The vol-au-vent (pronounced vo-lo-van) is a little tart made with puff pastry that can be filled with meat, cheese, seafood, or vegetables, as well as with jam and fruits. Whether sweet or savory, these bites are a must at sophisticated parties and dinners to complement appetizers and cocktails.
They were first created by a French chef in the 18th century, who had the idea of filling up the center of several layers of puff pastry. When the dough grew with the heat, one of his assistants allegedly yelled: “Elle vole au vent!” which in French means “It flies in the wind!” This anecdote, accurate or not, has gone down in history. What has been really proven is that these pastries always do fly away… that is, they fly off whatever tray or plate they are served on, because no one can resist them!
I remember seeing puff pastries at parties ever since I was a little girl, and in Cuba, the most popular ones are those filled with ground beef, guava or coconut paste. They are also bigger than the ones served as appetizers, which can be found in many Cuban cafeterias in Miami.
What distinguishes them from other French pastries, such as the mille-feuille, is that the filling does not go inside the dough. Instead, it goes on top of the pastry, and then it is covered with another layer of puff pastry.
You don’t have to go to a French bakery to eat a vol-au-vent. You can prepare the dough by mixing flour with butter, water and a little salt. When ready, stretch the dough and cut it into discs — some bigger and with a hole in the center, and others smaller. Before baking them, place the discs over each other and brush them with a beaten egg. When done, fill them with your favorite stuffing and cover them with the circles of dough you cut from the larger discs. Of course, this can be simplified by buying frozen puff pastry dough.
The possibilities for the fillings are endless: mushroom with cheese, seafood in wine sauce, and of course, you can give them a tropical flavor with guava or mango jam, or a delicious grated coconut paste. Go ahead and try vol-au-vent in your kitchen and you’ll see how they’ll fly away from the platter. Have you ever made them? What other fillings can you recommend?