Blog Checking Lines: Our October 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Suz of Serenely Full. Suz challenged us to not only tackle buttery and flaky puff pastry, but then take it a step further and create a sinfully delicious Mille Feuille dessert with it!
This month’s challenge was to make a Mille-Feuille, also known as a Napoleon, a popular French patisserie treat. “Mille-feuille” is French for “a thousand leaves” (or “layers”) as it contains both layers of pastry (usually 3) and layers within each puff pastry sheet. The sheets of pastry are layered with a luscious pastry cream and topped with icing or powdered sugar. I have never had this particular dessert before and it was fun to make.
Making puff pastry is actually not difficult though it takes time and patience. Puff pastry is made with a simple unleavened pastry dough which is wrapped around a sheet of butter. The butter pastry package is then rolled out and folded multiple times creating layers of butter within the dough which will puff up into crispy layers when baked. To make the Napoleon, the puff pastry is rolled out into three thin sheets which are baked with a weight on top to keep it from puffing too much (this was slightly heart-breaking to do since I worked so hard to create layers that would puff!). The three baked sheets of pastry are layered with pastry cream and the top is spread with royal icing. The resulting dessert is then sliced into squares after chilling.
For my version of the Napoleon, I chose to make a salty-sweet peanut butter pastry cream (which I would have been very happy just eating by itself) and layered the baked pastry with the pastry cream and fresh raspberries. The nutty and salty pastry cream was an excellent way to cut the sweetness of the royal icing and went well with the fresh berries. Though time consuming, none of the steps of making the Napoleon were difficult. Surprisingly, the only hard part about making the dessert was cutting it into squares! My dessert was very wobbly and it was hard to get neat cuts even after refrigerating for several hours. I think if I were to make this in the future that I would pre-cut the finished puff pastry into serving-sized squares and assemble each Napoleon individually.
Recipe Notes: Plan ahead. The pastry takes about 4 hours to make, some of which is chilling time. The pastry cream takes about 30 minutes to make plus time to chill overnight. The assembled Napoleon should chill for several hours before slicing.
Pâte feuilletée/Puff Pastry
- 1 3/4 cup (250g) plain/all-purpose flour
- Scant 1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz/50g) unsalted butter chilled and cubed
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (150ml) cold water
- 14 Tbsp (7oz/200g) butter (for the beurrage), room temperature
- 3 1/2 Tbsp. (30g) plain flour (for the beurrage)
- Cut the larger quantity of butter into small pieces and set aside at room temperature.
- Put the larger quantity of flour into a bowl with the salt and the cold, cubed butter.
- Lightly rub the butter and flour between your fingertips until it forms a mealy breadcrumb texture.
- Add the cold water and bring together with a fork or spoon until the mixture starts to cohere and come away from the side of the bowl.
- Ass the dough begins to come together, you can use your hands to start kneading and incorporating all the remaining loose bits. If the dough is too dry, add a touch more water.
- Knead for 3 minutes on a floured surface until the dough is smooth.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- While the dough is chilling, take your room temperature butter and mix with the smaller amount of plain flour until it forms a paste.
- Place the butter paste between two sheets of plastic wrap or in a pre-folded parchment paper packet and either with a rolling pin or your hands, shape it into a 4.5/12cm square.
- Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes so the butter firms up slightly. If it’s too soft, refrigerate longer. If it’s too hard, leave out for a few minutes. It should be sold but malleable.
- Once the dough has chilled, roll it out on a floured surface into a 6″/15cm square. Place the square of butter in the middle with each corner touching the center of the square’s side (on point).
- Fold each corner of the dough over the butter so they meet in the center and it resembles an envelope. Seal up the edges with your fingers. You’ll be left with a square parcel.
- Turn the dough parcel over and tap the length of it with your rolling pin to flatten it slightly.
- Keeping the work surface well floured, roll the dough carefully into a rectangle 1/4 inch thick.
- With the longest side facing you, fold one third (on the right) inwards, so it’s covering the middle section and ensure that it is lined up.
- Then, fold the remaining flap of dough (on the left) inwards, so you’re left with a narrow three-layered strip.
- Repeat steps 14,15,16.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Repeat steps 14,15,16 twice.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and chill again for at least 30 minutes.
