August 8, 2022

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Vol-au-vents are back. My grandmother would certainly approve. An excellent cook, she always made the...

Vol-au-vents are back. My grandmother would certainly approve. An excellent cook, she always made the most exquisite, tiny vol-au-vents for Christmas parties, says Alex Hollywood (pictured)

They’re utterly delicious, and, in a world of unwieldy, new-fangled canapes, eminently practical. Yes, vol-au-vents, those small pastry cases stuffed full with savoury fillings, are back. Hurrah!
Invented in 19th-century Paris, the name means ‘fly in the wind’ due to the lightness of the puff pastry. 
They were a staple of the 1970s dinner party or buffet, along with hostess trolleys, prawn cocktails and devilled eggs.
Now sales at Waitrose are up 25 per cent on the year, with some varieties sold out online. 
My grandmother would certainly approve. An excellent cook, she always made the most exquisite, tiny vol-au-vents for Christmas parties. 
They were filled with cognac-flambéd creamy mushrooms and parsley, or chicken in white wine and tarragon — not to mention prawns and dill with a rather retro Pernod mayonnaise.
I have childhood memories of sitting under the table with my sister in the 1970s, hidden from the grown-ups by a huge, white, draping tablecloth, a plate piled high with her spectacular pastry creations, along with less sophisticated cheese and pineapple and mini sausages on sticks.
Right now, we’re all feeling a little nostalgic, and vol-au-vents are the perfect comfort food. They’re so tempting: who can stop at just one mouthful?
While my grandmother made her own delectable puff pastry — no mean feat, as you need strong arms to roll in all that lovely butter to get the desired ‘marbled’ effect — I buy mine. 

They’re utterly delicious, and, in a world of unwieldy, new-fangled canapes, eminently practical. Yes, vol-au-vents, those small pastry cases stuffed full with savoury fillings, are back. (Above, Angela Hartnett’s mushroom vol-au-vent)

Shop-bought stuff is so good these days, you can absolutely get away with it. And it’s not just pre-made pastry you can buy, but pre-made vol-au-vent cases — even easier!
Doing away with that aspect of the preparation makes modern vol-au-vents fabulously simple to do, while retaining all of that wonderful retro ‘wow’ factor.
You can even adapt them to make mouthwatering desserts. Fill with cream and fresh fruit, or beat Nutella and mascarpone together and pipe into the cases. 
Or melt a pack of choccy truffles with a small pot of cream (or a Terry’s chocolate orange with a dash of Grand Marnier and orange zest) then spoon this quick-fix mousse into the cases and top with sweetened Chantilly and chocolate shavings. Perfect.
Below, is the recipe for my favourite Cognac and mushroom vol-au-vents, plus a choice of delicious fillings from other celebrity chefs.
Cooking Tonight by Alex Hollywood is published by Hodder & Stoughton.
Makes 10-12

Flour for dusting
500g pack butter puff pastry
1 beaten egg
1 knob butter
Olive oil
300g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed and chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme, chopped
1 tbsp Cognac
3 tbsp crème fraîche
Salt, pepper
Handful fresh chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 190c/170c fan/gas 5. Roll out your pastry on a floured surface to 4-5mm thick. With a circular cutter cut 10 -12 rounds, enough for 5-6 vol-au-vents. Take half of the pastry rounds (5-6) and with a slightly smaller cutter, press another round in the centre of each, removing the middle and discarding (re-roll and re-use this pastry elsewhere).
This will leave you with 5-6 flat rounds and 5-6 rings.
Brush the rounds with beaten egg, then lay the rings on top of each disc to form a ‘rim’.
Score the middle carefully to stop it puffing up and brush the top of each rim with egg wash.
Chill, then bake for 15-20 minutes until risen and golden.
Heat a little butter and a dash of oil in a frying pan and sauté the mushrooms for a few minutes with the crushed, chopped garlic and chopped thyme. Add the Cognac then carefully light it and flambé. Let the flames die down and add crème fraîche. Allow to bubble and reduce until thick and creamy. Taste and season, then fold in the chopped parsley.
Transfer the cooked pastry cases to a plate, spoon in the filling, and serve.

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Brian McDermott’s chicken and ham vol-au-vents

A classic festive flavour combination, and a great way to use up leftover Christmas turkey and ham.
Filling for 10-12 vol-au-vents

Drizzle of rapeseed oil
25g butter
1 onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
10 mushrooms, sliced
Freshly ground pepper
25ml white wine
2 tbsp plain flour
250ml chicken stock
50ml cream
50g grated cheese of your choice
250g cooked chicken, chopped
250g cooked ham, chopped

To serve

Few sprigs fresh, chopped parsley

To make the sauce, add the oil and butter to a pot on a medium heat. Sweat the diced onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and sweat for a further 4 minutes.
Season with freshly ground pepper. Add the wine and allow it to reduce on a simmer heat for 3 minutes.
Add the flour and combine, then add the stock (warm it up first). Simmer for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the cream and simmer for further 4 minutes.
Add the grated cheese. I’m using parmesan and sauce will be slightly thick at this stage.
Add the chopped cooked chicken and ham, then combine. Allow to cool for few minutes.
Fill the pastry cases with the mix, reduce the oven to 160c and warm the cooked vol-au-vents for 15 minutes before serving with chopped parsley.

Top tip

The perfect vol-au-vent must rise evenly to hold its filling. So when egg washing the pastry disc before baking, do not let the egg drip down the sides as this will prevent the pastry rising evenly.

