vols-au-vent with custard & raspberries, or “i am not a baker!” (daring bakers)

large vol au vent 2I had a conversation last night that went something like this:

My friend S to me: “Hey, you like to cook, you should join our Cooking Club, we get together every Sunday night and make food and watch Mad Men, it’s really fun!”

S to her friend A, also a member of said club: “Noëlle’s a great cook, she makes all kinds of stuff…”

A to me (apparently trying to suss out whether I was Cooking Club material): “Oh really?  What kind of stuff do you cook?”

Me (with a touch of pride): “Well, I just made puff pastry for the first time…”

Him (interrupts): “Oh, so you’re a baker.”

Me: “No, I mean, I participate in this baking-challenge thingy to try to broaden my skills or whatever, but mostly I cook…”

Him: “No, but you’re a baker.”

Here’s where it got weird, because I then found myself getting strangely defensive, insisting that no, I’m not a baker, I don’t even really like sweets that much, I was probably going to use my remaining puff pastry to make some sort of savory tart, and that 80-90% of the time I spend in the kitchen is spent cooking, not baking.  I really have no idea why it was important to him to stress that I was a “baker” rather than a cook, or why it was important to me to correct that impression, but so it was.

small vol au vent 1

My challenge results this month will back up my point.  I didn’t have too hard a time making the actual puff pastry dough, but shaping it into the vols-au-vent was an exercise in frustration.  I first made a batch that were supposed to be heart-shaped, which I was planning on taking to a bridal shower, but they were all so misshapen that I didn’t even bother.  The photo is of the best-looking ones of the bunch, and even those look pretty funky.  I put a little spoonful of honey into the hollow and topped them with raspberries and walnuts and they were tasty enough, but I wanted to do something more challenge-worthy, so I decided to attempt another batch.  This time I did square(ish) cutouts and made a pastry cream to fill them with.  I still had a terrible time handling the dough- it seems it can’t be at room temperature for more than a minute or two, and then you have to return it to the fridge lest it go all gooey on you.  It took me longer to cut the dough into shapes and assemble them than it did to to bake it and make the filling, because I had to keep stopping and re-chilling the dough.

My finished shells didn’t look like much- they were irregular and had cracks in the bases- but once I got them filled with pastry cream and threw a bunch of raspberries on top, no one was much complaining. I filled the shells about an hour or two before they were eaten, and the pastry held its crunch nicely without getting soggy, so I was pleased with that.  But I’m still not calling myself a baker.

And now a word of thanks for our hostess: 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. (Coincidentally, the recipe I used for the pastry cream was also from Dorie Greenspan, from her book Paris Sweets.)

I do want to thank Steph for throwing down the gauntlet and getting me to make something I’ve always wanted to try but have been too intimidated. Now that I know the dough is doable, perhaps I’ll make it again but just use it for preparations that don’t involve so much handling, such as a tart crust.  For a recipe and instructions on making puff pastry, just click the link to Steph’s blog.

23 responses to “vols-au-vent with custard & raspberries, or “i am not a baker!” (daring bakers)

  1. Lol! Tell your friend to be careful, he might find himself being stalked by a lot of people with rolling pins ready to do some turns on him 😛
    Sorry your vol-au-vents didn’t turn out as planned but they still look great 🙂

  2. I am also not a baker, by any definition. Isn’t it funny how we like to be known as cooks instead? Why do you think that is?

    Anyways, I think the heart-shaped Vol-au-Vents look great!

  3. Despite all your trouble your vol-au-vents turned out great! They look wonderful. Great job!

  4. Odd. I can’t call myself a baker or a cook, but I definitely lean toward being a baker and don’t understand why there would be anything negative about it. You do what you do well and unless you’re making a living doing it, what does it matter? I find that whole exchange to be very silly.

    Regardless, I’m quite jealous of your puff pastry and especially anything that involves custard, and am equally sad that I did not get to partake in yet another lovely creation. Well done!

    I will say that your difficulties (if that’s what you’d call them) with making these does not give me much hope. I still haven’t attempted a pie crust.

