Vols-au-vent: Spiced Poached Pears with Hazelnut Sabayon

Vol-au-vent with Hazelnut Sabayon and  Spiced Poached Pears
It was only a matter of time that I’d have to revisit the task of making pate feuilletee again.  My first run-in with the multi-layered French pastry dough was also my first Daring Baker challenge over two years ago.  The result was truly something that might qualify as an organic building material considering the sheer weight of it and lack of any discernible layers.  It was awful.  But when I saw this month’s  challenge, I knew I’d be ready to tackle it again.  After all, it’s been over two years, so my trauma has subsided and I’ve been more preoccupied by what kind of dessert I’d create with the puff pastry we were asked to make.

It’s officially Fall, so pears are plentiful here.  Nuts always make me think of Fall as well, but what kind, and what to fill the pastry with?  Leafing through  The French Laundry Cookbook, I found the perfect recipe and decided that it would be the perfect way to welcome in my favorite season.

The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ Challenge has been chosen by Steph of a whisk and a spoon. Steph chose Vols-au-Vent, which we are pretty sure in French means, “After one bite we could die and go to heaven!”

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan

Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) 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 be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)


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


Meanwhile, 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 (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) 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. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don’t just pull the ends) 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. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, 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 . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

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.



Spiced Poached Pears

2 red pears

1/2 lemon

1 vanilla bean

1-1/4 c. turbinado

2-1/4 c. water

3 T butter

1/2 tsp. ground cardamom

1/8 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp. finely ground fresh pepper

Slice pears in half reserving the stem for decoration.  Decide whether to leave the peelings on or shave them off.  Core the pears to remove seeds then rub with lemon to prevent them from turning brown.  In a wide shallow sauce pan, add the sugar and water, stirring over medium heat to dissolve sugar.  When the liquid begins to boil, add the pear halves.   Poach for about 10 minutes or until just beginning to soften occasionally turning and/or spooning poaching liquid over.  Remove pears from poaching liquid and set aside.



Butter Spice Syrup

Heat the remaining liquid in the pan over low heat until syrupy, about 30 minutes.  Pour all but 1 T into a jar, and discard vanilla bean.  Set pan aside until the time to plate arrives.  At that time, over medium heat, add 2 T butter, stirring to mix in the syrup remaining in the pan.  Sprinkle in the spices and mix well.  To “fan” the pears,  slice nearly all the way through each half to the stem to create as many fan pieces as you’d like.  Using a spatula, carefully move the pears to the pan and spoon the sauce over while cooking, about 3-5 minutes.  Remove pears to a platter and turn off heat.  Pour remaining sauce through a fine-meshed sieve and reserve.


Mascarpone Cream

1/2 c. heavy cream

1 T mascarpone

1 tsp. sugar

In a medium bowl, whisk heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Add the mascarpone and sugar and beat until well blended.  Add to a piping bag if desired and place in the fridge until time to use.

Almost French Laundry’s Hazelnut Sabayon

1 c. heavy cream

2 lg. egg yolks

3 T sugar

1-1/2 tsp. hazelnut oil


Whip the cream to medium peaks in a medium bowl and set aside.  In the bowl of a standing mixer, add the egg yolks and sugar.  Heat about 2″ water in a sauce pan over medium heat and when hot, place the mixer bowl over.  Whip the egg and sugar until a ribbon effect is achieved, about 2-3 minutes.  Attach the bowl to the mixer and beat on high until the mixture cools completely, about 5 minutes.  Feel the bottom of the bowl occasionally to test temperature.  When the mixture is completely cool, add the hazelnut oil, drizzling it in.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and add about 1/4 of the whipped cream to lighten it, then add the rest of the whipped cream, carefully folding it in.  Place in the fridge if not quite ready to plate but plan to do so as soon as possible.

Vol-au-vent with Hazelnut Sabayon and  Spiced Poached Pears


1 spoon pear vanilla poaching syrup

1 spoon butter spice syrup

1 puff pastry shell

hazelnut sabayon

mascarpone cream

hazelnuts opt.

Decoratively score the plate with the two syrups.  Place one puff pastry shell on the plate.  Fill with sabayon carefully.  Arrange the fanned pear on the dessert.  Pipe the mascarpone cream over and shave a bit of fresh nutmet.  Add a couple of hazelnuts to the plate if you wish.

Vol-au-vent with Hazelnut Sabayon and  Spiced Poached Pears


  • Now this is more like it.  I can actually see layers, but honestly, I used cheap butter.  I had it, so I used it and know the water content was pretty high.  Next time, I’m going to experiment with something else, but I’m not complaining.
  • After 6 turns, I refrigerated the dough over night, well wrapped in plastic.
  • The best sequence to make this dessert is poach pears, bake & cool pastry, saute poached pears, whip mascarpone cream, make sabayon, then plate dessert.
  • The hazelnut sabayon is “almost” French Laundry because I added more cream.  The recipe calls for a fairly small quantity, and I’m thinking my cream wasn’t whipped enough and deflated a bit so I added more whipped cream to stabilize it.
  • I have about a cup of the poaching syrup left and can’t wait to do something with it.  Yummy!
  • The sabayon is probably going into and ice cream and how delicious will that be?
  • I have quite a bit of puff pastry left:  1/3 of the original that I’d like to try something like croissants with and even more of the layered scraps.
  • I’m getting ready to fill my remaining vol-au-vents with a shrimp white wine cream sauce, but I’m not quite there yet.  I’ll get around to adding that later.  Maybe.

As always, don’t forget to take a peek at the rest of the Daring Bakers’ marvelous creations.  There are probably a million of us now, so you should be able to knock on your neighbor’s door and ask for a Vol-au-vent sample tonight.  Go for it!

Vol-au-vent with Hazelnut Sabayon and  Spiced Poached Pears