When you’d like vol-au-vents as part of a sit-down meal, James’s would make a delicious pre-Christmas starter.
Filling for 6 big vol-au-vents

15g butter
15g plain flour
300ml double cream
50ml sparkling wine
1 small bunch chives, chopped

For the fish

25g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
300g raw prawns, shelled
200g salmon, cubed
2 lobster tails, chopped
200g monkfish, cubed

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For the pea puree

600g frozen peas, defrosted
100ml double cream
25g butter
Salt and pepper

For the sauce, melt the butter, then whisk in the flour, cream and wine, then season. When the sauce has warmed through, stir through the chives. Place a second pan over a medium heat and add butter and olive oil to pan-fry the fish. Add the fish and fry for 2 to 3 minutes.
To make the pea puree, pop the peas into a food processor and puree with the cream and butter for about a minute. Season, then pop into a pan and warm through.
To serve, spoon the peas into the vol-au-vents, then the fish and then the sauce.
Mushrooms, Parmesan and tarragon make this a dish sophisticated enough for a festive dinner party.
Filling for 3 big vol-au-vents

2 tbsp butter
400g mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 large garlic clove, grated or finely chopped
175ml single cream
4 tbsp Parmesan, grated
Few sprigs fresh parsley and tarragon, finely chopped
Salt and ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring, until fully cooked. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Pour in the cream and allow to bubble until it coats the mushrooms in a light sauce. Stir in the Parmesan and most of the chopped herbs and season. Transfer the cooked pastry cases to a serving plate. Fill with the hot mushroom mixture. Sprinkle over the remaining herbs and serve.

Smoked haddock and prawn vol-au-vents, courtesy of the Hairy Bikers

Smoked haddock and prawns make a gorgeous alternative to the classic chicken filling.
Filling for 30 vol-au-vents

450g undyed smoked haddock fillet
300ml whole milk
200g prawns, cooked and peeled
2 tbsp chives, finely sliced

For the sauce

½ onion, cut into quarters
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
25g butter
25g plain flour
5 tbsp crème fraîche
Sea salt flakes
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the haddock in a saucepan with the milk, bring to a simmer, switch off the heat and leave to cook in the residual heat for 10 minutes.
Drain the haddock, reserving the milk. Set the haddock aside to cool slightly, then remove the skin.
For the sauce, pour the reserved milk into a saucepan and add the onion, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a gentle simmer, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for ten minutes. Strain the milk through a sieve into a jug and discard the onion and herbs.
Melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan over a low heat, add the flour and cook for a few seconds, stirring constantly.
Stir in the hot infused milk slowly, and cook for 1-2 minutes or until the sauce is smooth and thick. Season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper, remove from the heat and stir in the crème fraîche. Cover with cling film and leave to cool.
Flake the haddock into the sauce, checking for any remaining bones and stir in the prawns and chives.
Spoon into the cooked pastry cases and warm in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and very hot.
Serve warm or cold.

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Taste test of the supermarket bites

12 Va Va Voom Vol-Au-Vents, M&S, £5.50. All cook at gas 6 (180c/160c fan) in 10 minutes or 18 from frozen.
Ham Hock and Cheddar Cheese
Studded with chives and has a good crisp bite. But there simply isn’t enough filling and I can barely taste the ham. 3/5
Smoked Salmon, smoked trout and crème fraiche
The fish has a pleasant salty tang — great if you want guests to top up their glasses. But again, there’s too much pastry, too little filling. 4/5
Goat’s cheese and caramelised onion
Goat’s cheese normally packs a powerful punch. But they might as well have used mousetrap instead as it’s drowned out by the overwhelmingly sweet onion. 2/5
Conclusion: Disappointing. The mean fillings are decidedly Scrooge-like. Less va va voom than yawn, yawn, yawn.

Taste the Difference 12 Festive Vol-Au-Vents, from Sainsbury’s

Taste the Difference 12 Festive Vol-Au-Vents, Sainsbury’s, £5. All cook at gas 6 (180c/160c fan) in 8 minutes or in 16 from frozen.
Tomato and Mozzarella
I love the intense, herby tomato with a dash of mozzarella. Generously piped into a Christmas tree-shaped case, it’s very moreish. 4/5
Maple-cured bacon and cheddar
The bacon has just the right amount of smokiness and the cheese has a good sharp bite.
Caramelised onion and cheddar
Excellent balance of flavours between the Taw Valley cheddar filling and the tangy onion. Background flavour of chives also breaks through. 4/5
Conclusion: The fillings are predictable, but done well. The Christmas tree is a clever festive touch. Great nostalgic choice.
12 Festive Vol-Au-Vents, Waitrose, £6. All cook in 12-14 minutes at gas 6 (200c/180c fan) or in 18 minutes from frozen.
Smoked ham and cheddar
Generous amount of salty shredded ham in a richly tangy cheesy creamy filling. 5/5
Coronation chicken
This creamy 1970s sauce is perfect in a vol-au-vent, a rather pleasing balance of sweet and spice. 5/5
Mushroom crème fraîche
Beautifully seasoned mushrooms whipped into a light cheesy sauce, encased in crisp buttery pastry. Gorgeous and filling. 5/5
10 Lobster Thermidor Vol-Au-Vents, Waitrose, £9. All cook in 8 minutes at gas 6 (180c/356f) or in 14 minutes from frozen.
Lobster and king prawns in a white wine sauce laced with Cognac and topped with a Parmigiano Reggiano, lobster and herb crumb. Decadent at (gulp) almost £1 each. But they are so luxurious, it’s hard to quibble. Each tiny bite is overflowing with flavoursome sauce and shellfish. Can you bear to share? 5/5
Conclusion: Vol-au-vents to die for. Even Fanny Cradock would approve. This isn’t simply a nod to the past — it’s a dive in. Huge care has gone into getting the flavours spot on.


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