Vols-au-vent are puff pastry shells that resemble a pot with a lid. They can be small (individual-size) or large (6 to 8 inches in diameter). The pastry is classically filled with a cream sauce-based mixture, usually of chicken, fish, meat or vegetables. The puff-pastry lid is set on top of the filling. The term vol-au-vent is the French for "flying in the wind," refers to the pastry's incredible lightness.
Vols-au-vent are said to have been created by the famous French chef Antonin Carême who made his fame in the early 19th century, cooking for royalty and the very rich. Carême baked Napoleon's wedding cake, and dazzled Britain's future King George IV at Brighton's Royal Pavilion. He created masterpieces for the Romanovs in St. Petersburg and soufflés flecked with real gold for the Rothschilds in Paris. He is credited with inventing the chefs hat, the vol-au-vent, the soufflé, and the service a la Russe (serving one dish after another in proper order) rather than the service a la Francaise (all at once).
You can buy preprepared vol-au-vent cases or you can make your own from puff pastry sheets using shaped cutters.
Chicken and Asparagus Vol-au-vent
1 large onion, finely diced
425g mushrooms, sliced
50g plain flour
600 ml chicken stock
1 tin (420g) cream of Asparagus soup
½ glass dry sherry
500g chicken breast, diced
36 small vol-au-vent cases
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. In a large pan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in onions and mushrooms, and sauté until onions are soft. Stir in the flour and continue to cook for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour in stock gradually, and continue to stir over a medium heat until thickened. Stir in asparagus soup, sherry, and chicken. Reduce heat to low, and simmer until the chicken is done and the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, arrange pastry shells in a large baking tray. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before spooning equal amounts of the chicken filling into each shell.