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The first of each month has been pretty much the same for me for the past year and a half….I grab my morning coffee and head straight to the Daring Kitchen to see what is in store.  This month we were given…

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.DSC_0512

As is often the case, we were given some freedom to play.  The puff pastry obviously is the star of this show, and Steph did a great job of explaining it here.  So I will not go into a lot of detail regarding it, other than to say it is really not a difficult endeavor!!  It is true that I more often than not buy puff already made but I do make it as well and always am I pleased when I do so.

What then, you wonder, am I going to tell you about then….

The supporting cast, of course.

Vols au vent are a puff pastry shell which are filled….and filled with a multitude of options.  My intial thought was to make a pumpkin praline mousse to fill small leaf shaped shells and then finish that off with a cinnamon caramel drizzle…..didn’t happen!!!

The weekend I decided to go for it and tackle the DB challenge happened to be a beautiful mid september weekend.  Crisp and cool yet sunny and bright…I could “smell” the leaves turning color….a wonderful weekend to get in the kitchen and play.  Truth be told, I had quite a few kitchen “projects” planned.  I needed to make a supply of my “world famous” pasta sauce and I wanted to dive into something that I have been afraid of for some time, you can read about that here, and of course puff pastry.

Saturday was a day of getting things in place…my sauce is an all day affair and I also had tons of prep for the DB challenge and my other project.  Sunday arrived, my sauce was “put up”, my fears had been put to rest and my puff pastry had been “turned”, now it was dinner time!!

As I said earlier, initially I was going to go for more of a dessert for the challenge but again dinner was calling, what to do?  The weather was still holding, the air crisp and I kept thinking how much I Love this time of the year…the warm spices, the tart green apples, the little bit of a chill that calls for something comforting, and then I favorite little cafe on the southside came to mind.  The 1889 Cafe does a great stuffed breast of chicken that I thought, if broken down, could be morphed into a great savory, comforting filling for fresh from the oven puff pastry shells.

The inspiration is a chicken breast stuffed with sausage, apples and raisins with a white wine reduction as a topper…easy to break down!!!!  Now my cooking style is not one to follow a recipe, I am a pinch of this, dusting of that kind of cook…..so please bear with these “instructions” ( although I promise if you give it a go, you will make it one of your favorites).DSC_0507DSC_0508DSC_0509

Start with 1/2 lb breakfast sausage, brown and remove to paper towels to drain.  Cube 3 boneless skinless chicken breast and brown add 1/2 of a medium onion diced and continue till chicken is cooked through and onions are translucent, remove and set aside.  Chop 3 granny smith apples into bite size pieces and caramellize in pan, have patience with this step…let the apples get a nice color on them.  While all of this has been going on I plumped about 1/4 cup raisins in a spiced Riesling, when the apples  have caramellized nicely, remove them and deglaze the pan with the excess wine from the raisins. scraping all the “bits” from the pan.  I then added 1 1/2 cups chicken stock  and brought it to a boil, I then added the chicken, onions and sausage and lowered the flame to a simmer.  Let this reduce by half, then add the raisin, apples, a touch of salt, pepper, sage, cinnamon and 1/4 cup heavy cream bring to temp.  Remove from flame and then “swirl” in 4oz butter, ladle this into fresh out of the oven pastry shells!!!  Enjoy!!!

I served this with a crisp greens salad topped with butternut squash croutons and a lite drizzle of cider vinegar.  Warm, comforting and well worth the “turns”, alas Autumn has arrived!

For the Love of Autumn

For the Love of Autumn


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So the Daring Bakers put an end to May and the Opera cake, and as always there were a few days of anticipation for the upcoming challenge. What can it be? What will June hold? For those not in the know, the suspense between one month’s reveal and the next month’s challenge post is truly “Hitchcockian”. Finally, “the drumroll please”….

Courtesy of Kelly and Ben, Danish a ‘la laminated yeast dough…immediately my response was “Oh SHIT!!!!”. Ya see, I am an Italian with a mutant bread gene, unlike my fore “fathers and mothers” yeast does not flourish in my presence!!! Ciabatta, foccaccia and plain ole white bread are not items that roll out of my kitchen in abundance. Hell, I have been known to screw up those frozen, thaw, raise and bake bread doughs!!!! So kids…..I was SKEERED!!!

I read and reread…”what am I gonna do?”. Some more reading…..”laminating I can do, I’ve done puff in the past, this is the same”, all but the damn yeast, that is!!! Reread a final time…what are my options?

