Puff Pastry Shells (Vols-au-Vent), Gluten-Free

One thing that’s really fun about puff pastry is that it can make any meal go from mundane to fancy.  And something that is always a hit at dinner parties is a vol-au-ventVols-au-vent are individual puff pastry shells that can be used to contain all sorts of foods for a fun presentation.  I especially like these to serve chicken or shrimp salad, and for filling with fresh fruit and whipped cream for a simple yet pretty dessert.

Vol-au-vent means ‘blown by the wind” in French.  The name refers to the lightness of the puff pastry after baking.  These little guys are easy to make–and you can make them early in the day and then serve them for dinner.  You can also shape them and then freeze before baking.  You can then whip them out when you need them and bake them straight from the freezer.

Vol-au-vents are made by rolling out the puff pastry dough, cutting the dough into disks and circles and then stacking one circle on top of one disk.  This creates a baked product that has a small well in the middle–in which you can place all sorts of sweet or savory foods.  One thing I have found is that Girlfriend will eat just about anything in a vol-au-vent that she wouldn’t ordinarily eat by itself.  Chicken salad comes to mind.  She doesn’t like sandwiches, and won’t eat the salad on its own, but she will eat it in a vol-au-vent.  Which is awesome.  What I’ve done is assembled a bunch of these and then froze them.  I then whisk them out when we’re having something that she wouldn’t normally eat.  I just bake the vol-au-vent and then fill it with whatever we’re eating.  Voila!  She eats it.

Of course, you can just use them because they’re yummy and they look pretty.  And, don’t forget the dessert options–you can fill them with all sorts of things, like: pudding, fresh strawberries and whipped cream, ganache (if you want to be really decadent), sauteed apples w/cinnamon, etc.

Individual Pastry Shells (Vol-au-Vents), Gluten-Free

Special Equipment Needed

-rolling pin
-round cookie cutters in 2 different sizes
-pastry brush

1 recipe of Puff Pastry, Gluten-Free (you can also use any amount you have)
Cold water for sealing the dough
1 large egg mixed with 2 tsp water for egg wash (optional)
Extra tapioca flour for rolling out the dough

Bring your dough to working temperature. Working temperature is cool but not rock hard. It should be fairly easy to roll out, but not so warm that it sticks to the rolling surface. If you have it in the freezer, already frozen in a sheet, take it out and warm on kitchen counter for about 10 minutes. If your dough is in the refrigerator, in a lump, take it out of the fridge and leave on kitchen counter for 45 minutes-1 hour (or less time if the ambient temperature is hot).

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Sprinkle your working surface with tapioca flour.  Gently but firmly roll out your puff pastry dough until it is in a rectangle or square that is 1/4 inch thick.
With your larger cookie cutter (I use a 2 1/2″ cookie cutter), cut out as many disks as you can.  Dip your cutter in tapioca flour before each cut.  Be sure to push your cutter straight down into the dough and out–and don’t twist.  Any crimping you do on the sides of the dough will squish the layers together and limit the amount of rise you get in baking.  Cut out an equal amount of disks.
On half of the disks, use your smaller cutter (I use a 1 1/2 ” cookie cutter), cut a smaller circle in the middle of the disk.   You will now have equal amounts of dough disks and dough circles.

Using your finger, brush on a ring of cold water around the top outer edge of your disks (not the circles). 

Now place a circle, top side down, on top of each disk.  You now have several pastry stacks with a disk on the bottom and a circle on the top.

To make the notched design around the edge of the pastry stack, press the back edge of a knife all around the outer edges of the pastry while simultaneously pressing down lightly with your finger.  This will seal the circle and the disk together.

Using a fork, punch three holes in the pastry at the bottom of the middle of the circle.  This will limit the amount of rise you get from the bottom of the vol-au-vent and increase the amount of space you have for fillings in the middle.
Place your prepared pastry shells and smaller disks onto a baking sheet and freeze for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle another baking sheet with cold water.  After 10 minutes, remove your pastry shells from the freezer and place on the new sheet that has been sprinkled with water.  If using an egg wash, brush it on now.  Be careful not to let it drip down the sides of the shells–this will seal the layers together and limit the puffing action.

Bake at 425 degrees for 20-20 minutes (or until the shells are light golden brown).  The smaller disks will probably bake faster and you may need to quickly remove them from the oven before the pastry shells are done.
Remove from the oven and carefully place on a rack to cool completely.  When ready, use 1-2 TBL of filling your choice.  Top each one with the small disk (or rest it on the side of the filling) for a decorative effect.

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