After many months of umming and ahhing, I finally plucked up the commitment to join the Daring Kitchen, specifically the Daring Bakers. When I saw the challenge, I was nervous but relieved. The first time I attempted puff pastry it was a total disaster, but earlier this year I went to a pastry class and made a more successful attempt.
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. You could choose to make large or small vol-au-vents, and any filling. I followed the recipe exactly, with the only substitution being plain flour instead of cake flour.
Initially things went well. The dough "wrapper" came together easily, and the butter was shaped into a square and then chilled. The first two turns of the dough went really well, and the butter didn't leak. Yay! Off I went to watch The Wire for an hour before the next two turns. Gritty urban drama and baking. A perfect match.
Turn 3 went wrong. I'm not sure if the dough was over-chilled, or if I rolled it too thin or roughly. The butter burst through underneath, so when I tried to do the turn, the dough was stuck to the worktop! I completed the turn as best as I could, reasoning that given there would be hundreds of layers by the end of the process, and one or two with a tear wouldn't matter.
The rest of the turns went ok, with lots of flouring to make sure there wasn't any more sticking. I think I might have been a bit over-enthusiastic with rolling out the dough too thinly, which was causing it to be prone to tearing. I made it to 6 turns, and added a 7th as the dough was looking a bit streaky in places.
Now I just had to think of a filling! Initially I wanted to do something Asian inspired, and was considering something Vietnamese as this would suit the French aspect of the pastry. However, I thought it would be strange to pair rich, buttery pastry with a light Asian filling, and I decided to go for something more traditional and "heavy".
The first attempt was large size vol-au-vents for dinner, filled with chicken, lemon and tarragon stew. Although they were delicious, they weren't lookers. They were also a little undercooked. I decided it was best to try again, and to make smaller ones that would be more manageable.
Next day I was flicking through the Saturday papers, and saw a recipe for coronation chicken. This was traditional and heavy, but also had an Asian influence! I also liked the very retro aspect of the dish. I used this recipe here, which was a big success. It's fruity and creamy, with a good spice blend. The mayonnaise isn't too overwhelming either. In fact, I liked this recipe so much I'm copying out by hand to go in my recipe binder. (That's the rule, if I don't like it enough to be bothered to write out the recipe with a fountain pen, it doesn't make the folder.)
As you can see from the photos, I didn't get that much rise from my pastry. I think I rolled it too thin again. It was crispy and flaky though, so not a total disaster. I was also proud of the good glaze I got from the egg wash, it was quite shiny in places!
Even though puff pastry takes a while to make, very little of that time is actually active. There's a lot of waiting around for the pastry to chill and rest. However, once you have got the hang of the "book fold" technique, it's a pretty simple and satisfying process. There's plenty of the pastry left in the freezer, so I shan't be buying any ready made puff pastry anytime soon. Given that the pastry can be easily made over a lazy weekend, I might not buy it ever again, and just have a massive pastry making session every few weeks.