Monday, September 28, 2009

Daring Baker's Challenge ~ Vols-au-Vents!

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.

So puff pastry is one of those things that is so much easier to just buy in the store!!! Having said that....homemade puff pastry was WAYYYYYY easier than I thought it would be! Could be that I have recently watched two videos of Julia Child making puff pastry with two different chefs and they made it look like a piece of cake. Even more than that, they made it look FUN! And it was fun. The best part was beating the butter! I have a new kitchen toy that made it easy. My sister was sneaky when she was out visiting last month and bought me one after I commented it was on my wish list. Here I am rolling out one of my "turns" with the sweet silicone french rolling pin she gave me.

And an "action" shot (a great euphemism for blurry).

The dough was surprisingly easy to work with. I wish I had more shots of the process, but I was too floury to pick up the camera most of the day. I was thrilled with how my little vols-au-vent turned out. I'm sure there could have been more layers, but I DID get a few!!! (Kind of reminds me of Hungry Jacks) This one I stuffed with a Pear, Raisin & Walnut filling and drizzled with a little caramel sauce. Sooo good! These were the large ones, about 4 inches I guess.

The smaller ones (2.5 inches) were simply filled with chocolate whipped cream.

I really have never gone wrong with a recipe originating from Dorie Greenspan. Even if they aren't her recipes she certainly does know how to build a collection. She's a baking genius in my opinion. If you've ever had the inkling that you might want to do your own puffed pastry I suggest giving this recipe a try. You don't have to make the can do whatever you want with it. I made enough to have two more batches to put in the freezer. So here's the recipe. Be Daring..........

Vols-au-Vent with Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

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. 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).

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.

Please check out my Pay It Forward contest HERE and leave a comment if you want to join in! You have until 9pm PST on Monday, October 5th, 2009.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pay It Forward (A Contest!) and Mosaic Monday

A little while ago I entered a contest and won a very special Pay It Forward Award at Kate's great blog, A Spoonful of Thyme. I received a wonderful box from her yesterday and want to share the wonderful things she sent. Stick with me til the have a chance to win to!

3 of the items are great local products from her area of Bakersfield, CA. The hamburger sauce is from an old drive in restaurant now close..but the sauce lives on. The jelly WILL be tried the fact it has pepper flakes in it. The candy is from a local confectioner called Dewars.

and OMG I think I have a new favorite candy. The one I liked best (although they were all excellent) has a creamy taffy outside and a peanutty inside. Awesome!

I love the fact that the fourth gift was purchased from an internet Etsy shop. I think it's great to support the online community! Can you believe how cute this Fizzy Cupcake is? The top is soap, the bottom is a fizzy bomb. I am one of those people that likes to use my gifts the fizzy bottom is history....I took a nice long bath this afternoon.

Here's the pretty label.

Thank you so much Kate for all of the gifts you sent. I know you put thought into each one and they are all greatly appreciated. I love your blog and am thankful you are a frequenter visitor to mine as well. Amazing how small the world really is..we are all just a link away :-).

It looks like this Pay it Forward thing has been going on for a while..I tried to trace it back through the blogs and it seemed endless..which is a good thing! It's a way to pay other bloggers back for all of the great recipes, inspiration, photos, crafts, tablescapes, interior design tips, etc that are shared here online. So in return for all the good I've received from the blogging community, including this wonderful box from Kate, I am going to pay it forward within in the next 365 days to two randomly selected people that make a comment on this post. There is ONE catch though. The catch is that the person who is selected must have a blog and must be willing to do the same thing!!! What you Pay Forward is up to you. To enter this contest please leave a comment on this post by 9pm Pacific Time on Monday, October 5th, 2009.

Here's my little Pay it Forward Mosaic. Go check out all of the other great Mosaic Monday contributions at Little Red House. And how about a bonus one because all of this Pay it Forward talk has me feeling generous hehe. Some floral fall color from my yard.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Flashback and Foodie Friday ~5 Wonderful Years

5 years ago today I married a wonderful man and our time together has flown we must be having fun! It's great to flashback to this perfectly happy and bubbly day

We celebrated tonight by going out to eat at The Melting Pot

They treated us well! They gave us a little bit of bubbly....

So we could toast our 5 years together

And they treated us with some delectable dipped strawberries and a candle to blow out

Never mind we had stuffed ourselves on the Cheddar Cheese Beer Fondue..followed by a big salad.

We spent the evening wrapped in a mysterious mist....or that could have been the blackberry margarita making my eyes fuzzy!

I have to say the meal was really relaxing for me. I am a little short..with short was the perfect excuse to have Randy do most of the cooking! He looks overjoyed doesn't he! :-) Here he is dipping some meat in our Mojo flavored simmering liquid.

