We are continuing our decluttering project and have moved to the garage where we store most of our infrequently used kitchen gear. That was where we found our two croquembouche molds that have subsequently been given to our daughters. That is also where we keep our stove-top smoker (a useful item) and supplies and equipment for making sausage.
I was excited to discover in a large bin of items a set of vol-au-vent cutters. One is shaped like a fish, one is shaped like a flower, and one is shaped like a heart. The cutters are cleverly designed with a central cutter that is just very slightly shorter than the outside cutter so that it does not completely cut through the pastry. It is also designed so that if you want to make pastry shells with only one layer of pastry dough you can do so. But you can also stack layers to make a taller shell. Most cookbooks that have a recipe (not many!) recommend using three layers.
It is said that vol-au-vents were invented by the great French chef, Marie-Antoine Careme. He, by the way, is considered to be the first celebrity chef as well as the inventor of such kitchen essentials as the toque, the tall chef’s hat. His fame came from all of the elaborate dishes and food displays that he prepared for his patrons, including Talleyrand, Napoleon, Czar Alexander I, British King George IV, and one of the famous Rothschild family.
Vol-au-vents are not commonly seen on restaurant menus these days. The name translates to “flying with the wind”, presumably because of the lightness of the puff pastry casing used to contain a delicate sauced meat or poultry. The original dish was, to say the least, complicated. Here is the recipe for Careme’s version, drawn from the book, Cooking for Kings by Ian Kelly and reported on NPR by Melissa Block.
DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!
Les Petits Vol-Au-Vents á la Nesle
Brighton Pavilion and Chateau Rothschild
20 vol-au-vent cases, the diameter of a glass
20 cocks-stones (testes)
10 lambs sweetbreads (thymus and pancreatic glands, washed in water for five hours, until the liquid runs clear)
10 small truffles, pared, chopped, boiled in consommé
20 tiny mushrooms
20 lobster tails
4 fine whole lambs’ brains, boiled and chopped
1 French loaf
2 spoonfuls chicken jelly
2 spoonfuls velouté sauce
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped mushrooms
4 egg yolks
2 chickens, boned
2 calves’ udders
2 pints cream
Crumb a whole French loaf. Add two spoonfuls of poultry jelly, one of velouté, one tablespoon of chopped parsley, two of mushrooms, chopped. Boil and stir as it thickens to a ball. Add two egg yolks. Pound the flesh of two boned chickens through a sieve. Boil two calves’ udders — once cold, pound and pass through a sieve.
Then, mix six ounces of the breadcrumbs panada to ten ounces of the chicken meat, and ten of the calves’ udders and combine and pound for 15 minutes. Add five drams of salt, some nutmeg and the yolks of two more eggs and a spoonful of cold velouté or béchamel. Pound for a further ten minutes. Test by poaching a ball in boiling water — it should form soft, smooth balls.
Make some balls of poultry forcemeat in small coffee spoons, dip them in jelly broth and after draining on a napkin, place them regularly in the vol-au-vent, already half filled with:
a good ragout of cocks-combs and stones (testicles)
lambs’ sweetbreads (thymus and pancreatic glands, washed in water for five hours, until the liquid runs clear)
four fine whole brains
Cover all with an extra thick sauce Allemande.
Here’s a simpler, more modern version which uses substantially fewer ingredients along with store-bought frozen puff pastry. You can fill the pastry shell with anything you like, sweet or savory. Ice cream and berries make a good sweet choice. For savory, I have used a scallop sauce adapted from Julia Child’s recipe for coquilles St. Jacques à la Parisienne, but creamed chicken would be another good choice. Another tip: you don’t really need the specialized cutters. You can just use the rim of a jelly glass or biscuit cutters of two different sizes. Finally, although I thought my end result tasted good, it certainly did not win any awards for appearance. The puff pastry burned around the edges where it was not covered by sauce. The lesson is to watch for burning and remove from the broiler before that happens.
Vol-au-Vent with Scallops and Mushroom Sauce
For the Pastry
- 1 package (2 sheets) packaged puff pastry, thawed according to instructions
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon water
- Place the thawed sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface. Roll it gently to flatten the dough and remove creases.
- Using your vol-au-vent cutter or improvised cookie cutters, cut out your preferred shapes and sizes.
- transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment
- Beat the egg yolk and water together. With a pastry brush, brush the egg mixture onto the pastry shapes, being careful not to let the egg mixture drip onto the parchment as that may prevent even rising.
- Bake according to package instructions. Mine called for 10 minutes in a 400°F oven. I baked them for a few minutes longer to make sure the insides were done.
- Cool in a rack, and remove the “lid”. Hollow out the center with a paring knife and teaspoon to form a little “bowl” for the filling.
For the filling
- 1 cup white wine
- bay leaf
- 2 scallions, including green tops, minced
- 1 pound scallops, rinsed and patted dry
- ½pound Crimini mushrooms, sliced
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter + 1 tablespoon for top
- 4 tablespoons flour
- ¾ cup milk
- 2 egg yolks
- ½ cup cream
- few drops of lemon juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoons Swiss cheese
- In a small saucepan, combine the wine, bay leaf, and scallions. Bring to the simmer. Add the scallops and mushrooms with enough water to cover them. Return to the boil and then simmer until the scallops are cooked through, about 5 minutes.
- Remove the scallops and mushrooms to a plate. Bring the liquid back to the boil and continue to boil until it has been reduced about half to 1 cup.
- In another saucepan over medium heat, stir the flour and butter together and cook for a few minutes to remove the raw taste of the flour.
- Off the heat, stir in the hot liquid from cooking the scallops along with the milk. Return to the heat and boil for 1 minute.
- Blend the egg yolks and cream in a small bowl. Gradually drizzle the sauce mixture into the egg/cream mixture, stirring constantly to prevent the egg yolks from scrambling.
- Return the sauce to the pan and boil for one minute. Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. If the sauce is too thick, add more cream as needed.
- Combine 2/3 of the sauce with the reserved scallops and mushrooms. Spoon into four prepared puff pastry shells. Top with the remaining sauce, sprinkle with grated Swiss cheese, and dot with butter.
- Place the filled shells under a hot broiler just long enough to melt and lightly brown the Swiss cheese. Serve immediately