Sunday, 27 September 2009

Daring Bakers September 09 Challenge: Vol-Au-Vents with Homemade 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.

In order to make vols-au-vents you need puff pastry (aka pâte feuilletée) and it was making our own puff pastry that was the main focus of this months challenge. Puff pastry is in the ‘laminated dough” family, along with Danish pastry dough and croissant dough. A laminated dough consists of a large block of butter, called the “beurrage” that is enclosed in dough, called the “détrempe.” This dough/butter packet is called a “paton,” and is rolled and folded repeatedly. A process known as “turning.” This turning process creates hundreds of layers of butter and dough, with air trapped between each one. Unlike Danish or croissant dough, puff pastry contains no yeast in the détrempe, and relies solely aeration to achieve its high rise. In the hot oven, water in the dough and the melting butter creates steam, which expands in the trapped air pockets, forcing the pastry to rise in its characteristic thin, crisp and flakey layers.

We were then instructed to make vols-au-vents with our puff pastry, which we were allowed to make the size and shape of our choosing. I decided to stick to circular vols-au-vents in two sizes. I made smaller ones which became raspberry and lime cream tarts and larger ones which were baked around a stuffed mushroom which I enjoyed for dinner.

The dough, although a little time consuming, was quite straightforward to make. It was rather fun attacking the large lump of butter with a rolling pin and beating it into a flat oblong before encasing it in the dough. It certainly helped release any pent up stress! Once rolled, cut and assembled I thought they looked rather like buttons, especially with their prick marks to prevent the bases from rising.

I was thrilled when the sides rose up straight, tall and turned beautifully golden. They were also very light and crisp with many buttery flakey layers that made a great freshly-baked-crispiness crunch as you bit into them. Once filled with a lime cream and topped with the last of this seasons raspberries they tasted divine and were much enjoyed by my family.

You are not meant to re-roll puff pastry as it disrupts all the perfectly aligned layers, but I couldn’t bear to throw my scarps away and so made a few cinnamon palmiers with the offcuts.

Thanks Steph for such a great challenge choice. Don’t forget to visit the blogroll to see other Daring Bakers vol-au-vents.

Vol-Au-Vents with Homemade Puff Pastry
This recipe makes about 1kg of puff pastry, but you can halve it quite easily.
500g plain flour
1 tsp salt (use less if making a sweet filling)
300ml ice cold water
455 g very cold unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten for glaze

Mixing the Dough
Put the flour and salt in the 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 clingfilm 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 flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin 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.

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.) 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.
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. 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.

Assembling and Baking
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.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 3-6 mm thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.
Use cookie cutters to cut out circles of dough. 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.
Use a smaller cutter to remove the centre from half the circles, to leave you with a ring of pastry. Place a ring of pastry on top of each pastry round and dock the base with a fork (but not the ring).
Transfer them to a baking tray and lightly glaze them with a beaten egg, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise).
Once assembled, refrigerate vols-au-vents on the baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 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 bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 180ºC, and continue baking until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more depending on their size.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature for cold fillings or leave warm for hot fillings.

For the Stuffed Mushrooms
2 portobello mushrooms
1 small red onion
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 tbsp pesto

Heat the oven to 190C.
Slice the onion into strips and fry in the oil along with the thyme until just starting to soften. Add the vinegar and fry for 1 minute more before removing from the heat.
Arrange the onions in the base of an unbaked vol-au-vent case, which has been cut big enough to incorporate the mushroom (I used a saucer for a cutter).
Place the mushrooms on top of the onions, with the underside facing upwards.
In a small bowl, rub the pesto into the breadcrumbs and divide among the mushrooms, pressing it into the underside cavity.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry has risen around the mushrooms and turned golden brown and the mushroom is softened and juicy. Serve immediately.

