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.
As with some of the previous challenges, I was absolutely convinced this was not going to work. Not on the first try at least. Maybe on the second, most likely on the fifth try, but not on the first. The dough was a bit gummy, the day was hot, and I was covered in butter up to the elbows, watching Michel Richard roll out his pastry with unbelievable grace while I was huffing and puffing over mine. I have always thought that making puff pastry was the Holy Grail of baking. I love using it but never thought I would ever attempt to make it myself. So this challenge was really challenging. Long story short, my puff pastry turned out great, the Vols-au-Vents were fabulous and promptly disappeared at the party later that night, accompanied by "uhs" and "ahs" and marriage proposals.
I used Michel Richard's recipe, though I actually halved it (in case of complete failure I didn't want a pound of butter to go to waste):
2 1/2 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 C cake flour
1 tbsp salt (half for sweet preparations)
1 1/4 C ice water
1 lb very cold unsalted butter
extra flour for dusting work surface
I am an impatient reader when it comes to cooking technique or I get lost halfway through (I also hate reading instruction manuals... don't ask how I put together my IKEA couch) so I loved watching the Julia Child + Michel Richard video instead. In fact I watched it a few times. Not only is it very informative, it is also very entertaining:
Michel: Do you like garlic?
Julia: Oh yes.
Michel: Me too. Of course it's hard to kiss your boyfriend after you've had garlic.
Julia: Unless of course he's had some too.
As a matter of fact I made the Tort Milanese last weekend and it turned out FAN-TASTIC!
If you are more of the instruction reading type of person though, here is a site you might enjoy: Baking911 (but beware of the crazy web design).
For the filling I improvised with what was available in my fridge. Considering I had just come back from a 12-day trip and was to be gone for another 5 day the following week, the choices were pretty slim - a peach, butter, cream cheese. So... how about peach cooked with sugar and cognac... topped with cream cheese frosting? Voilla!
Moral: Puff pastry is not as hard to make as most people think.