729 Layers of Butter: The Daring Bakers make Puff Pastry Vols-au-Vents

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.
I loved this challenge, and I'll likely become a puff-pastry-making fool after this. Don't be surprised if you stop by for some Project Runway and a pizza and I bring you a slice in a giant puff pastry. And don't think you can get out of it by simply coming over for drinks. Mr. Luz's martinis can be served in puff pastry vols-au-vent--what do you think I had for dinner last night?

Maybe it was the fact that I took four sticks of butter and beat them with a rolling pin into an inch-thick, 1 lb. slab of creamy fat. Maybe I just like the term "laminated dough." (Laminated documents are kind of sexy. They're all glossy and crisp.) But I think that I really loved this challenge because I created a dish with 729 layers of butter. That's effing crazy, right?!

Before I get to the challenge recipe, I have a few comments and tips for anyone trying to recreate it. First, I used bleached flour and cheapish butter and the results tasted great but weren't as pretty or puffy as they could have been. Next time, I'm getting fancy, fatty butter and unbleached flour so everything comes out golden and crispy. Also, I made square pastries first, and the dough seemed to like the straight cuts better. There was more definition between the layers, BUT I applied 4 strips of dough to the bottom layer to make the puffed walls of the vols-au-vent, and they came out wonky. Next time I'll cut two squares of the same size, and then cut an inner square out of the center of the top layer so the walls are all one piece.

Also, do a little research on puff pastry so you get the directions stated a few different ways. This Julia Child video on making puff pastry is educational and enjoyable, so grab a glass of wine and start your project with a little Julia.

And just to prove that I did not throw my DB challenge on the floor this go round, here's a pic of it, dough-free.

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough
From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan

Puff pastry is in the "laminated dough” family, along with Danish dough and croissant dough. A laminated dough consists of a large block of butter, the “beurrage," enclosed in dough, called the “détrempe”. This dough/butter packet is called a “paton,” and is rolled and folded repeatedly to create the crisp, flaky, parallel layers you see when baked. Puff pastry dough contains no yeast in the détrempe, and relies solely aeration to achieve its high rise. The turning process creates hundreds of layers of butter and dough, with air trapped between each one. In the hot oven, water in the dough and the melting butter creates steam, which expands in the trapped air pockets, forcing the pastry to rise.

2 1/2 Cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 Cups cake flour
1 Tbsp. salt
1 1/4 Cups ice water
1 lb. very cold unsalted butter
Plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will feel like Play-Doh.

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, and slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.
Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. You should now have a package that is 8" square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. If your room is warm, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it .

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.
Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.
Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Steph’s extra tips:
-Many puff pastry recipes use a teaspoon or two of white vinegar or lemon juice, added to the ice water, in the détrempe dough. This adds acidity, which relaxes the gluten in the dough by breaking down the proteins, making rolling easier.
-If you chill your paton longer than the recommended time between turns, the butter can firm up too much. If this seems to be the case, let it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to give it a chance to soften before proceeding to roll. You want the butter to roll evenly, in a continuous layer.
-Roll the puff pastry gently but firmly, and don’t roll your pin over the edges, which will prevent them from rising properly.
-Try to keep “neat” edges and corners during the rolling and turning process, so the layers are properly aligned.
-Brush off excess flour before turning dough and after rolling.

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent

Well-chilled puff pastry dough
Egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
Your filling of choice

Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (See the layers? MMMMmmmmbutter encased dough layers....)

On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.

For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters (or your sharp knife, for squares) back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)

Using a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms.

Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise).

Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more.

Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.
Fill and serve.



  1. I could just laminate all 729 layers right now. Ideally, using butter laminating sheets. Or bacon, your call.

  2. Nice pics of the dough, and I don't think your dough looks flatter than mine. I know I've said this before on your blog, but I love its name and your philosophy on food.

  3. Gorgeous job! The vols-au-vent looks delicious =D. The dough looks amazing as well!

  4. i am impressed!! beautifully done! well executed!

  5. What did you fill yours with? Fish and bacon? And I thought pounding the butter was also strangely satisfying. LOL