French onion vol au vents

Popularised by Parisian pâtissier Antonin Carême in the early 1800s, the vol au vent has proven itself to be a stayer. Translated it means ‘flight to the wind’ - at a guess a homage to the feathery delicate nature of the pastry cases. What’s not to love about a lighter-than-air, buttery pastry cup filled with all manner of deliciousness?

Given its versatile nature, anything goes. We have leaned into a double tribute to all things French with a French onion soup inspired vol au vent. Sweet, buttery, winey caramelised onion with a hint of thyme. A playful merger – beloved French onion soup and the ‘it girl’ of the 70’s party menu.

To exact the best results, this simple dish benefits from your patience.








Mustard gruyere sauce

Makes approx. 700ml

  • 60g cultured butter
  • 60g flour
  • 500ml full cream milk,
  • 20g mustard (we used grainy and porcini Dijon – both work)
  • 60g gruyere, finely grated


Cheese crisps

  • 200g gruyere, finely grated


Vol au vent cases 

  • 1kg puff pastry
  • 2 eggs, beaten


French onion filling

  • 120g cultured butter (you
    can use any butter, but the cultured butter adds a little something extra)
  • 1.2kg large brown onions,
    peeled, halved and finely sliced
  • 3 generous sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 250ml full bodied white wine
  • 40ml brandy
  • Freshly ground black pepper


To serve

  • 280g pancetta affumicata, finely diced and fried until crisp


1. To make the mustard sauce

Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat, when the butter is foaming, add the flour and stir to combine. Reduce heat to low, cook stirring regularly for about 10 minutes, until the roux is golden. Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the warm milk, whisking until smooth. Return to the heat and cook gently for 15 minutes, stirring or whisking often until the sauce has thickened. Add the mustard and gruyere, stirring until completely combined. Season to taste. Cover the surface and set aside.

2. To make the crisps

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line two baking trays with silpat or baking paper. Using the pastry cutter as a guide make 18 discs of the grated gruyere, about 10g per crisp. Bake in the oven until crisp and lightly golden, about 7 minutes. Cool and store in an airtight container until needed.

3. To make the French onion filling

Heat a large heavy-based pan over medium heat, add the butter and melt. When the butter has fully melted, add in the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low, cook for 15 minutes. Remove the lid, the onions will have softened completely. Add the thyme, sugar and salt. Gently cook the onions, stirring every so often, until they are a beautiful, burnished caramel colour, this will take 45-60 minutes. It is very important not to rush this stage, you do not want the onions singed at all, simply perfectly caramelised. Once the onions are caramelised, add the wine and the brandy, and allow to simmer gently until reduced and thickened.

4. To make the vol au vent cases

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Making sure the pastry is cold, cut it into 3 pieces and working one at a time, roll to 5mm thickness. Cut 18 discs, using a 10cm fluted cutter. Using a 6cm cutter, cut a hole in the centre of 9 of the discs to create a ring. Place the discs in two rows on a tray/s lined with silpat or baking paper (making sure there is enough distance between them for air to circulate), lay the pastry rings over the top of the discs and brush with the beaten egg. Place a dariole mould in the corners of the tray and sit another tray over the top (this will help the vol au vents rise steadily and not keel over). Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until puffed and golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

5. To fill the vol au vents

Pipe a little of the mustard sauce into the base of each vol au vent, add a small teaspoon of crispy pancetta, fill with the onion mixture and finally top with a crispy gruyere disc. Serve immediately.

As seen in autumn 2023

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