When it comes to appetizers, the best options are finger foods that don't require any plates or utensils. That's why combinations like crackers and cheese or chips and dip are so popular at parties! Fortunately, almost every food can be turned into finger food with the help of an easy-to-make pastry called a vol-au-vent.
What are vol-au-vents?
Vol-au-vents are puff pastry cases that have a hollow center. They are baked until they are golden and cooled until they are crisp. The shells are then filled with almost any filling you can think of. They can be made in any shape or size, but they're usually made to deliver just one or two bites at a time.
The easiest way to make vol au vents is to start with store-bought puff pastry. You can make your own puff pastry, but a package from the store is probably a little speedier.
Defrost the pastry before using it so that you can handle it easily and roll it to remove any creases. That said, it should still be very cold because that will make it easier to cut neatly with a cookie cutter or knife.
The pastry can be cut into squares, rectangles or circles. In my recipe, I used a knife to cut my pastry into rectangles and then used a small, round cookie cutter to make the pastry "frames" for the top layer.
A fluted cookie cutter will give the pastries a pretty look, and you can even use a shaped cutter if you have something small enough. A tree-shaped cookie cutter would look very impressive for a holiday party!
The solid pastry needs to be brushed with a little water to ensure the two layers stick together. You can use a beaten egg, which will make the finished pastry a little darker and glossier, but I like the simplicity of using a little water best.
Once the pastries are baked and cooled, it is time to fill them. You can use just about anything you can think of, so get creative. Here are some filling ideas to get you started.
1. Chicken salad
It makes a great sandwich, and it's a surprisingly good appetizer! You can even use store-bought chicken salad and dress it up with some fresh herbs to save time.
2. Egg salad
This is one of my favorite fillings because egg salad is so easy to make and can be made well in advance.
3. Meatballs and marinara
Turn the pastries into mini meatball sandwiches! Cut the meatballs in halves or quarters (depending on the size) and cook them in your favorite sauce. Spoon the mixture into the pastries just before serving.
4. Cream cheese and smoked salmon
This one is a classic combination. Whipped cream cheese is a little easier to spoon or pipe into the shells. If you want to get even fancier, add a little caviar to the top!
This mixture of tomatoes, garlic and olive oil is usually spooned on top of a crostini, but it gets a lot less messy if you contain it in these neat pastries — and it's just as delicious.
The options are truly endless. You can even fill the pastries with fruit and whipped cream for dessert, if you have any pastry cases leftover after serving your appetizers.
The pastries are best if they are baked on the day that they are going to be served, but they can be prepared a day in advance and stored in an air-tight container if you really need the extra prep time.
How to make vol au vents
Makes approximately 24 servings
Preheat the oven t0 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, gently roll out two sheets of cold but not frozen puff pastry to remove any creases and trim off the edges.
Using a cookie cutter or a knife, cut the pastry into 2" circles or squares. Using a smaller cutter, remove the centers from half of the pieces of pastry to create pieces that resemble frames.
Brush the solid pastry pieces very lightly with water. Place the pastry frames on top of the moistened pastry pieces. Transfer the unbaked vol au vents to the baking sheet
Bake for 14-18 minutes, until golden brown and nicely risen.
Allow pastries to cool on the sheet pan for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Press down the centers of each vol au vent if they have risen to the point where there is not much room in the cavity. Fill with filling of choice.
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