Spiced smoked haddock vol-au-vents

Vol-au-vents never fail to excite me when I eat them!  For me they have always been absolute must as part of a buffet. I am such a fan of them that at my Civil Partnership, one of the food centrepieces involved vol-au-vents, with many different fillings.

I have been making these kedgeree-style vol-au vents for years and they are in my top few favourite fillings (as a pie filling, too). So it was great to see vol-au-vents make an appearance on Bake Off a couple of weeks ago.

Vol-au-vents join the ranks of several bakes I have posted on this blog that are something of a throw-back to the 70s (nothing wrong with that!). In my opinion, vol-au-vents – and I refer to the small ones that are devoured in a couple of bites rather than the larger ones – really do deserve a revival.

It’s all about the filling………..

I like a well flavoured, punchy filling: for me it needs to have a slightly wet consistency, which works well with the crisp pastry. But while the filling is the star, the pastry has to be buttery, very light and a decent depth.

My other favourite fillings are:

  • chopped ham in a cheese and parsley sauce
  • mushrooms cooked in butter, garlic and lemon juice, mixed with cream cheese
  • prawns in Marie-Rose sauce (how much more retro can it get?)
  • smoked chicken with mayonnaise
  • coronation chicken
  • crab and shrimps in lemon mayonnaise

About the pastry:

Puff pastry is a very therapeutic and satisfying thing to make. It’s the pinnacle of precision baking for me and I love spending a few hours of a weekend making a large batch (often freezing half of it for later). I haven’t included the recipe in this post as it can be found in abundance online.

But if using shop-bought puff pastry, use the all-butter variety: the vol-au-vents deserve it! And while you can buy ready-to-bake vol-au-vent cases, they are not made with butter and have, I think, an unpleasant, claggy after-taste.

A note about shaping and egg-washing

To give a good height, you roll the dough out as evenly as you can to a thickness of just under half a centimetre. You then cut out circles of the same size: they will be cut into rings using slighty smaller cutters that get stuck onto their circular bases with beaten egg, giving the cylindrical case you want in a vol-au-vent: the idea is that the rings expand vertically as they bake whilst the bases stay fairly flat.

Use the trimmings for the base

As you don’t need the level of height for the bases that you want for the sides, use the cut-out trimmings from the rings and gently pat them together. Roll out and cut out circles for the bases: even though they are made from re-rolled pastry, they will be still very light and buttery.

Top tips:
– chill the cut-out pastry discs for about 30 minutes to firm up. It is much easier to cut out the rings and place them on their bases when the pastry is firm so that they hold their shape.

– prick the base with a fork to stop the centre rising up as much as the edges. When cool, lift out the centre with a sharp knife and either pop on top of the filled vol-au-vents or else spoon over a little filling for tasters!

– when you egg-wash the pastry tops, try not to let it drip down the sides: if you do, the egg will set too quickly in the heat of the oven and prevent them from rising properly or evenly (as happened with a few of this batch!)

Spiced smoked haddock vol-au-vents (makes about 35)

  • puff pastry (about 500g)

Filling

  • 300g smoked haddock, poached in a little milk until just cooked, and flaked.
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • a large knob of butter
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 5-6 tablespoons crème fraîche
  • a few toasted almonds, chopped
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • a few sultanas, chopped
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon mango chutney
  • several leaves of flat-leaf parsley or coriander, chopped

To finish:

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • a little chopped coriander or parsley

(1) Roll out the pastry thinly and make about 35 circular discs with a 7cm circular pastry cutter. Chill for about 30 minutes to firm up, which makes them easier to cut sharply. Using a 6cm circular cutter, cut out smaller circles out of half of the pastry discs, leaving a ring.

(2) Pat all of the pastry trimmings together gently and roll out thinly. Cut out 35 more circular discs using a 7cm cutter. Place these pastry discs on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and brush the surface lightly with egg-wash. These will be the bases.

(3) Place the rings carefully onto the pastry bases without getting the rings out of shape (a palette knife is ideal to lift up the rings) and gently push down onto the bases so that they stick. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes and prick the base of each with a fork. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190C (fan).

(4) Bake for about 15 minutes until very well risen and golden brown. Don’t worry if the centres have risen up a bit: remove them using the tip of a sharp knife, along with any pale pastry inside when they have cooled. NB: don’t worry if some go a bit lop-sided; they look quite charming!

(5) For the filling: gently cook the onions and curry powder in the butter for about 10 minutes until softened. Add the sultanas and cook for a few more minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients, trying not to break down the haddock too much as you want texture in there rather than a paste! Leave to cool.

(5) Spoon the filling into the pastry cases and sprinkle over a little parsley.

 

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