Bake off I

Vol-au-vents Literally ‘flying with the wind’, vol-au-vents are intended to be the lightest, wispiest of pastry mouthfuls, so here is a recipe to show off your pastry skills. The little cases are filled with dark ganache, hazelnut praline ‘butter’ and Crème Légère, the lightest of all Crème Pâtissière, to create layers of flavour. Beautifully presented, with curls of dark chocolate and flowers, these would make a sensational tiered display.

Kit you’ll need A 3cm and a 5cm plain round cutter; a baking sheet, lined with baking paper; a silicone sheet; two disposable piping bags.

For the puff pastry 300g plain flour ½ teaspoon salt 185ml icy cold water 250g unsalted butter 1 ½ tablespoons cocoa powder

For the praline butter 70g blanched hazelnuts 70g caster sugar 2 teaspoons water

For the ganache 60g dark chocolate (50-60% cocoa solids), finely chopped 2 teaspoons espresso 60ml double cream (not extra-thick or ‘spoonable’)

For the Crème Légère 100ml full-fat milk 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature 1 tablespoon cornflour 20g caster sugar 10g unsalted butter, at room temperature ¼ teaspoon vanilla bean paste 75ml double cream (not extra thick or ‘spoonable’, well chilled

To finish 50g chopped toasted hazelnuts 50g dark chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids) 24 small purple pansies (optional)

  1. To make the puff pastry, put the flour and salt into a bowl of a free-standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix well, then add the cold water and, on low speed, work just until the ingredients come together to make a rough, shaggy dough. If there are dry crumbs add more water a tablespoon at a time. Turn out on to a lightly floured worktop and shape into a rectangle about 1cm thick. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 15 minutes
  2. Meanwhile, put butter between two sheets of clingfilm and pound with a rolling pin until supple but still very cold. Shape into a square with 12cm sides.
  3. Roll out the dough away from you on the lightly floured worktop to a 13x25cm rectangle. Set the butter on the dough so it almost covers the bottom half of the rectangle. Fold over the dough to enclose the butter, then press the edges together to seal. Gently rollout the dough away from you to a 15x30cm rectangle. Mark the centre of a long side, then fold the bottom edge up to this centre point and fold the top down, so the short sides meet. Now fold the dough over in half to complete your first ‘book turn’. Repeat, to give the dough another book turn, after rolling out the pastry for the second ‘book fold’, sift the cocoa over the rectangle before folding. Then cover with clingfilm and chill for 20 minutes. Repeat the process 2 more times so the dough has a total of 6 book turns. Wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
  4. Shape the vol-au-vent cases, then bake at 200°C /400°F /gas 6 in the same way. Leave to cool while you make the fillings. Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/350°F /gas 4.
  5. To make the praline butter, put the hazelnuts in a small baking dish or tin and toast in the oven for 5-7 minutes until just starting to colour. Leave to cool. Line the baking sheet with clean baking paper or the silicone sheet. Put the sugar and water in a small pan, set over low heat and stir gently until the sugar has completely dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil, without stirring, until the syrup turns to a light caramel.
  6. Add the hazelnuts and stir gently with a metal spoon, then cook for a few seconds longer until you have a rich caramel. Pour on to the lined baking sheet and leave to cool. Once completely cold and set, break into chunks, then put into a food processor and ‘pulse’ long enough to make a smooth, creamy ‘butter’. Transfer to a bowl, cover and set aside until needed.
  7. For the ganache, put the chopped chocolate and coffee into a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until it just comes to the boil, then pour it over the chocolate. Leave to melt for a couple of minutes before stirring gently until smooth. Allow to cool and thicken up slightly, then transfer to a piping bag.
  8. Press down the risen base in each pastry case, to make room for the filling. Snip off the tip of the piping bag to make a 5mm opening, then pipe a spiral of ganache into each pastry case. Leave to set at room temperature.

9 Meanwhile, make Crème Légére. Heat the milk in a small pan until almost boiling; remove from the heat. Beat the egg yolk with the cornflour and sugar in a heatproof bowl until smooth and light, then stir in the hot milk. When thoroughly combined, pour the mixture back into the pan and stir over medium/low heat until it boils and thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Transfer to a clean, heatproof bowl and press a piece of clingfilm on the surface to prevent a skin from forming, then leave to cool. Chill for 30 minutes.

  1. Whip the cream until it will stand in soft peaks. Stir the chilled creme until it is very smooth, then fold it into the whipped cream. Transfer to the other piping bag and keep in the fridge if not using immediately.
  2. To assemble the vol-au-vents, spoon a little praline butter on top of the set ganache in each pastry case. Snip off the end of the piping bag to make a 5mm opening and pipe a little crème légére on the praline butter. Sprinkle with a few chopped hazelnuts, then cover with a little more piped crème légere. Decorate one half of each filled vol-au-vent with a sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts.
  3. Make shavings from the dark chocolate (see below) and use to decorate the top of the vol-au-vents. Arrange the pastries on a serving plate and decorate with some purple pansies, if you like. Serve immediately.

TIP: Chocolate curls & shavings. Gently melt 50g dark chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids), then pour it on to a clean marble slab or worktop. Working quickly, before the chocolate sets, use a palette knife to spread the chocolate thinly. Keep working the chocolate with the knife, spreading it back and forth, until you have a rough rectangle about 20 x 30cm and 2-3mm thick. As soon as the chocolate becomes matt and dull, rather than shiny, and starts to set, stop working it. Hold a large, sharp knife (pointing away from you), with the blade at an angle of about 45 degrees, on one side of the chocolate slab and scrape off a very thin sheet, which will curl as you go. For large curls, scrape from one side of the chocolate slab to the other. Take shorter shavings too. Use a palette knife, rather than your fingers, to gently lift the curls or shavings into place.

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Sandra Dezi

Sandra Dezi has a Teaching Degree in English as a Foreign Language, a Bachelor’s Degree in Educational Technology at UTN, a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics in the field of TEFL at the European University of the Atlantic and Universidad Iberoamericana, Spain.