For the Raspberry and Lime Filling
300ml double cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lime
150g raspberries
Redcurrant or raspberry jam for glazing

Place the cream into a bowl. Finely grate the rind off the lime and add it to the bowl of cream along with the juice. Add the sugar and whip until soft peaks form. (This should be very quick as the limes acidity speeds up the process).
Spoon the cream into the cooled vol-au-vent cases and top with the raspberries.
Heat a little jam until runny and lightly brush over the top of the raspberries to glaze them.
Serves 6-8 dependant on size

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Cake Slice Septembers 09: Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake

This months Cake Slice cake is quite poignant as it marks the end of an era – the end of our year of baking from Sky High Irresistible Layer Cakes. Yes! I can hardly believe it but it has in fact been a whole year since the groups creation and we have baked and eaten our way through 12 delicious cakes from this book, meaning next month we will be baking from a brand new cookbook. We choose our cakes each month by voting, so as you can imagine all eyes were glued to the poll to see which cake would be selected as our last cake. This month there was one clear winner, a chocolate cake. It seems few people can resist the lure of a good chocolate cake and September’s cake choice was not only a chocolate cake, but a Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake that contains the surprise ingredient of mayonnaise!! Yes mayonnaise! It is used in place of butter or oil in the cake and results in a very moist and tender crumb.

The cake not only consists of three layers but also contains three hits of chocolate. One, is the gooey chocolate cake itself, two, is a generous layer of fudgy sour cream chocolate icing and three, is a creamy white chocolate mousse filling that is revealed on slicing, a great contrast to the dark cake and icing.

Wow this cake was amazing. As sponge contains mayonnaise and a fair quantity of strong coffee it makes the cake incredibly moist, with an intense chocolate flavour. I think the coffee helped enhance the rich smoky chocolate flavour and cake the cake its deep rich colour without obviously tasting of coffee. My siblings hate coffee and yet happily devoured the cake without detecting the coffee. The thick layer of icing was lovely and fudgy, while the creamy white chocolate mousse filling was wonderfully light and fluffy in contrast. This cake is definitely one for the chocoholics and one I am sure I’ll be making again.

This was the perfect indulgent cake for our last cake baked from the Sky High Irresistible Layer Cakes book. You’ll have to wait until next month to see the first cake we bake from our newly selected cookbook! If you are a fellow cake baking fanatic and would like to become a member of our group for the upcoming year please email me at: (appleandspice [AT] and put ‘Cake Slice Member’ in the subject box. Places are limited so first come first served.

In the meantime don’t forget to check out the blogroll to see everyone else’s cakes.

Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake
(Recipe from Sky High Irresistible Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne)
Dark Chocolate Fudge Cake
270g plain flour
65g unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 ¼ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
65g unsweetened chocolate, chopped
225ml milk
280ml hot, strongly brewed coffee
2 eggs
225g mayonnaise
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
500g sugar (I only used 300g and it was perfectly sweet)

White chocolate mousse (below)
Sour cream chocolate icing (below)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 9 inch round cake pans. Line the base of each pan with parchment.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring the milk to a simmer. Pour the hot coffee and milk over the chocolate. Let stand for a minute, then whisk until smooth and leave to cool slightly.
In a mixer bowl, beat together the eggs, mayonnaise and vanilla until well blended. Gradually beat in the sugar. Add the dry ingredients and mocha liquid alternately in 2 or 3 additions, beating until smooth and well blended. Divide the batter among the 3 prepared pans. (It’s a runny mix and I found using a ladle helped divide it equally between the pans).
Bake for 25 to 28 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out almost clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans for 10-15 minutes before un-molding onto a wire rack and carefully peeling off the paper. Leave to cool completely.

White Chocolate Mousse
115g white chocolate, chopped
225ml heavy cream
1 egg white
1 tbsp sugar

Melt the white chocolate with 60ml cream in a double boiler. Whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and let the white chocolate cream cool to room temperature.
When it has cooled, beat the remaining 165ml cream until stiff peaks form. In a clean bowl whip the egg white with the sugar until fairly stiff peaks form.
Fold the beaten egg white into the white chocolate cream. Then fold in the whipped cream until blended. Be sure not to over mix.

Sour Cream Chocolate Icing
340g dark chocolate, chopped
100g unsalted butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
60ml whole milk room temperature
110ml sour cream, at room temperature

Melt the chocolate with the butter and golden syrup in a double boiler over barley simmering water. Remove from the heat and whisk until smooth.
Whisk in the milk and sour cream. Leave to cool until it becomes the thickness of mayonnaise, but be sure to use while still soft.

