Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September Daring Bakers Challenge: Vols Au Vent

I know I've been very slacky on my blog this month, but hopefully it's not going to become a habit. I've just been bogged down with a few term papers, studying for midterms and spending two 12 hour days in the hospital for my clinical rotation!! AAHHH! I literally have no time to do anything!!! Well, at least I was able to complete this month's DB challenge, it kind of gave me some stress-relief and I was glad to have my kitchen time... I needed to take my mind off of my text books :P

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.

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough
From: 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.

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.

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

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

For my variation on the vols-au-vent I decided to make a sweet version. Thus, I modified the pastry recipe to incorporate more sugar and less salt. I was pleased with the way my pastry turned out, it was fairly light and flaky. I may have over-worked the dough a bit too much, and it wasn't as tender as it could have been, but I think that I can improve on my pastry making skills in the future. I filled my pastry with strained plain yogurt, mixed with a little honey and then topped it off with a berry and sugar compote. The yogurt was super easy to make; all you do is take a cup of plain, greek-style yogurt and use a muslin cloth to strain out the moisture by sitting the yogurt in the cloth overnight. Once the yogurt is strained, simply add in honey to taste and then fill the vols-au-vent. Well, now it's time to sleep because I have to wake up early for my clinical rotation on the surgical floor tomorrow... gotta be there at 7am, so must leave the house at 6:00am ... meaning I must wake up at 5:30am if I'm going to be alert enough to drive :P

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lamb Stew

The first day of school did not present with beautiful weather, instead it was pouring rain :( I only had a morning class, and so I decided to head to the grocery store and pick up some necessities for my dinner. With such miserable weather, I thought that a stew would be nice... and since I would only be cooking for myself, I decided to buy one of my favorite meats... Lamb!! My mom doesn't like the smell, look, texture or taste of lamb; I'm not sure why? In my opinion, it's absolutely delicious. It has a very earthy and rustic flavor, and makes one mean stew.

I'd never made stew before, my dad usually makes a really quick beef stew in a crock-pot, but since I didn't have a crock pot I opted to simply cook it in a large stove-top pot. I kind of just eye-balled the ingredients, and tweaked the dish as I cooked and it turned out fantastic!

Lamb Stew

- 1/2 lb of lamb meat (I used the shoulder blade)
- 6 yukon gold potatoes, cut into chunks
- 3 medium carrots, cut into chunks
- 1 large onion, cut into chunks
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 1 tsp each dried rosemary, parsley, oregano
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup of red cooking wine, or more to taste
- 3 cups water
- salt and pepper to taste

1. Prepare the lamb meat ahead of time. Rub the meat with olive oil and season with rosemary, parsley and oregano. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and let rest for at least 1 hour.
2. After marinating, separate the meat from the bones and fat. Cut the meat into bite-sized chunks.
3. Heat 1 tbsp canola oil in a large stove-top pot on high, allow oil to reach very high temperature by letting it sit for 45 seconds.
4. Add the seasoned lamb meat to the pot, searing both sides for about 2 minutes each. Place seared meat in a dish and set aside. Now add the bones and fat to the pan. Cook for 2 minutes allowing the fat to drain out.
5. Add in the minced garlic and additional spices (rosemary, parsley, oregano). Add more oil if necessary to prevent burning, and add in the onions.
6. Pour in the cooking wine to deglaze the pan. Once deglazed, add in the potatoes and carrots, stir mixture to thoroughly coat the vegetables with the herbs and oil. Add salt and pepper.
7. Make a well in the center of the pot, and add in the flour. Mix the flour with all the drippings in the pan until fully incorporated.
8. Pour in the water and continue cooking stew on high until it comes to a boil. Once boiled, add in the reserved lamb meat pieces and the bay leaves. Lower the temperature until the mixture reaches only a simmer.
9. Cover pot with lid and allow stew to simmer for 1 hour, or until the meat pieces are cooked and tender.
10. Serve with steamed rice.

This stew was very tasty. If you find that the consistency is too watery, you can always remove the lid and boil out some of the liquid for about 15-20 minutes. Also, the stew may begin to thicken as the mixture cools.

I really enjoyed this stew for my dinner, it was the perfect compliment to a cold and wet day. It really is a comfort food. The stew sauce was amazing over top of freshly steamed rice, and I seriously had to control myself otherwise I might have finished it on the first day. This recipe makes enough stew for about 4 people... or if you're like me, it makes enough for 4 meals for one person :P I should have my mom try some of the stew, and see if she still feels the same way about lamb... maybe it'll convince her that lamb isn't so bad.