- Repeat steps 14,15,16 two more times.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. The dough keeps a couple of days in the fridge. It can also be frozen and then thawed in the refrigerator before using.
Pastry Cream/ Crème Patisserie:
- 2 cups (450ml) whole milk
- 1/3 cup (1 1/4 oz/35g) cornflour/cornstarch
- 1 cup less 1 Tbsp. (200gm/7oz) sugar
- 4 large egg yolks (if you’re making royal icing, reserve two egg whites)
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup (2oz/60gm) unsalted butter, cubed
- 2 tsp vanilla
- optional: 1/2 cup (150gm) no-stir peanut butter (I used Jiff Naturals Creamy Peanut Butter)
- Mix the cornstarch with 1/2 cup of milk and stir until dissolved.
- Heat the remaining milk in a saucepan with the sugar, dissolving the sugar and bringing the milk to a boil. Remove from heat.
- Beat the whole eggs into the cornstarch/milk mixture. Then beat in the egg yolks. Pour in 1/3 of the hot milk, stirring constantly to prevent the eggs from cooking.
- Now, bring the remaining milk back to the boil and add the eggy mixture, whisking as you pour. Keep whisking (don’t stop or it will solidify) on a medium heat until the mixture starts to thicken.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and thoroughly whisk the pastry cream. At this stage the pastry cream can look slightly lumpy, but a good whisking soon makes it smoother.
- Beat in the butter and vanilla until fully incorporated. If using, fold the peanut butter into the hot cream until fulling incorporated.
- If you haven’t already, pour the pastry cream into a stainless steel or ceramic bowl and then place plastic wrap over the surface to stop a skin from forming.
- Refrigerate overnight to give the pastry cream time to further thicken.
- 1 batch pâte feuilletée/puff pastry
- 1 batch crème patisserie/pastry cream
- 2 3/4 cups (12 1/3 oz/350 gm) powdered sugar
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 2 large egg whites
- 1/2 cup 92 3/4oz/80gm) dark chocolate
- 2 pints raspberries (optional)
- Preheat the oven to moderately hot 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
- Lightly dust your work space with flour and remove your dough from the fridge.
- Roll into a large rectangle the thickness of cardboard, approximately 12″x18″. It’s helpful to roll this out on parchment paper.
- Cut into three equal pieces and place on a baking tray. You may have to bake them separately.
- Prick/dock the pastry sheets all over with a fork.
- Place another sheet of parchment paper over the top and then weigh down the dough with another heavy baking sheet. Mine was not heavy enough, so I would weigh it down evenly next time with a couple of heavy baking pans on top of the baking sheet.
- Bake each sheet for about 25 minutes, removing the top layer of paper and the tray 10 minutes before the end for the tops to brown. Keep an eye on them and lower the temperature if they start to brown too much.
- Remove the baked sheets from the oven and cool on a rack.
- Once the pastry has cooled, you’re ready to assemble the mille-feuille. Get a sturdy flat board, the pastry and the chilled cream.
- Lay one sheet on the board and spread half the pastry cream over the top. Sprinkle 1/2 the raspberries on top if using.
- Take the second sheet and place it on top, pressing down lightly with your hands to ensure that it sticks to the filling.
- Spread the remaining pastry cream and raspberries (if using) over the top layer and top with the final pastry sheet.
- Chill the layers while you make the icing/chocolate.
- Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring periodically. Once melted, transfer to a piping bag or plastic bag with the corner snipped.
- To make the icing, whisk 2 egg whites with 2 tsp. lemon juice until lightly frothy.
- Whisk in about 2 cups (300gm) of powdered sugar on low until smooth and combined. The mixture should be thick enough to leave trails on the surface. Thicken with more powdered sugar if necessary.
- Once ready, immediately pour the icing over the top of the pastry and spread it evenly. You probably won’t need all of the icing.
- Still working quickly, pipe a row of thin chocolate lines along the length of the pastry.
- Still working quickly, take a sharp knife and lightly draw it down through the lines of chocolate from top to bottom. Repeat from bottom to top. Keep repeating this until you’ve worked through the entire top of the pastry.
- Chill for a couple of hours to set up the icing.
- With a knife, gently mark where you’re going to cut your slices.
- With a sharp knife, trim the edges and cut your slices.