Sunday, September 27, 2009

why i love baking, or, daring bakers puff the pastry

Why do I love to bake?

I love to bake because the process simultaneously works with absolute truth and mystery. I like that it is so hard, but that there is a path to making it work.

And the path is set out. The alchemy has been described and written out for me, but it takes some mysterious quality injected by my own hands to make it come alive.

I don't really get it. I start to doubt it all. And at some point in the process, I don't believe that I had it right. It couldn't have worked. I flubbed the magic.

And sometimes it doesn't work. But other times, miraculously, victoriously, oh man does it work!

It's not a miracle, though. It's chemistry. It's culture. It's temperature.
It's puff pastry.

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.

This was a fabulous empowering super hero creating challenge. And you should do this one to. I'm going to send you over to Steph's blog for the puff pastry recipe, as well as a link to an essential and entertaining instructional video.

And what did my Vols-au-Vent hold? Oh, I'm so glad that you asked. We had big Vols-au-Vent for dinner, and then little ones for dessert. And then, honestly, we had stomachaches to finish off the evening. But it was well worth it.
For dinner, we had Vols-au-Vent with chicken and oyster mushrooms in a sherry cream tarragon sauce.

And for dessert, it was Vols-au-Vent with nectarines and lemon verbena whipped cream.

And yes, you can have the recipes. Remember who you are talking to after all. I couldn't keep them in if I tried.

Vols-au-Vent with Chicken and Oyster Mushrooms in Sherry Cream Tarragon Sauce
1 batch vols-au-vent (4 large or 8 small)
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 shallots, in small dice
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons dry sherry
2 cups oyster mushrooms, loosely broken up into bite-sized pieces
3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large skillet or sautee pan. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, for about a minute. Add the chicken, and allow to brown slightly, cooking until cooked through, about five minutes. Then add cream and sherry, allowing it to come to a low simmer and scraping off whatever brown has accumulated on the bottom of the pan. Add the oyster mushrooms and tarragon and cook for another minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into pastry cups and serve immediately.

Vols-au-Vent with Nectarines and Lemon Verbena Whipped Cream
1 batch Vols-au-Vent (4 large or eight small)
3 nectarines, cut into one-inch cubes
1 cup heavy cream
20 fresh lemon verbena leaves
1 tablespoon real maple syrup

Two hours before serving, combine the cream and the lemon verbena leaves. Cover and chill. After it has infused the cream (at least two hours), whip the cream to soft peaks, adding the maple syrup as you beat it. Fill the pastry cups with whipped cream, and then top with nectarines.

Thank you Steph for maybe my favorite challenge yet. Go check out the other daring bakers and be inspired!


  1. Your puff pastry rose beautifully, well done!

  2. you are a superhero!love the pictures

  3. OK, you do look naked in the photo in the above entry, but you can pull it off with that bod :) That said, your vols au vents are gorgeous, but those fillings are BOTH delectable, especially the chicken & oyster mushrooms in sherry cream tarragon sauce (I'm more of a savory gal, except when I PMS). Beautifully done all around!

    As for Blue eyes - he's super dreamy. lol Yes, I do sound like a teenager. I decided to finally tell him I loved him back in the blog post, as a surprise. I initially felt his profession of love was too fast and had to think about it. He loved it and 'melted' :D

  4. Just thought I'd check out your great blog. Love your vol au vents. I do think they rose better when cut with a knife as opposed to a cutter. Beautiful!

  5. it's puff pastry, and it's gorgeous! well done, and thanks for baking with me this month!

  6. you have a nice blog. you can visit my blog view my recipes and give ur comments.

  7. Both varieties of the puff pastry look really delicious and I love the square shapes you made. :)

  8. Absolute chemistry at work to create those gorgeous vols-au-vent and fillings. Both savory and sweet sauces sound amazing! Fabulous work.