  • Hit the lottery and hire a personal chef to do the deed!
  • Claim employ by the CIA and that there is a covert mission I am involved in and that I must bow out of this month’s challenge.
  • Bite the freakin’ bullet and tame the yeastie beastie!

I am still po’ and I am sure as hell not Maxwell Smart, so I guess it’s biting the bullet. So on with the show and what a three ring circus it was!!!

There was not much to think about with this challenge (aside from how to not kill yeast), fillings came quickly and I decided on no added creativity, make a braid and get it to rise!! End of story, NOT!!

So in my travels through DBerdom, I have met some really interesting, talented and downright funny folks. As luck would have it, a group of them were having a sunday morning chat/bakefest and they invited me along. Yeehaw, maybe I can get some yeast pointers. Well, the evening before I made my dough and did my turns, I figured I would have just the proofing and baking stages to deal with during our chat session and I could get some good tutoring. That morn, I awoke earlier than expected, so I took one step more off my list and rolled, cut, filled and braided my dough, all that much more time to absorb the wealth of knowledge coming my way.

9 am est, finally chat/bakefest time!!!!! The conference began and the greetings flew, a joke or two and then….here comes the knowledge!!!! Well, I learned alot that morn…especially that a party hat emoticon on Skype is actually very pornographic!! Now really, it wasn’t all bad and bawdy, just 95% of it was!!!

The remaining 5% of the time, however, I learned a couple very important things…

PATIENCE!!

BREAD MACHINE YEAST!!!

While I learned these 2 very important things and while the bawdiness was ensuing, my neatly braided dough SAT there!! More chat and more bawdiness and still my dough just SAT!! I was losing hope!! “No no no, all is well” were the many replies to my chagrin. An hour past the recommended proof time my dough was still sitting, proud as a peacock it SAT!!! Finally, to all I proclaimed, “my braid is rising slower than a 60 year old whose Viagra script ran out last week!”. Oh it was funny, flippin hilarious as a matter of fact! Still Mary, the voice of hope and all that is yeast, encouraged me to have patience and faith, it is as it should be. She actually got me thinking, all was well!!! So in the oven it went, 25 or so minutes later it emerged, neatly braided, slightly darker than I wanted (personally it is my thought that the yolks in the wash added this color, I tend to only use the white and a little water in my eggwash)but all in all it was very visually appealing. A little after noon I ended my session, I had grass to cut and a yard needing tending (BTW, Did I mention that it was 90 degrees and about 300% humidity at 9 am, so imagine the temp at high noon). After the yard was dealt with and I had cooled down, I went to check on my braid, it too had cooled. I drizzled it with a simple powdered sugar glaze and it was pretty, although something kept telling me things were amiss.

I sent out a “Thanks for Having me” email to all the morning chatters and hint of my suspicions that the braid had failed. Again, “no no no, all is well”, “we want pictures” and most of all “patience”. Finally, time to cut, uh huh it did raise a bit…it actually had a great taste but was much more dense than the flaky pastry I was anticipating. An end to the June Challenge, or so I thought….

Now, it is not as if I lost sleep at night over this but I kept thinking laminated dough is to be flaky and tender, I had dense! Tasty but DENSE!!! OK, so perhaps that is this particular dough, seems I wasn’t the only one in the group with similar results. The last straw was an email that went something like this, “am I always the oddball in the group, my danish was flaky”, so off to the kitchen I went. The only differences in batches were the weather on the first attempt (oppressive heat/humidity) and I didn’t add any additional flour to the 2nd batch (the first needed a bit more than called for), all else was the same. So once again I rolled, folded, chilled and so on and so on! And what did I get…….?

Two, beautiful, flaky, tender laminated yeast dough Danish Braids!!!!

So, lessons learned once again…

Bread Machine yeast- It’s pretty damned hard to kill. Although in my first batch of dough I used the active dry called for, even though I didn’t really kill it, I did manage to severely maim it.

Patience- Not only in waiting for a dough to rise but also patience in perhaps having to do it a few times more before one gets it correct.

And one thing I wasn’t told of that day but I certainly learned from it…When one gives guidance and encouragement it most definitely has the power to inspire another to overcome whatever it is that is before them.

Thanks Mary, I haven’t beaten the yeastie beastie but I got the lasso ’round its neck and I plan on reigning it in real soon!!!!

Keeping the Flour Flying!!!


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