Daring Bakers - Gone with the wind!

Vol au Vent

Vol au Vent means literally 'windblown'. These little treats are so light and crisp you could almost make them fly with a whisper. And if you're using homemade puff pastry you're sure to have whispered a lot whilst making it, not to mention a little cursing! At least I did. September has been HOT in Lisbon. I'm not complaining about this - well, I actually am... It's not the weather itself but the weather when dealing with a block of butter that's suppose to be soft enough to flow freely and cold enough to layer properly. Meaning I had like 2 minutes to work my way with the turns. In the end, although my kitchen was a bit of a mess, the pastry was nice and the all process went smoother than expected.

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.

Vol au Vent

Vols au Vent

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.

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

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

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.

For extra tips check Steph's post.

My thoughts on the challenge:
- Puff pastry is never easy and can be a bit daunting before you start. I'm glad things went almost according with the plan. I did have some issues with the butter but I blame the weather - very hot September.
- I've halved the recipe. My food processor's capacity wouldn't do with the original quantities! No problems to report. I still have some pastry for later, as I plan to use it to bake some Pastéis de nata (aka portuguese custard tarts).
- My vol au vents went savoury: red onion and rhubarb compote with soft goat's cheese. I was very pleased with the result. Thanks Steph, it was great fun and yummy!

Wonderful Vols au Vent can be found in The Daring Kitchen!


Lunchtime in New York City

One of the reasons why photography is so compelling is the human need to capture the moment. To lock and keep in order to call it "ours" hoping for the days and years to come not to take away the colours and the brightness. But photos won't keep smells, tastes or sounds - those we have to save in a special part of the memory, like some sort of essential reserve. Simone De Beauvoir used to say there's something in New York's air that makes sleep useless. It's, nevertheless, not the buzz or the lights of the city that never sleeps that I'll keep in the special airtight room of the memory but my last lunch in NY. Sitting outside on the terrace facing the Time Warner building with wonderful tree shades, just next to Central Park and Columbus Circle. Most memorable. Can't wait to come again.

Nougatine at Jean Georges, NY

We left early in the morning. The day was sunny and the luggage was waiting for us at the hotel to be back home - it was our last day in NY. A visit to Cooper-Hewitt and a quick look at Guggenheim and there goes the morning. Nothing is ever quite in New York. Not even the mornings! So we ran through Central Park not knowing what was reserved for us at the table. Following a little bird's advice, we had lunch at Nougatine owned by Chef Jean-Georges (Obrigada, Constance!). The restaurant shares the same kitchen with Jean-Georges's formal dining room at Trump Plaza hotel. The fix price lunch (25$) was excellent and the service attentive without being pretentious or intrusive. I had a honeydew melon salad with clumps of goat cheese, bits of lardons, endive, and a drizzle of passion fruit dressing that was perfect, whilst Mr. Taster had a tasty artichoke with lemon mustard mayonnaise. We ordered fish: for me a red snapper with tomato confit and the husband, pink codfish with peas and carrot vinaigrette - both very good in terms of taste, quality, and presentation. For dessert, I picked the vanilla cake with strawberries and meringue (it was nice) and Mr.Taster decided for Jean-Georges' signature cake - warm chocolate and vanilla ice cream - that lead him to heaven. If there's a best chocolate cake in the whole world, this is it. Taster's word.

Nougatine at Jean Georges
1 Central Park West,
New York, NY 10023


[Sometimes] Your wish is my command.

Spicy Banana Muffins

Lately, I’ve been up to my elbows in tomatoes. I received a big bunch of tomatoes when my parents visited and have been enjoying them everyday. But that's not what brings me here today (I'll tell what I've done with tomatoes later this week). Bananas. Many. Too many. Turning black and with freckles. Smelling of summer. What to do with a couple of very ripe bananas? Oh, you could bake some muffins, couldn't you? - the husband said. Your wish is my command! And so I did.

Spicy Banana Muffins

Makes 12

1 cup (150 grs) plain flour, sifted
⅓ cup muscovado sugar, packed
⅓ cup golden caster sugar
Dash of salt
¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 medium bananas, mashed
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
⅓ cup (80 ml) walnut oil
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
Dried banana chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350ºF). In a medium bowl, beat the mashed bananas with eggs, vanilla extract and walnut oil. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and all spices into a second bowl. Add the sugars and mix. Combine both mixtures (liquid with dry ingredients). Beat just until combined. Pour the batter into silicone muffin pans (if using regular pans, line them first). Add some banana chips to each muffin. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden. Remove from the pan and cool on a wired rack.


10 food related things to love in NY

NY Skies

What can I write about New York that hasn't been written yet... Nothing, really. New York is huge and frenetic -- bigger and faster than any other place I've been before. Without precious advice from adorable dear friends, I would have been lost but thanks to them manage to get a little taste of the city. Many thanks guys, you saved our... stomachs!! ;-) 'Cause I really wouldn't want to bother you with the same old about NY, I've decided to enumerate 10 food related things to love about Madame Vertigo. I'm fully aware the sky is not eatable, at least not literally. New York skies just seemed the perfect way to start, and in between chewing the sky was the 11th thing on the list.

So here we go! 10 photos, 10 things, no special order.

10 (food related) things to love in NY

Bread - Whole Wheat, Sourdough, French bread. Organic. Just ask.

Tap water - Yes, no mistake. New York's tap water is something to cheer and love. Actually, it's something to drink to! Super.

Bakeries - I could live from bread alone. If a latte, a macchiato or a cappuccino can be added then I'm in heaven. And, of course, I won't say no to something on the sweet side. New York bakeries are awesome, and mind me I know a little about bakeries.

Muffins - I'm not the cupcake kind of girl, I'm more a muffin chick. Not that I can have a NY full-sized one by myself -- that's what makes Mr. Taster (aka The Husband) so handy, besides other things!! This is a Zucchini, Carrot, Walnut muffin. Perfect.

10 (food related) things to love in NY

Pancakes - Any pancake dish that comes with fruit is a winner. How to be in New York City, and not have a stack of fluffy buttermilk pancakes? No way.

French Toast - With blueberries. And maple syrup. I had mine with a Beet and Apple fresh juice I won't forget soon. Or the Illy espresso that came after. Yum.

10 (food related) things to love in NY

Burgers - OK, I didn't have this burger but Mr. Taster says it was pretty good. It's a burger with ratatouille and gruyere -- he actually recommends that if you're at L'École for brunch, you should try this.

Iced Tea - Not the sugary packed thing we have across Europe. Real tea 'on the rocks'. Very good.

Pizza - NY pizza. With fresh mushrooms and kalamata olives. Not disappointed.

Brunch - Breakfast was my favourite meal of the day. WAS. I'm about to change that to brunch.

Mr. Taster and I had a couple of wonderful meals, plus a gorgeous birthday lunch that I'll share later. Stay tuned.