Sunday, October 28, 2012

Daring Bakers Challenge, October 2012: Layering Up: Mille- Feuille/Napolean

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 step further and create a sinfully delicious Mille Feuille dessert with it!

Suz helped us out with in-depth step by step instructions, a list of alternate recipes and videos showcasing different ways in which to make the dessert.

Napolean or mille-feuille is a French dessert conveying a literal translation of" a thousand leaves", a name which is spot on when looking at the dish, component-wise. Think about this- you multiply puff pastry by 3, each of those embodying innumerable flaked layers themselves, with a double layer of cream custard also plussed in, thus ranking scores of pastry "leaves" tucked away in the very structure. A dessert on par to the rarefied few of royal gems, grandiose and gorgeous to boot.

Puff pastry alone seemed colossal to me, a task requiring the Gargantuan, skill that is. My dillydallyings with everyday bake experiments did not sell for me. Puff pastry was definitely not up my side of the alley, sidewalk, doorway or kitchen.

Though therein was my greatest challenge, summoning myself to just do it. So yes, after thinking about it for  2 weeks,days I pretty much believed I was ready to tackle it head on, taking charge of not only the making of the indubitable pastry, and it's accompanying comrades, but also in their final merrymaking assembly.

I went about making the pastry cream first, leaving time for it's essential cooling and coming together. So while it set to thicken, I got to work on my dough prep.

And that's where I was taken to task. Labor indeed, commanding most of the day, and a good part of night, even employing the other set of hands in the house, after his day job, to help with the recurring grades of tucking, rolling, folding and chilling in turns to make seriously good French pastry. A count of six turns and we were total and done, my dough and I, deeply relieved and ready for rest, him in the fridge, myself curled over my oversized couch.

The best part here I must make mention of. Nope, not the insane, buttery aroma wafting through every corner of the house, redolent of a very good bakery. Not even the beaut- gorgeous golden color of  baked goods once retrieved from the oven. It had to be, by far and well, definitely the A-class texture of pastry, flaky and crisp, something a pre-packaged product could not even touch. This is of that class, that can be eaten alone, sans any accompaniment, flavor, sweetener, all by itself. It is just that good. A goodness that only an overabundance of fat could produce. Where  you see that butter is king. With the beurrage packet enveloped within and released throughout the timely turning, it renders perfect dough pockets that lift once moisture exits those beautiful flecks of yellow.

And when sheets of pastry are all said and done, they further on with a cushioning of the smooth silk of pastry cream, adding on more layers, finally tufted with a royal icing glaze, laced with chocolate . You have reached, absolute peak of utter perfection. Layered amalgam of pure pastry bliss.

Simple task it is not, but it's impressiveness transcends it to over beyond and above status, redeeming it from it's labor intensive construction.

A word of caution must be stressed on the handling of these puff pastry planes, though, once baked,  a very delicate hand is required, since it lacks the sturdy, board- like consistency of its' packaged, frozen counterpart. Which is definitely a nod in favor; super crisp, soft, flaky magnificence that can never be copied by any top brand grocer variety.

After hearing in, don't you want to give this one a try, people? Well worth the effort, I tell you, during it's making and your consumption, and definitely most worthy of the innumerable 3 mile spins you will be making on the treadmill belt, next day.

(All recipes/methods/assembly, adapted from the Daring Bakers' Challenge page)
Puff Pastry~
  • 14 tbs unsalted butter 
  • 1¾ c all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  •  ¼ c cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • ½ c plus 2 tbsp  cold water
  • 3½ tbs all purpose flour
  • additional flour for rolling/turning
  • Cut the larger quantity of butter into cubes and set aside to come to 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 sides of the bowl.
  • As the dough begins to come together, you can use your hands to start kneading and incorporating all the remaining loose bits. If the dough’s a little dry, you can add a bit more water.
  • Knead for three 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 (called a beurrage) .
  • Place the butter paste between two sheets of clingfilm, and either with a rolling pin or your hands shape it into a 4 ½" square. You can use a ruler, pastry cutter or your fingers to neaten the edges.
  • Refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes so the butter firms up slightly. You want it to be solid but still malleable.
  • Roll it out on a floured surface into a 6" square. Place the square of butter in the center, with each corner touching the centre of the square’s sides ( imagine a big butter diamond in the middle of a dough square).
  • Fold each corner of dough over the butter so they meet the centre (you might have to stretch them a little) and it resembles an envelope, and seal up the edges with your fingers. You’ll be left with a little square parcel.
  • Turn the dough parcel over and tap the length of it with your rolling pan to flatten it slightly.
  • a) Keeping the work surface well floured, roll the dough carefully into a rectangle ¼" thickness.
  • b) 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 
  • c) Then, fold the remaining flap of dough (on the left) inwards, so you’re left with a narrow three-layered strip.
  • Repeat steps marked a, b, c.
  • Wrap up in cling wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  • Repeat steps a, b, c, twice through, turning over and folding two times as mentioned in those steps.
  • Wrap again in cling wrap and chill again for at least 30 minutes.
  • Repeat steps a, b, c two final times (a total of 6 times).
  • Wrap up in clingfilm and refrigerate until needed. The dough keeps a couple of days in the fridge.