If all the above goodies weren't enough our Sunset Special dinner came with our choice of dessert fondues. Randy let me pick..sweets are my thing not I went for the Turtle Fondue..luscious chocolate and caramel sprinkled with pecans.

And some awesome dippers - I loved the chocolate dusted marshmallows and Randy was pretty enamored with the bananas. He said it was like a banana split. It was an amazing end to the meal.

I had a blast snapping pics during dinner. My sweetie surprised me this morning with a new Canon Powershot to carry in my purse! The seating is so private you would never know anyone else was eating in the restaurant so I didn't feel bad photographing my food. And I didn't embarrass my date! Randy, here's to 5 fun years and many more to come with you my wonderful husband! Love You!

If any of you have a flashback you'd like to share please add your link below.

This is my contribution to Foodie Friday as well. Please go check out all of the great participating blogs at Designs by Gollum.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mosaic Monday ~Mountain Wild Flowers

On a recent trip to Paradise at Mt. Rainier National Park the wildflowers were blooming! There's a relatively short window so it was great to be there when they were going strong.

The evergreen backdrop really plays up the color of the blooms

Hard to capture, but there were all sorts of flowers growing along the running water

I really wanted to get a closer look but the thought of me tumbling into the icy water held me back!

Pearly everlasting, Indian paint brush and a type of spirea are among those in this floriferous mass

I just love this spot with the little pond in the background

And another angle of the pond

And another...I could have snapped all day!

Here is a close up of some wild asters

Asters and Lupine

Close up of the Lupine

Wild carrot I believe..but I could be wrong!

Paradise Lodge in the distance

I believe Mountain Bog Gentian

Aster close up

I'm not sure what the red berries are ...but I loved this red, white and blue trio

This is my contribution to the awesome weekly event, Mosaic Monday, over at Little Red House. Go check out all of the other beautiful mosaics.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Flashback Friday ~ Won't Someone Please Buy the Ann Starrett Mansion?

Today's flashback is to another time..the turn of the century and another place...the cute Victorian Seaport of Port Townsend. On our recent roadtrip we had the pleasure of visiting this area and it's where we disembarked on our Whale Watching tour. It was my job to pick a place to stay and what a job..there seemed to be an endless supply of Victorian B&Bs and hotels to choose from. One least from my perspective was a pet friendly place due to Jigs traveling with us. This narrowed the list, but there were still quite a few to chose from. I settled on a colorful, whimsical looking place, The Ann Starrett Mansion. It was at one time called the Queen of Queen Anns.

It had been featured in the past in several magazines and seemed to be an important historical landmark in the little town. The rooms were surprisingly reasonable..they had a stay one night, get one night free sale going on. After booking, I ran across a few reviews of the place that had me a tiny bit worried..mostly related to the place needing some "work". I just chalked it up to the fact that more people comment on the negative things than positive things and didn't worry much about it.

We arrived a bit late, but I had called ahead to let the night innkeeper know. He was waiting on our arrival to check us in. The mansion was just as it had appeared in photos..a dark salmon pink color and lots of character. The interior was ornately decorated..albeit a little bare and without the homeyness and personal touches of other B&Bs I've been in. The innkeeper (not the owner) gave us a run down of the "rules"...with not that much emphasis on hospitality..and showed us to our rooms. I already knew that we weren't staying in one of the upper rooms due to the fact we had the dog with us. We were staying in the carriage house, elegant doublespeak for basement and old Garage.

It had actually been redone, I believe, for living quarters for the owners probably in the 80s..well done at the time, but NOT redone since then! Again there was the lack of personal touches in the rooms and a general lack of decor. The bathrooms were dated to the 80s and no real attempt to vintage them up. Fixtures looked like they bought them at Wal-Mart. Here is Jigs making himself at home on the bed we slept in..which was comfortable. (Note the palm tree sheets and the light knob) It would take so little to decorate and upgrade these rooms!

My parents room was a little more "done up".

But then I'm a sucker for an iron bed.

Both ours and their rooms had doors that opened to the outside which was handy, especially with dog walking. My parents had a little courtyard, which could have been a little more had potential for sure!

Our entrance was a little obscured by overgrown bushes and could have used a sweeping...but handy none-the-less.

I'm still not sure if I like or don't like the faux stained glass in our bedrooms, but it did brighten it up a bit.

Now I don't want to sound like I didn't like the place..I DID. It is a beautiful old home and has such possibilities. I hope to emphasize the fact that the place needs someone to LOVE it. The owners are selling and would seemingly have lost interest in pampering this old gem of a home.

