For a recent dinner party with a group of food-loving friends, I was asked to bring the appetizer. The stakes were high: My friend, Lou, was making lobster mac and cheese for the main course and my friend, Carrie, was making a Thomas Keller gazpacho.
In researching all things that you could savor in one bite, I came across "vol-au-vents" and discovered that these little bite-size puff pastries were a catering classic. The only question was what to fill them with.
I had found a promising recipe for a vol-au-vent with a three-mushroom filling in Joanne Harris and Fran Warde's "My French Kitchen." But I had also been spying the quail eggs at my supermarket. So I decided to combine the two and make a vol-au-vent 'madame' with mushroom and egg, and vol-au-vent 'monsieur' with just the mushroom.
Harris and Warde's recipe includes chanterelles, which I have eliminated for the off season. I also substituted butter and armagnac for olive oil and cognac and cut the cream in half.
Vol-au-vent 'Monsieur' and Vol-au-vent 'Madame'
Serves 6 as an appetizer
1 tablespoon butter
8 ounces shiitake mushroom
8 ounces button mushroom
2 shallots, minced
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon armagnac
8-12 quail eggs
salt and pepper to taste
1 - 2 tablespoons chopped chives for garnish
Heat the butter in a skillet. Add the shallots and simmer for 30 seconds and then add the mushrooms. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until cooked down. Add the cream, mustard, armagnac, and salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes.
Defrost one portion of frozen puff pastry. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Unfold the puff pastry on a cutting board. It should be about a 1/4 inch thick. Cut out 12 small rounds with a pastry cutter. Place them on a water-dampened baking sheet and return to the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes. Take a cutter half the size of your first one and cut an indentation in the center of each pastry circle (cutting about halfway down, but not all the way through to the baking sheet). Take a small knife and push up the edges of the vol-au-vent shells to help the pastry to rise in crispy layers. Brush the top of each shell with the beaten egg, making sure none drips down the side or it will glue the layers together. Bake for 30 minutes.
When the vol-au-vents are finished cooking, use a butter knife to pry off the 'lid.' Eat the lids as a snack while cooking or discard them. Fill the vol-au-vents with the stuffing of your choice.
Poached quail egg
The trick to poaching quail egg is to break the shell without puncturing the yolk. The size of the egg makes that difficult. Professional chefs hold the egg in one hand and deliver a swift slice with a knife in the other hand -- just enough to puncture through the egg and the egg's protective inner lining without breaking the yolk.
Once the shell's surface is sliced, pry the shell apart with your fingers and drop the yolk and whites into a bowl filled with white wine vinegar.
When you're finished cracking all the eggs, pour the bowl of eggs and vinegar into boiling water and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove the eggs and drop them into ice water.
Fill the vol-au-vents first with the mushroom filling and then top half of them with egg. Sprinkle the eggs with salt. Garnish with the chives.