - and my first thought was holy butter batman! I had trouble with my photos but despite the blurriness I wanted to include this one to remind me of the shocking amount of butter in this dough.
As you can see, the butter has to be pounded into a rectangle and placed over the dough. I had visions of pieces of butter flying all over the kitchen but it was surprisingly easy and incredibly therapeutic at the same time.
The edges of the dough are then folded over the dough and it is rolled out to a long oblong, folded into an envelope, and then the process is repeated for 6 turns of the dough. Here I had a bit of trouble with butter oozing out but this dough is very forgiving and all I had to do was to refrigerate the dough between each turn.
I really can't get over how simple and pleasurable making puff pastry was. With each turn the dough became smoother and silkier and I fell in love with the whole process. By the final turn the dough was as silky as a baby's bottom and I could barely keep my hands off it.
Once I made the dough my head was filled with so many ideas for using it (chief among which were mille-feuille) but Steph had challenged us to make vols-au-vents so that's what we had for dinner. The filling was a classic chicken pot pie filling - a velouté with chicken and veg - but it was lifted into the category of the sublime by the pastry. It was incredibly buttery and light and almost melted in the mouth.
The rest of the dough is in the freezer but I have a feeling that it won't be lasting very long in there! I have no illusions of being a master pastry chef and I'm sure that my puff pastry would probably fall short in a French cooking school but even so it was so much better than any packaged dough I've ever tasted and I am pretty sure there's no turning back at this point.
You can find the recipe on the Daring Kitchen site where you will also find the incredible creations of my fellow Daring Bakers.
Bon apétit mes amis!