Bake Like A Ninja Rotating Header Image

Daring Bakers September 2009|(not so) Puff Pastry

Puff Pastry - 06The 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, the photos look pretty good!

We love puff pastry and I’d guess we make it more than your average American household. Several years back, I found a great recipe for “mock” puff pastry, which involves grating frozen butter into flour and proceeding with rolling and turning more or less the way the recipe here does. The mock stuff isn’t quite as nice as the “real” deal, but it turns out a good puffy light butter pastry that tastes fantastic with some onions and anchovies baked in. When I saw that scrumptious Step of A Whisk And A Spoon had chosen classic puff pastry as this month’s Daring Bakers Challenge, I was pretty excited to have an excuse to really make puff pastry the proper way*.

Oh Los Angeles, how you thwart me! If it’s not parking-lot freeway traffic keeping me from appointments across town (and melting what little I might have of a hairdo) then it’s mile-long lines at grocery stores that turn out not to have bamboo shoots after all (what kind of world market doesn’t carry bamboo shoots? The sign says “world market!” Really?). This month it was 100+ degree weather that conspired to melt the ice cold leaflettes of butter straight into the flour-water pastry. By the time I realized what was happening – namely, that the refrigerator was not cooling the pastry enough between turns and that it really needed to be put in the freezer – it was too late. I had something between a mock puff pastry and a very buttery pate brisee – which tasted quite nice (c’mon, it’s butter! With flour!) but puff it did not.

Puff Pastry - 09

The photo is fine (and nicely lit by the genius photographer in our two-person house, who does not happen to be me), and even looks kind of puffy – but there are FOUR RINGS OF PASTRY on that guy! FOUR! Anyone who did the challenge this month knows that four rings of pastry should have produced a puff as high as the ceiling.


The results still tasted great and the filling was quite good – it’s a variation on Cook’s Illustrated’s Waldorf Chicken Salad, made with grapes instead of apples (because of allergies) and hazelnuts instead of walnuts (because they were in the freezer). The chicken salad is really simple and consists of shredded chicken, green onion, toasted nuts (I think we’ve used almonds too – any nuts except maybe peanuts (or maybe peanuts too, never tried) would work), and apples (if you’re doing the real deal). Enough mayonnaise so that you like it and a little salt and pepper and you’re done.

Thanks to Steph for a fun (if somewhat frustrating) challenge. It was great to have a reason to make pastry from scratch and I like the updates on the more classic recipe from Julia Child’s The Way To Cook, which was the first puff pastry I ever made. This recipe is much easier, using a food processor**, and takes enough of the fussiness out of the recipe that I think you could even call this one “pretty easy.” Unless, of course, it’s 100+ degrees out.

Come play with the Daring Bakers and see some other truly amazing puffy creations (no specific links this month as I’m in the UAE until the end of October and by the time this posts, I’ll be up to my eyeballs with work. I don’t think I’ll be able to play in October either, as this hotel room has only a “kitchenette” – and by that they mean a two burner hot plate stove top and a mini bar fridge! But there’s always November…).


*There are (very wise and usually correct) people (in our two-person household) who think I’m a recipe Nazi because I always insist on doing it the “right” way (i.e. following the recipe exactly). So when the control-freak in me can stand it, I compromise. With puff pastry, the compromise is making the mock stuff, which is much easier and less fussy, as opposed to just buying frozen store bought. We get a better pastry, but it doesn’t take me all day and every utensil in the kitchen to make it. Compromise is a very good thing, but every once in a while it’s nice for a type-A baking ninja to have a reason to do it the right way damn it!“right.”
**One of the best things about Madame Child is that she had her priorities sorted. The first priority was that food should be delicious, wholesome and beautifully presented. The second was that it should be as easy as possible. Corners were cut when there was no compromise in the result and they were absolutely not cut when it would make a difference. That’s why it’s so wonderful that Dorrie Greenspan’s Baking With Julia includes this recipe for puff that uses a food processor, while the first recipe I used from Julia’s The Way To Cook is all by hand. Julia understood and embraced progress. She just wouldn’t compromise taste. Smart woman.

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.


  1. Maw says:

    How did you do this from Abu Dhabi?

  2. Kathlyn says:

    Middle eastern magic!

  3. Amy I. says:

    Great work, still looks yum even though you were thwarted by the weather! I love Cooks Illustrated too.
    .-= Amy I.´s last blog ..Daring Bakers: Vols-au-Vent =-.

  4. Lauren says:

    Maybe four was too heavy? Regardless, the pastry looks delicious, and I think it rose flawlessly =D. Wonderful job!
    .-= Lauren´s last blog ..Daring Bakers: Vols-au-Vent =-.

  5. Lisa says:

    Kath, I’m so glad it finally worked out for you, but you’re right, 4 rings should have given you the Enpire State Vols-Au-Vent! Regardless, I had trouble with sudden humidity just as I was ready to roll, cut and shape the dough. WTH?? It’s like this humidity monster follows me around to insure failure baking wise! In any event, The Way to Cook is a great cookbook, and that chicken salad, along with your photos and someone else’s lighting, look magnifico! Well done!

  6. I feel your pain with the temperatures. I didn’t do this month’s challenge – HONEYMOON! – but think I would have been really frustrated if it was way too hot. But it still looks good, and hopefully tasted delicious, too. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge