Sunday, September 27, 2009

Maya's Adventures in Pastry-Land

By the time you are reading this, I will be away visiting the land where humankind was born: Africa! I'm happy to say that I managed to complete my first ever Daring Bakers' Challenge in spite of the craziness building up to the 3-week trip.
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.

I was really excited to do this challenge since I have always wanted to try my hand at puff pastry, which is considered the most difficult of pastry doughs to produce. I watched the recommended video - Michel Richard made it look pretty easy, easy enough to forget that he had probably been doing it for some 30 years previously! So out came the rolling pin, and I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

I'm always intrigued by recipes that showcase both the science and art of cooking. Puff pastry is definitely a great example. It essentially consists of many thin layers of dough sandwiched together with thin layers of fat, made by rolling a block of butter inside a case of dough, and then folding, turning and re-rolling several times. When placed in a hot oven, the water in the butter gets converted to steam, which pushes the layers higher and higher. At the same time, the heat is cooking the flour, setting the gluten around all those air pockets, and eventually creating a puff that holds its shape. How's that for some cool food chemistry at work!

Back to my effort - I though the first two turns were pretty hard, I had to concentrate on rolling evenly to get the butter out to all the corners. Definitely time to put the upper-body strength to use! It got a bit easier to work with on subsequent turns but I did have the occasional tear or butter leak, so I was pretty much on tenterhooks till I had the vols-au-vent baked. After anxiously peeking into the oven several times hoping it was going okay, I was rewarded with this sight: well risen puff pastry shells, waiting to come out of the oven and be filled!

Though I had several excellent ideas for the vol-au-vent fillings, both sweet and savoury, I had no time to execute them all, so I decided to keep it simple. I filled the shells with lemon-scented crème fraîche and fresh raspberries, and added a swirl of raspberry coulis to liven things up.

Overall, I was really thrilled to have pulled off the puff pastry challenge! And yippee - I still have some dough waiting in the freezer for when a vol-au-vent craving strikes again :)