The current substitute innkeeper while polite was not so enthusiastic and really didn't do anything to play up the greatness of the place. Although I requested a tour and there were vacant rooms, he basically wouldn't commit to doing it, so I looked around on my own....although I didn't peek in any bedrooms! The Ann Starrett mansion deserves so much more!!! It deserves someone to primp and prop warm it up. To speak kindly of it. So this is my plea to any of you out there that might be able...won't someone PLEASE buy the Ann Starrett mansion and give it some tender loving care??? I promise to come visit if you do!!!

The home was originally built by a doting husband, George

for his wife, Ann.

Her images are seen throughout, especially here in the dome.

This dome is above a marvel of a staircase.

It was at one time requested to be disassembled and sent to the Smithsonian because of its novelty and mysterious would appear to be unsupported.

What holds it up?

The interior paint was redone when the current owners bought the place and there are some beautiful touches.

The ceilings are especially detailed

Look at this sweet floral motif

And I really loved this

There were interesting little medallions throughout

Some of which accent the fact that painting may need to be done soon...

REAL stained glass IS a feature of the upstairs area, like this panel above the entrance to the hallway towards the bedrooms.

And this in the salon downstairs

The lace curtains are a nice touch

This is the dining room..beautiful, but not really inviting. It's been a while since a meal was served there. The place used to advertise themselves as a bed and breakfast, but no longer. I guess the current innkeeper isn't at home in the kitchen. Even bakery bought pastries in the morning would have been a nice touch.

The neighborhood is like many older ones..some nice houses...some showing their age. But still a very quiet one with a neat little house next door. Check out this cool side door.

The neighbors also have a nice plum tree to sneak a few fruit from.

The mansion itself also had a fruit tree or too..apricots I believe. And what the innkeeper lacks in the kitchen he must make up in container gardening.

Plenty of try to get you to ignore the lawn that wasn't watered this summer!

Notice the netting...

Believe it or not..right there in the little town they have deer that roam the street munching garden goodies!

This place is really a treasure..and on the National Register of Historic places. If I could..I would buy the place and give it the tender loving it needs.

Isn't there one of you out there that would love to return it to it's original glory?

It's been reduced to much less than the original asking price. You know you're curious. Go check it out on the realtor's site HERE . OH did I mention is has a great view of the ocean from the upper rooms?

If the place was mine I would definitely turn it back into a bed and BREAKFAST! It would be a great excuse to try a new recipe like this one I've been wanting to try.

Strawberries and Cream Stuffed French Toast

(inspired by Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book, as well as a dear friend of mine)

  • 6 (approximately 2″ wide) slices artisan-style Italian, French, or any other dense white bread
  • 4 ounces cream cheese (softened)
  • 4 ounces Mascarpone cheese
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar (plus more for garnish)
  • 6-8 fresh plump, large strawberries (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 level tablespoon white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter


Laying each (2″ wide) slice of bread on its edge lengthwise, create a *pocket* by slicing through the middle of each piece but stopping as you near the opposite crust, so as to create a single, hinged piece (much like a clam shell). DO NOT SCOOP OUT ANY OF THE BREAD. Do this for all 6 slices until you have created 6 pieces, each with a hinged *pocket*. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix cream cheese, Mascarpone cheese, and powdered sugar until well blended. Set aside.

Slice 6-8 ripe, large strawberries to desired thickness.

Opening the *pocket* of each piece of bread, begin scooping and smoothing the cream cheese, Mascarpone, and powdered sugar mixture into each, creating a thick layer of cream in all. Following the same procedure, lay 1 row of sliced strawberries atop each layer of cream, slightly overlapping the berries as you go. When you are finished, each *pocket* of bread should contain a single layer of cream and a single layer of strawberries. Set aside.

In a medium-sized oval or rectangular dish, mix buttermilk, eggs, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and lemon zest with a whisk until blended. Melt (and spread) 2 tablespoons of butter in a 12″ skillet over medium heat.

Dip (don’t soak) each stuffed piece of bread into the buttermilk and egg batter using tongs, taking care to cover both sides and the edges. Drain slightly before setting each piece into the moderate skillet containing melted butter.

Frying no more than 3 pieces at a time, flip each piece over after the bottom reaches a light, golden brown. Continue frying until second side turns a light, golden brown as well. Keep cooked pieces of French toast warm in a 250 degree F oven while you continue cooking the remaining pieces of stuffed French toast.

When all the pieces of stuffed French toast have been cooked, place each on individual serving plates and dust lightly with powdered sugar. Garnish plates with additional whole strawberries, or slice and fan additional strawberries to garnish.

Serve warm. Enjoy!

I'd like to use this as my contribution to Foodie Friday over at Designs by Gollum and also for Pink Saturday at How Sweet the Sound since I think a large dark salmon pink place might qualify!

Anyone else that might like to share a Flashback of any kind please add your link here.
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