To Assemble
Place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Cover the top evenly with half the white chocolate mousse, leaving a 1cm margin around the edge. Repeat with the second layer and the remaining mousse. Set the third layer on top and spread half the sour cream chocolate icing over the cake, allowing some to run down the sides. Use the remaining icing to cover the cake, smoothing it down the sides.
Decorate with a few white chocolate buttons or as desired. Refrigerate if not eaten within two hours.
Makes an 9inch triple layer cake

Monday, 14 September 2009

Melting Middle Chocolate Fondants

These puddings are the ultimate chocoholics chocolate pudding indulgence. A just baked, moist dark chocolate sponge that releases a hot, oozing, intense chocolate sauce centre when cut. A cloud of hot melted chocolate aroma hangs in the air, faintly mingled with the scent of toasted hazelnuts thanks to the addition of some hazelnut liqueur. It’s enough to make anyone swoon.

These are very indulgent puddings and would be perfect for an elegant dinner party or a special occasion. The gooey middle receiving cries of delight as it is released. In my case, there were some leftover egg yolks sitting in the fridge – good enough reason for me!
I have tried making these puddings before and have had trouble releasing them from their moulds without them collapsing or piercing the side of the sponge and so loosing some of the gooey centre. However, I think I have solved the problem by coating the inside of each mould with a little cocoa powder, which seemed to help release the fondants from the moulds very easily. I was so happy I went dancing round the kitchen. They don’t contain much flour, and although I haven’t tried it, I suspect this could easily be replaced with ground almonds to make the puddings gluten free.

Melting Middle Chocolate Fondants
(Recipe adapted from Delia Smith)
200g dark chocolate 70% cocoa
200g butter
4 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
110g caster sugar
60g plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
20g extra butter and 4 tsp cocoa powder for dusting

Break the chocolate into small pieces and cut the butter into cubes. Place them in a glass bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water and leave to melt gradually. Do not let the water touch the base of the bowl. Once fully melted remove from the heat, stir in the Frangelico and set aside to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, melt the extra butter and use to generously grease the insides of 8 mini pudding/dariole moulds. Add ½ teaspoon of cocoa powder into each buttered mould and use your finger to spread it around the inside (it will form a thin paste). This will help it release cleanly from the mould once baked.
In a clean bowl, whisk the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla together until the mixture has turned pale, thick and tripled in volume. It should leave a ribbon trail on the surface for a few seconds when the beaters are lifted out of the mix. This may take 5-8 minutes.
Pour the melted chocolate mixture around the outside edge of the whisked egg mixture. Use a large flexible spatula or metal spoon to gently fold the chocolate into the egg mix. Turn the bowl as you fold to try and keep as much air in the mix as possible.
Sift the flour over the surface of the mix and fold in as before until no flour streaks remain.
Divide the mix evenly between the pudding moulds, filling almost to the very top.
Place the puddings on a baking tray, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but preferably 4 or more hours until required.
When ready to eat, preheat the oven to 200C or 180C fan. Place the pudding in the oven for 12 minutes only. They should rise a little out of their moulds a bit like mini soufflés and the tops should look flat and cooked.
Remove the puddings from the oven and leave to stand for 1 minute. Then use a small round bladed knife to release the puddings from the top edge of the mould, but there should be no need to run the knife all the way down inside.
Wear rubber gloves to give you a good drip and turn out the puddings onto a plate.
Serve and eat immediately. Take a spoonful and watch the delicious melting chocolate centre ooze out. Serve with cream if desired.
Makes/serves 8

Note: The puddings can also be frozen in their un-baked stage. When required, they should be baked for 14 minutes from frozen.

On another note, today is the start of National Cupcake Week here in the UK. Run from 14th – 19th September, National Cupcake Week is a fantastic week long extravaganza being organised by British Baker to celebrate the joys of cupcakes. Local shops and bakeries have been encouraged to participate in some way and everyone is encouraged to eat, buy or bake at least one cupcake this week. Sounds like a good idea to me!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Crab Apple Jelly

Last weekend my grandmother gave me a bag practically overflowing with crab apples that she grew in her garden. They are such unique little apples, waxy rose blush skins and the shape of an oversized rosehip. You can’t eat them raw, they must be cooked to taste nice. Whenever anyone mentions crab apples and first thing that springs to mind is crab apple jelly.

I had never made my own crab apple jelly before, but it was actually quite straightforward, if not a little time consuming. Well, not time consuming as in there is lots to do, but there are long periods of time where you have to leave the apples to their own devises. I loved watching the crab apple jelly develop through its different stages, it was quite amazing. You start with a dull brown mushy sludge of pith, skin and cores, not the most appetizing, but when this mixture is put into a jelly bag and the juices allowed to drip through, they come out a pretty pearly red colour and are beautifully crystal clear. It is truly amazing.