    • Well, the exchange did take place around 2 in the morning, so that could easily have contributed to its silliness! I don’t think there’s anything negative about being a baker either; I suppose I just identify more with being called a “cook” because I’m better at it, and I like the fact that it can be more free-form. I’ve made up several recipes involving cooking, but none involving baking, so maybe I also feel that for me, there’s more creative leeway. I don’t feel solid enough as a baker to create anything unique (but who knows, maybe some day).

  5. Très delicieux, Nicole.

    I personally really don’t like baking, but I do it all the time anyway, mostly because I like baked goods. I feel much more comfortable being a “cook” than a “baker” because…I don’t know…cooking makes more sense to me. I understand cooking. Baking is a mysterious sort of alchemy in my world.

    Nonetheless, bravo!

  6. Your vol-auvents looks great! I wouldn’t have known that you had trouble with them if you didnt tell us 😀

  7. That whole interaction seems so odd to me. I know so many cooks who also love to bake, and vice versa.

    Your vol au vents look lovely. I am NOT a baker except of homey goodies. This level of delicacy is beyond me, so there I am. You Daring Bakers put me in awe.

    • Jen- I think we are probably about the same level- my baking, when I do it, tends more towards things like banana bread or a simple layer cake. These were really stretching it for me! That said, the pastry cream was super-easy, I found a pretty foolproof recipe that was much easier than ones I’ve used in the past, so I was happy about that.

  8. Did you ‘cook’ those in an oven? 😉

    They look fantastic! By photo entry alone, you qualify for the Cooking Club!

    To me, the difference between a baker and a cook is the use of measuring spoons/cups. You can cook without, but I dare anyone to bake anything without careful measurements. Sure, you can be both! I would be happy to be called either…
    And come on, it WAS 2am!!

    • I know, I know, let us not be judged by our 2am non-sequiturs! I agree about the measuring being the main distinguishing factor… It is weird though, there is definitely a divide between people who label themselves one way or the other. Perhaps I perceive bakers as being more fussy and precise (by necessity- otherwise stuff wouldn’t turn out), while cooks can have more of a wild abandon (now I’m sitting back just waiting for all the flak from the bakers for that observation!). I have to hand it to the bakers though, I usually just don’t have the patience that kind of precision requires.

  9. Great work with your puff pastry especially considering you don’t think of yourself as a “baker”.

  10. OMG, your hearts look gorgeous! Glad you were able to salvage some..as the rise and layers are phenomenal! Speaking of phenomenal, your mille feuille like stacking of the pastry with custard and raspberries is to die for,simply divine, and your photos are really sharp and beautiful.

    BTW, when reading about your exchange with the cooking club snob, I almost wanted to be you at that moment and tell him where to shove his culinary labels! lol

    • Lisa- it was just a friendly conversation, I don’t think he was trying to be a snob. I hope it didn’t come across that way in my post. I think he was just being funny. (Andrew-what do you think?) 😉

  11. I don’t mind being called a food snob, especially if it means I can try more food!

  12. hey love,

    the photos perfectly depict the texture and flavor!

  13. Your heart pastries look so cute and delicious! Did you end up joining the cooking club? 🙂

  14. Wow, Mad Men cooking parties, that could get fun. My friend recently gave me an envelope full of recipes from her grandmother, from around the 50s and 60s, when everything had jello and canned soup in it. Hehe!

    So you’re not a baker, but you are certainly daring to attempt something like puff pastry!!

  15. I know what you mean, although I do bake a fair amount and I am also a Daring Baker, really I cook much more and I try to bake because I want to be good a several things. No matter what you are, you did a great job making this puff pastry.

  16. Ohhh des vols au vent en forme de COEUR! Tu es trop mignonne!
    Tu as un marbre pour étaler ta pâte? Ca aide bien pour la garder fraîche… En tous cas, félicitations mamzelle N!

  17. Your vol-auvents looks absolutely delicious 🙂 And you are saying you are not a baker? Oh believe me your are a great one!!!

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