Sunday, September 27, 2009

Puff, the magic pastry...

... lived in all our Daring Kitchens this month! (No clue what I'm talking about?) I know my posting has been sparse this last month. I wish that were not the case, but I'm happy to have at least gotten around to my Daring Baker challenge this month. By the time life settled down a bit (after Hawaii and Colorado), the month was half over. I was lucky to have a weekend to myself or this just wouldn't have happened. And even though it was quite warm - it seems I did okay.

For September, the Daring Bakers made: Puff Pastry (pâte feuilletée)!

A simple, rustic Napoleon with vanilla crème

A variation on a dish my mom calls "chicken burgers". Only I replaced her
typical French roll with the vols-au-vent shells.

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.

After making Danish Braids last June, I suddenly knew how rather tricky and particular making laminate dough is. I had it in my head that I would soon make croissants, but so far haven't gotten my act together. Puff pastry is, of course, another laminate dough just like croissants (and danishes) and I've been finding myself reading and pondering over recipes as I flip through my cookbooks, but not gotten that act together either. Well, until my trusty DBs kicked me into action!

* Pound * Roll * Fold * Stretch * Dab * Flour *

Oozy, soft butter - the reason most people are scared of laminate dough

I understand why making laminate dough is scary to people. The moment that POUND of butter starts to get a little warm and soft, it starts to squeeze out of the dough as you roll it, and makes an absolute mess. But if you 1) liberally dab the oozing butter with flour and 2) continually chill the dough for ½ an hour at a time - it works. And it's really not that bad. I did my 6 turns roughly as the recipe said: 2 turns, chill for half an hour, 2 turns, then I think I let it chill for 1 ½ hours before doing that last 2 turns.

Worth its weight in gold...

I baked a little sample vols-au-vent just to be SURE it would "work". It did.

My mom makes a dish she calls "chicken burgers". There's nothing very burger-y about them, yet that's what we've called them over these years. It's a mixture of cooked chicken, mayonnaise, minced onion, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. I know it's sounds awful but OMG it is so much the opposite of awful. You spread it over a half French roll, top it with tomatoes and some cheese and broil it. We ♥♥♥ chicken burgers at my house!

I used my largest round cutter to make the vols-au-vent for the chicken

I decided to make our chicken burgers in vols-au-vent shells while at my parents' house last weekend. And OH MY. They got RAVE reviews. The lightness of the shells was just magnificent! Crispy, flaky, light, buttery. I couldn't even believe how much praise I got from my dad, who is not usually a fan of any changes made to his favorite foods. :)

I measured my success by the presence of flakiness.
Lots of flakes = success!!

But of course we needed some dessert as well. My family also loves napoleons. LOVES napoleons. We used to have a tradition of getting napoleons and coffee at La Patisserie on the bottom floor of the San Francisco Shopping Center every year when we'd go in for Christmas shopping. It was a treat and their napoleons were wonderful. But La Patisserie closed around 6 years ago and we've not yet found a worthy replacement...

Docking pastry squares and covering with parchment

Baking with a sheet on top for the first
5 minutes to keep them from puffing too high

Easy choice - I decided to make napoleons with my beautiful puff pastry dough! I placed a baking sheet on top of the pastry squares for the first 5 minutes in the oven, so that they wouldn't puff up too much. And I added a little gelatin to my custard so that it wouldn't so easily ooze out from between my pastry sheets. Glaze was made with powdered sugar, vanilla and hot water and then a quick drizzle of semi-sweet chocolate and voilà!! Napoleons!

Not so much puff (as I'd wanted) but LOTS of light flakiness

I actually couldn't have handled 3 layers of pastry. I guess
there is such a thing as too much awesomeness!!

Delicious! Absolutely delicious! I was delighted with this challenge. Something I'd actually make again (and perhaps even again!) I'm so excited that I still have 1/3 of the dough left. I'm thinking palmiers... And let's not forget the most important aspect of this challenge... it's brought me yet another step closer to making croissants! Thank you so much Steph, and thank you Daring Bakers!!

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I know... I've been missing for a little while. I wish I could say it's cuz I've been out doing fantastic things and having the time of my life, and I suppose that's about half true. But the other half, well... it's the worst kind of thing to have to go through, and I don't wish it on anyone.

Not quite Hawaii...
(Left Hand Reservoir, Boulder County, CO)

A couple weeks ago I went to Hawaii to visit my best friend, Debbie. It was a fantastic trip and while it was of course, wonderful to be in Hawaii, it was even more wonderful to spend time with my best friend. I'd like to devote a post to my Hawaii trip soon, but before I can do that I feel the need to bring up the dark cloud that appeared over my Hawaii trip and followed me around for the remainder of the trip into the following weekend; and is, well, still hovering around.

Remember this picture? A fave of my parents includes a
couple of their oldest and closest friends.

On the 2nd day of my trip, as Deb was giving me an "island tour" I got a message from my mom with some tragic news; one of my parents' closest and oldest friends had been killed in a hiking accident the day before. Carol. She went out for the afternoon and never came home. She left her beloved husband of ~37 years and many, many, many close friends.

Yellowstone Park in 1988

A great majority of us friends gathered at Nick and Carol's Boulder mountain home last weekend (I was home for 2 days between Hawaii and Colorado) to celebrate Carol's life. We stood up in front of each other to share stories and thoughts and memories. We celebrated the way Carol lived and the way she loved and the way she made everyone feel like they were her best friend. We celebrated her generosity and her talents in the kitchen and those budding on the canvas. We celebrated her enthusiasm and how she lived each day to its fullest - more than your average person does. We celebrated her love of the outdoors and her love for her dogs and more than anything else, her love for Nick. In a way we could be comforted knowing that she lived a vibrant and full life with her soul-mate by her side.

In front of the home where we celebrated Carol, but back in 1991

Carol's current babies (as opposed to those in the
picture above who were of the previous doggie era)

As the cold Boulder rain came down we cozied up together under tents and umbrellas. And I couldn't help but wonder, as thunder accented particularly notable memories, was there a reason the sky opened up only during the hours of Carol's celebration? Was our huddling together part of a grander plan? Perhaps it's nice to think...yes. It was as Carol would have wanted it.

Bed & Breakfast-ing in Carmel, 1997

The most spectacular sunset I've ever seen - setting over the Rocky Mountains

As clichéd as this is, I can say now more than ever how important it is to not live life for the future. Live life for today. For as close as we were when I was young, I hadn't seen Carol (or Nick) in 6 years. Their get-togethers were with my parents and it often wasn't very convenient for me to see them at the same time. I was living the years with this nagging at the back of my head: "gosh, I really haven't seen them in so long... I can't wait to catch up with them... I can't wait for them to come to my wedding someday..." Well it turns out - I really shouldn't have waited.

Oh how she'd have loved to be with us all last weekend;
but really, I suppose she was

This post is for Carol.