Light And Airy French Vol-Au-Vent Makes For A Decadent Vintage Appetizer

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"Vol-au-vent" roughly translates to the French "Flying in the wind," perhaps a nod to how light and airy these small bites are. If you've never tried them before, vol-au-vents are essentially puff pastry canapés with a hearty filling, draped in a rich cream sauce or thick velouté. Exactly what this filling is made of varies. When vol-au-vent first enjoyed its heyday during the 1970s and '80s, popular fillings included creamed mushrooms, seafood stew, and scrambled eggs. Originally, the bite-sized snacks were a larger pie-like French dish, and the "newer" handheld version is technically called "bouchée."

The retro food enjoyed a comeback during the holiday season in 2021, ostensibly due in part to the resurgence of '80s culture inspired by media franchises like the hit Netflix series "Stranger Things." But, if you ask anyone who's tried 'em, it's no mystery why vol-au-vent was such a popular hor d'oeuvre at the swinging parties of yore. They're buttery, flaky, and handheld, making for a great cocktail hour bite. But, perhaps one of the reasons why vol-au-vent fell out of fashion is its "labor of love" factor. The dish requires meticulous shaping and a decent amount of prep time -- which was pretty on-trend for home cooks of the '70s.

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The Food Scene Of The '70s And '80s Was A Different Arena

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French dishes were having a moment in the '70s and '80s. It all started when Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" hit the market in 1971. As Anthony Bourdain recounted in "Kitchen Confidential," "There was, in 1974, no culinary culture that I was aware of ... These were early times in American food." But, even so, Bourdain's own mother looked to Julia Child for inspiration: "My mom had Julia Child and 'The Fannie Farmer Cookbook' on top of the refrigerator, and she had a small repertoire of French dishes."

To home cooks of the 1970s, entertaining was a big deal. Dinner parties were frequent and elaborate, characterized by attention to detail, a flair for the upscale, and often labor-intensive prep. Popular dishes of the '80s included Chicken Kiev, salmon rillettes, and seven-layer dips. It was an era of culinary growth for American foodies -- but it certainly wasn't without a few growing pains. Kitschy dishes with equally kitschy names emerged, like "beef tingler" and "eggs in a cage." Various gelatins were pretty big, as were ham and banana hollandaise. When vintage foodies were whipping up vol-au-vent, common fillings included smoked trout, horseradish, and asparagus. Spiced egg with coriander mayo was a popular one, too. Today, the hors d'oeuvre remains worthy of a spot in your dinner party spread (just maybe with a different flavor).

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To whip up a batch of vol-au-vent, contemporary home cooks can save on prep time and use store-bought puff pastry dough. Achieve those perfectly circular rounds by using a cookie cutter or wine glass. Then, lightly score a circle shape into the center of each round. (This will form a "basket" that can be easily removed post-bake.)

In a separate bowl, assemble a quick egg wash with a yolk and some heavy cream. From there, the dough circles get slathered in the egg wash, chilled for an hour to set up, and baked until golden brown and puffy. The finishing and most important step to making vol-au-vents is cutting out the centers, effectively creating a little basket or empty cream puff shape. Simply pipe in the desired filling and they're ready to serve.

Vol-au-vents can be served hot or chilled. Plus, the puff pastry's versatility means you can make sweet or savory versions, and they're easy to make vegetarian-friendly to please every guest at your next dinner party. For a heartier bite, you could fill your vol-au-vents with shrimp and cocktail sauce, diced portobello mushrooms and ground sausage, or smoked salmon and cream cheese. To satisfy a sweet tooth, try brie and cranberry dressing, halved strawberries and crème fraîche, vanilla custard (or instant pudding mix) with blueberries and mandarin oranges, PB&J, or straight-up Nutella.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.