Archive for September, 2009

First Daring Bakers Challenge

September 28, 2009

So, I am back in Chicago and apparently it’s Fall!  You leave for a week and the weather drops 20 degrees and the leaves start turning.  Crazy, but I spose it’s time to start baking with cinnamon and pumpkin.  And apples.  Lots and lots of apples.  Soon!

This post has actually nothing to do with apples.  I joined the Daring Bakers, and September’s challenge was puff pastry Vols-au-Vent.  Little cups of puff pastry that you can fill with anything, savory or sweet.  I spose you could fill them with apples, that would be delicious.  I filled mine with mango mousse, blackberry puree, & chocolate ganache.  Also delicious.  I guess I was still feeling summery.

Making the puff pastry was a bit time consuming.  And melty.  My butter kept oozing out of the dough (a bad thing), and I kept having to toss it back into the fridge.  The key to making puff pastry is keeping it cold.  Also, be sure to really flour your rolling surface.  That helped a bunch.  Thanks Ma for assisting and letting me use your more spacious kitchen.  This post is already really long, so instead of listing the recipes I used for the filling, I will just link to them, both of them I found on  For the puree, I just mashed up blackberries with a bit of sugar.  I layered the ganache, puree, and mousse–in that order.  I drizzled a bit more ganache on the top.  I really liked the combination of flavors.  The sides of my Vols-au-Vent were slightly thick.  Next time I’ll try to make a more delicate case.  They did rise quite a bit though.  All in all I think my first challenge was a success!  Here we go…

Chocolate Ganache

I let this cool for a few minutes and then I poured it into the empty Vols-au-Vent.  I didn’t use the rum.

Mango Mousse

I let this set in the fridge for an hour before spooning in into my Vols-au-Vent


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.

-food processor (or you can mix by hand like me)
-rolling pin
-pastry brush
-metal bench scraper (optional, but recommended)
-plastic wrap
-baking sheet
-parchment paper
-silicone baking mat (optional, but recommended)
-set of round cutters (optional, but recommended)
-sharp chef’s knife
-cooling rack

Prep Times:
-about 4-5 hours to prepare the puff pastry dough (much of this time is inactive, while you wait for the dough to chill between turns…it can be stretched out over an even longer period of time if that better suits your schedule)
-about 1.5 hours to shape, chill and bake the vols-au-vent after your puff pastry dough is complete

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.)

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.  Voila!

Here’s what my tops looked like, I dipped the bottoms in the Chocolate Ganache…

Look at all those pretty air pockets!

*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.


Lazy, lazy.

September 20, 2009

So it has been awhile since my last post, which I really do feel bad about.  I could list a bajillion reasons why this is so, but really it’s probably because I’m just a bit lazy these days.  And now I’m in Reno!  Yes, beautiful, Reno.  I’ve actually only really seen this…

hotel parking lot.  And the view through a shaded shuttle window on a five minute bus ride from airport to hotel.

Reno is… well.  I don’t really like casinos. And I’m sort of stuck in a one.  When I checked in, they gave me these vouchers for gambling credits which I won’t be using.  And a coupon for a free topping when I buy a scoop of ice cream in the lobby.  A free topping?

I wish I was in Tahoe.

Anyhow, I’m not going to hate on Reno.  Yet.  I’m actually in a pretty good mood.  After work/traveling, I spent the evening eating hotel room service and watching Benny & Joon on Hulu.  And now I’m being “soothed”  by the sound of a Sharper Image radio clock rain setting.  All good things, right?  Right!

Well, maybe I’ll have some good Reno food moments to share, but for now, I NEED to tell you about these banana cupcakes I baked before I left.  They were totally delicious, super moist & the perfect amount of banana-y.  I topped half of the batch with an espresso chocolate buttercream, which seemed to go well.  They were still awesome frost-less, for those who are coffee adverse or would like to pretend these are healthy breakfast muffins.  No judgment.  Ta Da!  Recipes….

Banana Cupcakes with Espresso Frosting

For the cupcakes, a simple but delicious Martha recipe. I got 16 cupcakes easy out of this.  The buttercream recipe is from Pie in the Sky, posted on epicurious.

for cupcakes:

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (equals about 4 medium bananas)
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

for frosting:

1/2 cup (one stick) butter, at room temp
6 cups sifted powdered sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
6 Tablespoons instant espresso dissolved in 1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
milk if needed

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a regular-sized muffin tin or use paper liners.

Mix together all the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking power, baking soda, and salt.  Add melted butter, bananas, eggs, and vanilla.  Stir until just combined, do not overmix.

Pour batter into muffin tray and bake 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Remove from tray and cool on a wire rack.  Frost with espresso buttercream…

To make the espresso buttercream, beat butter with mixer until fluffy.  Beat in half of your powdered sugar.  Mix-in your remaining ingredients.  Add more powdered sugar, coffee, or milk to reach desired consistency.

The Holiday Weekend in Pictures

September 7, 2009

Banana Cupcakes

How was your Labor Day Weekend?  Too short?  But filled with good things like family, food, beaches, and puppies?  Sounds just like mine!

I baked with my Ma this weekend–she’s a food expert.  We made those yummy and oh so sophisticated Cappuccino Flats.  They were actually very simple, which was for the best, as I was super distracted by puppy cuteness.  I mean SERIOUSLY…

Okay, okay.  I’m done.  Let’s talk about cookie and coffee goodness.  Here…

Errr.  I just can’t help myself!  Cutest puppy ever!  I wanted to steal him.  Anyways.  Here we go, for real this time…

Cappuccino Flats

Adapted from The Ultimate Cookie Collection

For cookies:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon instant coffee granules, dissolved in 1 teaspoon warm water
1 egg
6 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

For Dipping:
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3 Tablespoons shortening

With a hand mixer, cream butter and shortening until light and fluffy.  Mix in sugars.  Add coffee, egg, and cocoa powder.  Mix until combined.

Combine flour, cinnamon, and salt in a separate bowl.  Gradually add mixed dried ingredients to the butter.  Batter will be sticky.

Spoon half of batter onto a sheet of plastic wrap.  Using the plastic wrap to help you, form the dough into a 6” long log.  Wrap in the plastic and repeat with the remaining batter.  Refrigerate until firm, 1-4 hours.  I only refrigerated for 1 hour, and then put the batter in the freezer for 30 minutes right before slicing.

Preheat your oven to 350°.  Remove dough from fridge or freezer, unwrap, and slice logs into 1/4” slices.  Place 1” apart on ungreased baking sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes until firm.  Cool on a wire rack.

Melt the chocolate with the shortening on low power in the microwave, stirring every 20-30 seconds.  Dip cookies half-way into melted chocolate.  Place back on wire rack until dry.  If humid you may need to toss them in the fridge for a bit.

This recipe makes 5-6 dozen.

Note:  The dough gets more difficult to cut as it warms and the more you handle it.  If baking in shifts, I recommend putting the dough back in the freezer until ready to cut/bake.