Here’s a wonderful way to use puff pastry. Make vol au vent (puff pastry cases) in desired shapes and create your own sweet and/or savory fillings for your supper buffet or dessert table. While making your own puff pastry is a rewarding experience, the good news is you don’t have to! All butter puff pastry (Dufour is a well known brand) is available in the frozen food sections at many local supermarkets, allowing you to take one task off your holiday prep to-do list.
Before you know it, Thanksgiving and Christmas will be upon us, so start planning now.
This version of vol au vent (also referred to as feuilletée) marries sweet and savory tastes and, since I’m still on the trail of baking with cheese projects, I chose Irish Cashel blue cheese from The Cheese Lady as a lovely accompaniment to pears, walnuts and honey.
If you happen to have a stash of different shaped cutters, choose your favorite shapes (I like ovals, squares, hearts and fluted rounds) and use cutters that are two sizes apart. For each puff you’ll cut two shapes with the larger of the two and then cut the center out of one of them with the smaller. Once you do it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Here’s a heart version which should help you visualize the process. Brush a little water along the edge of the solid shape then lay the cut out on top of it. Just press gently to stick them together.
The top layer serves as a border for the puffs. You can save the cut out shapes and bake them along side - they make cute “hats” on your finished creation or you can just eat them plain.
These bake at 400ºF for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Let them cool a bit, push down the center layers that have puffed up to give yourself room for the chosen filling.
NOTE: Another plan-ahead perk is you can bake your puffs a week or so ahead and freeze them. When you’re ready to start your filling project, take them out of the freezer, place them on a parchment lined sheet pan and heat the oven to 325ºF. Pop them into the heated oven for 5-10 minutes to crisp them up then set on a cooling rack while you prepare your fillings.
I’ve created these delights with poached Bosc pears on hand in the fridge, but another approach is to roast pear slices drizzled with honey for the pear portion of the program.
Peel, core and slice the pears, drizzle them with honey and roast them in a 375ºF convection oven for 10-20 minutes. Stir them up a bit half way through. You want them turning golden but still holding their shape. Once the pears have cooled you can store them in a covered container in the fridge for several days.
When you’re ready to fill your puffs, cube the pears to allow them to fit in nicely. Have some toasted walnuts, crumbled up Cashel blue and honey at the ready. First put a bit of crumbled cheese in the bottom. (Note the twisted corner diamond shapes below - they’re great although difficult to explain on paper - maybe some day I’ll have a video to post to show how they’re done!)
Then tuck in the pears (don’t be afraid to mound them up!) and top with a sprinkle of walnuts, more cheese and a drizzle of honey.
Then pop them back into the oven to melt the cheese a bit and warm things up. They can be served warm or at room temp and are delicious as an appetizer or a dessert, particularly if you’re doing a broader cheese board for the end of your meal.
Use your imagination and fill your puffs with anything savory or sweet. Crab or chicken salad, roasted root veggies with caramelized onion, lemon curd and fresh berries, whipped chocolate ganache and candied nuts. The sky’s the limit.
Only you can decide!
Happy baking and here’s to the holidays!! More on that coming your way.