Saturday, December 31, 2011

Leftovers never had it so good

OK, I admit it.  I'm nuts.

Leftovers made from Christmas turkey should, on the whole, be simple and straightforward.  And mine were--until I started fussing.  After all, Turkey ala King is nothing more than chunks of turkey in a cream sauce with maybe some peas and mushrooms in it.  You can rustle that up in about half an hour--at most.  Pour it over rice or buttered egg noodles, and you've got a really delightful supper.

So far, so good.  The crazy part is that I thought it would be fun to serve the Turkey ala King not over rice or noodles, but in puff paste shells--vol-au-vents--made from homemade pastry, not the store-bought kind.

So on Thursday, I assembled the dough using Julia Child's modern method in her book The Way to Cook.  That book, by the way, is brilliant and gorgeous.  If you're familiar with puff paste, you know that the traditional method of making it is to make a dough, make a large pat of butter, place it on the dough, and then begin rolling it out and folding it to form layers.  It's a tricky process:  if the big mass of butter is too cold, you can't roll it.  If it's too soft, it turns to mush.  There's a lot of stopping and sticking the thing back in the fridge to firm up, and the whole procedure takes several hours.

Julia Child's updated method has you combine all of the butter with the flour.  The proportions, by the way, are shocking:  you start with six-and-a-half sticks of butter (you read that right) and combine them with four cups of flour.

Once you get a rough dough, you start patting and rolling it.  You make a long rectangle and fold it like a business letter.  As you keep doing that--four times on the first go--it gets more and more like dough.  You chill it for 45 minutes and fold it twice more, and voila!  puff paste ready to bake with.  Wonderful.

I made the dough most of the way on Thursday and made the final two turns yesterday (Friday) evening.  I shaped the dough into vol-au-vents by tracing a cereal bowl on the dough to cut eight discs.  I then traced a mug on the inside of four of them, cut out the center, and put the resulting donut-shaped ring on top of the full discs.  A little magic with some egg wash and a knife and some poking with a fork and a skewer, and they were ready for the oven.  They looked like this:

I set the cookie sheets on a pizza stone in a hot oven for 25 minutes.  Then I scooped out the centers, saving the tops, and slipped them back in the oven for 5 minutes more.  Here was the result:

Not too bad, eh?  And it's huge fun to think of that plain-looking dough turning into those spectacular structures.  I then ladled some of the Turkey ala King into them, and they were ready to serve.  The finished product is at the top of this entry.  They tasted fabulous.

So once in a while it makes sense to fuss--even over something simple.  Now and then, it's worth the trouble.

Happy New Year and much joy in 2012.  I hope your year turns out like a good batch of puff pastry:  unassuming at first, only to blossom into something glorious.

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