Vol-au-vents are back: puff pastry towers get a timely, tasty makeover

Lilly Higgins: these light pastry bites became a little dated but I loved the idea of turning them into individual mushroom pies

This creamy mushroom vol-au-vent doesn’t involve mixing a heavy flour-based roux but instead relies on creme fraiche.

This creamy mushroom vol-au-vent doesn’t involve mixing a heavy flour-based roux but instead relies on creme fraiche.

 

I’m delighted to share the news that vol-au-vents are back. These little towers of puff pastry with their jaunty lids have slipped off many menus over the past few years. They had been a central part of buffets, wedding banquets and festive platters for years. But lately they have become smaller and smaller, culminating in tiny bite-size canapés masquerading as vol-au-vents.

November is Food Month in The Irish Times. irishtimes.com/foodmonth
November is Food Month in The Irish Times. irishtimes.com/foodmonth

Once the darling of fancy dinner parties, these light pastry bites became a little dated and jaded in the noughties but they are back now with a bang or, rather, a puff. They are little individual pies, really. Whatever filling you choose ends up encased in the pastry. You could go sweet with stewed Bramley apple rippled with custard or mincemeat and a dollop of rum butter. Savoury versions include the classic mushroom, smoked salmon and dill with crème fraîche, or chicken.

I hadn’t made them in so long but loved the idea of individual mushroom pies, and my kids did too. Here I’ve made a creamy, thyme-scented sauce with mushrooms. It’s a great way to use leftover roast chicken if you have it to add. Or you could add a teaspoon of garam masala for a coronation chicken version, sprinkling some nigella seeds on the pastry case before baking.

I don’t think it’s too early to mention leftover turkey either. A little goes a long way in this recipe alongside the mushrooms. Served with a dollop of cranberry sauce it’s the perfect St Stephen’s Day lunch.

Lately I’ve been growing my own mushrooms. It has always been something I’ve wanted to do and having perfected sourdough and banana bread in the first lockdown, I knew mushrooms were next on my bucket list.

Ballyhoura Mushrooms sell blocks, filled with spores of oyster and nameko mushrooms, for customers to grow themselves at home. It is mushroom growing made as simple as possible with pretty much guaranteed results. I was still thrilled though, and my children were in awe, to see the fungi double in size in a day, practically growing before our eyes. It was a wonderful example for them of where our food comes from and how we get it.

I had great fun cooking the mushrooms in different ways. One of my favourite was teriyaki mushrooms, for which I marinated the meaty oyster mushrooms first. In place of mirin I used some Kinsale Atlantic Dry Mead for a slightly sweet, fermented honey flavour. It was so simple but delicious with soy sauce and plenty of ginger on a bed of rice.

This creamy mushroom vol-au-vent doesn’t involve mixing a heavy, flour-based roux but instead relies on crème fraîche. It’s lighter and fresher. Mascarpone can also be used. While I love the classic combination of thyme and mushroom, using French tarragon instead makes this a very elegant dish.

MUSHROOM AND THYME VOL-AU-VENTS

Makes six
Ingredients
6 large frozen vol-au-vent cases
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp butter
400g mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic
½ tsp Dijon mustard
Squeeze of lemon juice
4 tbsp crème fraîche 
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Black pepper and salt 

Method
1
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Arrange the frozen vol-au-vent cases on a lined tray. Brush with the beaten egg. Bake for 10-12 minutes until puffed up and golden. Set aside.

2 Melt the butter in a heavy-based frying pan. Sauté the mushrooms until golden, add the garlic and stir until the raw flavour is gone – about one minute.

3 Remove from the heat and season well with black pepper and a little salt. Add a generous squeeze of lemon juice, the mustard, thyme and crème fraîche. Stir gently to combine.

4 Remove the lid from each pastry case and spoon in the hot mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with a little fresh thyme and serve right away.

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