Today’s post marks my second attempt at millefeuille (or, Napoleon). It’s one of my absolute favorite desserts, and I actually discovered it for the first time on a trip to Disney World a couple of years back. At some point or another during our visit to Epcot, when we finally got tired of the ubiquitous and absurdly long lines, we found ourselves wandering into a little patisserie in the middle of the France portion of the international showcase. There I discovered the magic that emerges when crisp layers of puff pastry are layered with a creamy, dreamy whipped filling. After I began my foray into the baking world (but about a week before I started my adventures with you all), I decided to try my hand at making my own millefeuille.
In short, it was an unmitigated disaster.
…okay, maybe that’s a bit of an over-exaggeration. In all fairness, the house didn’t burn down and not a one fingertip was singed in the process, but the puff pastry was on the browner side of golden-brown and yet still not quite crispy enough on the inside. Worse still, because I didn’t know any better, I used the first creme patissiere recipe I found for the filling. Unfortunately, said recipe resulted in a sad an d soupy imitation of the glorious delight that creme patissiere ought to be, so all we had on New Year’s Eve were (albeit tasty) soggy, off-kilter towers.
Anyway, after a year or so of my bruised ego slowly repairing itself, I decided to give millefeuille (French for thousand sheets, because, well, puff pastry) another shot after over 365 days of hopefully improving my baking skill repertoire. Fortunately, practice did not fail me this time around, and I managed to troubleshoot both of my pitfalls from last time. For a shatteringly crisp pastry, bake, then split the layers in half to make sure that the underbaked center crisps up before the exteriors brown beyond repair. For a stable but creamy interior, I swapped out the creme patissiere for its 50% whipped cream cousin, creme diplomat and used a tried and true (and 100% stable!) recipe for the pastry cream component.
And while yes, in the grand scheme of things, the leaning tower of millefeuille is but a small hiccup of a failure, finally assembling a successful (and aesthetically pleasing) version of the same pastry was a really exciting moment. If nothing else, it’s tangible proof that practice does work, and my baking really is getting better than it was before, even though it may not feel like it is on a day to day basis. And for someone who isn’t by any means the most patient human in the world, that means a lot.
All cheesy Hallmark revelations aside, if you’re looking for something that’s a relatively small commitment but looks like the product of hours and hours of tireless effort, give this recipe a try. Hope you enjoy!
Makes 4 large pastries
1 sheet puff pastry
(yes that’s it)
Creme Diplomat Filling:
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
2 tbs granulated sugar
20 g all purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
48 raspberries (from about 2 small boxes)
- Thaw the puff pastry until it is soft enough to roll (about 30 min).
- Preheat the oven to 400 ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll out the puff pastry just enough to smooth out the folds. Transfer to the parchment paper, then perforate well with a fork.
Tip: I forgot to perforate, so my millefeuille layers are a little puffier than they should be. For perfectly flat puff pastry, don’t forget to pierce the puff pastry plenty of times with the fork to allow the air to escape the giant bubble in the middle!
- Bake the puff pastry for about 30 minutes, or until the top surface is golden brown and flaky. Allow the puff pastry to cool slightly for about 5 minutes, but leave the oven on.
- Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the puff pastry into a 2×3 array of 6 rectangles, then gently split each puff pastry apart so that each rectangle is half as thin as it was before.
- Lay out the split layers back onto the baking sheet such that the slightly softer inner layers are on top and the crisp outer layer is on the bottom, then bake for another 5 minutes to crisp up both sides.
Creme Diplomat Filling:
- Heat the milk and vanilla extract in a small pot on medium-high heat until the liquid comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low.
- Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until the sugar is nearly fully dissolved and the egg is frothy. Whisk in the flour and set aside.
Tip: After adding the flour, your mixture will be very pasty and thick. Don’t worry – that’s exactly what it ought to be!
- Pour in about 1/2 of the boiling milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking quickly as you pour.
- Pour the egg mixture back into the pot through a sieve, whisking quickly as you pour. Continue whisking until the pastry cream thickens to the consistency of thick pudding, then remove from heat.
Tip: Always make sure to mix your eggs into the milk by tempering them with hot milk, then pouring through the sieve rather than dumping them all in at once. No matter how many times and how quickly I’ve tried to whisk while pouring in untempered eggs, I always ended up with unpleasantly eggy pastry cream because some of the egg inevitably scrambles as it hits the hot milk. After lots of sadness, disappointment, and wasted pastry cream, I finally started to use this tempering method as a virtually fool-proof strategy for keeping pastry cream (or any other type of custard) scrambled eggs-free!
- Pour the mixture into another bowl, cover the surface with saran wrap, and set aside to cool completely.
Tip: Make sure the saran wrap touches the surface of the pastry cream when you cover the bowl to prevent a skin from forming at the top of your pastry cream if the surface dries out.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer or with an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream until it reaches the stiff peaks stage. At this point, when you lift out the whisk, you should see distinct peaks with tips that do not curl over.
Tip: It is very important to make sure that your cream reaches stiff peaks, or else the creme diplomat will not hold when you pipe it in for filling! That said, make sure to stop as soon as you hit stiff peaks, or else you will start churning butter instead of whipped cream.
- Beat the cooled pastry cream to loosen, then fold in 1/3 of the whipped cream at a time until fully incorporated. Load into a piping bag with a large round tip (I used the Wilton 1A!), then set aside for filling!
- Pipe a small amount of creme diplomat into the center of your plate, then place one layer of puff pastry on top.
Tip: In case your puff pastry layers did end up puffing a bit, for a more stable pastry, put the bottom layer with the originally crisp side down and the originally fluffy interior side up, then the second and third layers with crisp side up for a pretty finish!
- Create a 3×4 checkerboard of large dollops of pastry cream alternating with raspberries.
Tip: To pipe each dollop, place the tip against the pastry, then lift slowly while applying even pressure before releasing.
- Cover with a second layer of puff pastry and repeat, then top with a third layer of puff pastry.
- Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately. Enjoy!
Tip: DO NOT REFRIGERATE – the puff pastry will lose its crisp texture that you worked so hard for!