As the apples boil up, they release the most fantastic apple aroma, accompanied by another sweet fragrant smell that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, similar to elderflower. The resulting jelly shared this same intense apple, sweet fragranced flavour and aroma. Delicious with both sweet and savoury foods.

Crab Apple Jelly
3.5kg crab apples (skin and core still on)
4 pints water
450g granulated sugar per pint of juice
10-12 jam jars

Wash the apples and cut them in half. Put the apples in a large saucepan along with the water (just enough to cover). Bring the water to the boil then reduce to a simmer.
Loosely cover with the lid and leave to simmer for 1hour 30 minutes. The apples should completely break down and turn to mush.
Remove from the heat and spoon the mixture into a jelly bag suspended over a large bowl or saucepan. (You can use a piece of muslin tied to an upturned chair if you don’t have a jelly bag).
Leave for an hour to allow all the clear juices from the apple mush to drip down. After an hour give it a gently squeeze to get any excess juice, but do not press to hard as you want the juice to remain clear and pulp free.
Wash and dry the jam jars. Place in a cold oven, with the lids alongside and turn the oven on to 120C. Allow to come to temperature and heat for at least 15 minutes or until the jam is ready to be bottled.
Meanwhile, use a jug to measure how many pints of juice you have collected and place it into a large saucepan. Add 450g sugar for every pint of juice you have.
Heat the liquid and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then bring to the boil and allow to bubble for 15-20 minutes.
Test for setting by placing a small spoonful of the jam onto a saucer and placing in the fridge for 3 minutes. Once cool, run your finger through the jam and if it ripples and leaves a clear path, then it is ready. If not, then allow to boil for a further 5 minutes before testing again.Once ready, remove the jam from the heat and the jars from the oven. Carefully ladle the hot jam into the hot jars and screw on the lids tightly. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the heat and to give you a good grip.Allow to cool at room temperature before storing in a cool dark place until required. The seal button in the lids will suddenly pop back down as the jam cools, as a sterile vacuum is created within the jar. They will give a loud ‘pop’ when this happens, so don’t be alarmed.Once open, store in the fridge.
Makes 10 – 12 jars

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Courgette Ricotta & Pine Nut Tart

I have a courgette plant growing in my garden and throughout the summer it has been producing a small bounty of courgettes. Courgettes on their own can sometimes be bland, but when treated correctly and paired with other ingredients their juicy clean flavour gets to shine. In this instance they have been baked into a delicious puff pastry free form tart. Paired with ricotta, a little lemon, basil and a scattering of pine nuts it makes the perfect lunch time or light supper meal.

Lightly frying the courgette slices before assembling them into the tart is the secret to giving the courgettes some extra colour and flavour. All the ingredients complemented each other well. I might try adding a layer of pesto to the base next time, to enhance the pine nut and basil flavours further. The crisp flaky layers of the puff pastry (shop bought I’m afraid) provided the perfect base to the soft, soufflé like filling. Simple, fresh and elegant.

Courgette Ricotta & Pine Nut Tart
(Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food)
250g puff pastry
1 tbsp olive oil
2 courgettes
250g ricotta cheese
2 eggs
Small handful fresh basil
25g grated parmesan
1 clove garlic
Zest of ½ lemon
2 tbsp pine nuts
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Slice the courgettes into rounds, about 4mm thick. Heat the olive oil in a small pan and fry the courgette slices on both slices, until they begin to soften and take on a little brown colour. Once cooked, set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Beat together the ricotta, half the parmesan and the eggs until well combined. Crush the garlic and roughly chop the basil. Add to the cheese mixture along with some freshly grated nutmeg, the lemon zest and some salt and pepper.
Roll out the pastry to form a rectangle, about 30cm x 20cm. Transfer it to a large baking tray.
Spread the cheese mixture over the top of the rolled pastry, leaving a 3cm border around the edge. (The cheese mix will be quite soft, but don’t worry).
Gently press the pastry border up and slightly over the edge of the cheese mixture to create a rim.
Lay the courgette slices over the top of the tart and scatter over the remaining parmesan cheese and the pine nuts.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until the pastry edge is puffed and golden and the filling firm.
Leave to cool slightly before serving. Also tastes great cold, cut into finger sized wedges.
Serves 6-8