Pastetli were invented in the early 1800s in Antonin Carême’s pastry store in Paris, France where they’re called vol-au-vent, French for ‘windblown’ to describe its lightness. While they’re served as an appetizer in France, they’re eaten as a main meal not only in Switzerland but also in Belgium and the Netherlands. It is also from the Netherlands where the Swiss name Pastetli origins from. The Dutch call them pasteitje (little pastry). From there it came to the German Pastete. Just to add a little complication though, a Pastete in Switzerland is rectangle cake shaped puff pastry pie filled with sausage meat, mushrooms in a creamy sauce.
A vol-au-vent is a light puff pastry shell that resembles a bowl with a lid. The shell is generally filled with a creamy sauce (most often a velouté sauce) containing vegetables, chicken, meat or fish. The lid is placed on the filled shell and the pastry is then served as an appetizer, also known as bouchée à la Reine, or as the main course of a meal. When prepared, the pastry dough is flattened and cut into two circles. A smaller circle is cut out of the center of one of the circles, which then will be used as the lid. The circle without the center cut and the circle with the center cut are then joined together around the edges so as the pastry bakes, it rises into a shell with a hole in the top. The lid, which is baked separately, is added later. The pastry shell may be made the size of an individual serving, or it can be made in several different sizes to become a main serving for one or a larger size to be served for more than one.
Vol-au-vents rose to prominence in Paris in the 19th century. In post-war Britain, they were a mainstay of any self-respecting buffet, served to suitably impressed guests alongside welcome drinks at dinner parties. By the 1990s, they had become unfashionable and remained so for decades. Updated vol-au-vents started reappearing in chic restaurants a year or two before the covid pandemic (2020) erupted and have become the retro appetizer or main course to have.
You can even adapt them to make some elegant desserts. Fill with cream and fresh fruit or melt a 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 cream and chocolate shavings.
For our main course vol-au-vents, I am making an interesting filling which includes, chicken, shrimp, mushrooms and tiny meatballs. Sounds a little odd but is packed with flavor.