Pastry Cream / Crème Pâtissière~
 (full batch; makes enough for 8-10 mille-feuille)
  • 2 c whole milk
  • ¼ c cornstarch
  • 1 c less 1 tbsp sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks (if you’re making the royal icing, reserve two egg whites)
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Mix the cornflour/cornstarch with ½ 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 the boil. Remove from heat.
  • Beat the whole eggs into the cornflour/milk mixture. Then beat in the egg yolks. Pour in 1/3 of the hot milk, stirring constantly to prevent the eggs from cooking.
  • Bring the remaining milk back to the boil, and add the egg mixture, whisking as your pour. Keep whisking (don’t stop or it’ll 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 you haven’t already, pour the pastry cream into a stainless steel or ceramic bowl, and then place clingfilm over the surface to stop a skin forming.
  • Refrigerate overnight to give the pastry cream time to further thicken.
Notes: If you’re worried about the pastry cream continuing to cook off the heat, you can transfer it to a stainless steel/ceramic bowl
Baking the Puff Pastry~
  • Preheat oven to moderately hot 200°C /400°F.
  • Lightly dust your work space with flour and remove your dough from the fridge.
  • Roll into a large rectangle, the thickness of cardboard, (thickness of about 12”x 18").
  • Roll on the work surface, and finish it off on a large piece of parchment paper. That way it’s easier to move the sheets of pastry around.
  • Cut into three equal pieces and place on a baking tray. If you don’t have space for all three, you can bake them separately.
  • Prick the pastry sheets all over with a fork.
  • Place another sheet of parchment paper over the top and then top that with a heavy baking tray -to prevent the layers from puffing up too much.
  • Bake sheets for about 25 minutes in a moderately hot oven 200 °C /400°F, removing the top layer of greaseproof paper/tray 10 minutes before the end for the tops to brown. Keep an eye on them and lower the temperature if you think they’re browning too much.
  • Remove the baked sheets from the oven and leave on a wire rack to cool completely.

Icing~ (To be towards the end of assembly, since it will harden quickly.)

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 ¾ cups confectioner's sugar
For the Topping on The Icing~
  • ½ cup dark chocolate
  • Whisk 2 egg whites with 2 teaspoons lemon juice until lightly frothy.
  • Whisk in 2 c of the confectioner's sugar on a low setting until smooth and combined. The mixture should be thick enough to leave trails on the surface and holding it's shape briefly when poured back into bowl. If it’s too thin, add in a more sugar, bit by bit until thick enough.
Mille-Feuille/ Napoleon/ Custard Slice~

  • 1 batch puff pastry ( above)
  • 1 batch crème pâtissière/pastry cream ( above)
  • 1 batch icing (above)
  • Once the pastry has cooled, you’re ready to assemble your mille-feuille. Get ready a sturdy surface, clean chopping board, your pastry and the chilled crème pâtissière from the fridge.
  •  Lay one pastry sheet on the board and spread half the crème patisserie evenly over the top
I had my helpers lend their hand-too much fun to be had alone for this one.
  • 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 cream and place the last sheet of pastry on top, pressing down again. Oozing around the sides is normal and can be neatened up after assembly.
  • Pop in the fridge while you prepare the icing / chocolate.
  • Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring periodically. Once melted, transfer to a piping bag (or plastic bag with end snipped), resting nozzle side down in a glass or other tall container.
  • The icing should be prepared at this time.
  • Immediately pour over the top of the top layer of pastry and spread evenly to the edges. 
  • Still working quickly, pipe or draw a row of thin perpendicular chocolate lines, width- wise along the top of the icing.
  • STILL working quickly, take a sharp knife to make perpendicular cuts through chocolate lines down (from top to bottom) through the rows of chocolate. Draw the knife across the surface top in one direction, then make the next cut across the pastry in the opposite direction. And so on, moving along the rows of chocolate until the top is covered in a pretty swirly pattern.
My warm kitchen temperature added a  lot to the lack of icing set, drippy and messing up my beautiful chocolate drawing in the process.
  • Once you’ve decorated your mille-feuille with a clean knife mark out where you’re going to cut your slices, depending on how big you want them to be and leaving space to trim the edges. I got ten out of mine – two rows of five.
  • Chill for a couple of hours to give the icing time to set.
  • With a sharp knife, trim the edges and cut your slices.
The puff pastry dough will keep in the fridge for up to two days. Any leftovers can be well wrapped up & frozen for a year. Thaw for 30 minutes on the counter or overnight in the fridge.
The completed mille-feuille can be made a day or two in advance; it will last 2 or 3 days in an airtight container in the fridge, losing a little crispness.

Thank you Suz for this extraordinary challenge, in aiding us to conquer, not only the formidable puff pastry, but also in guiding us through the layering elements and final assembly line of an amazingly impressive mille feuille.

So after countless step- by- stepping, a day's worth of pastry preparation, copius amounts of butter- laden- dessert- inhaling that brought about a weighing scale phobia, would I  dare draw on a repeat performance?

Oui, oui, mes amis. Until next time.

Sorry  DB'ers again for the late entry. I was in free fall once I got started. A should I or shouldn't I conundrum. Happy I am indeed that I completed, even if tardy by a day or two.
You are the apple of His eye ~
"The Lord your God is with you,
    he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you, 
he will quiet you with his love,
    he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17


  1. A beautiful job on this challenge, Tisa - congratulations! I'm so happy you enjoyed the pastry. I loved your description of it - if I hadn't already made it myself, you would have me convinced to try! As would your photos. :)

    1. Thanks so much Suz. So gratifying to see the very first comment is yours. It was beyond great, this challenge. Thank you for helping out the pastry phobe in me :)

  2. Looks so delicious, great job on the challenge!

  3. Your Mille feuille is perfection my friend what a stunning dessert :)

    Choc Chip Uru

  4. Beautiful post and beautiful mille feuille! You did a great job on the puff pastry, it looks fantastic!

    1. Thanks Korena. I felt that I had not done justice to it as much as you had :)

  5. Tisa your describtion made me want to try this all over again!
    Brilliant job on this challenge my friend

    1. Sawsan, your pictures inspired me and gave me the final push to go make ;)) Thanks so much.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!