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! ‘Mille-feuille’ is French for ‘a thousand leaves’or ‘layers’, which is very apt, as it contains both layers of pastry and layers within each pastry sheet.
Making puff pastry (or pâte feuilletée) basically involves a simple pastry dough, which is folded around sheet of butter (the beurrage). You then roll out your butter pastry package, fold it, roll it out, fold it, etc. creating seams of butter that will puff up into distinct crispy layers when baked.
The traditional mille-feuille is filled with a vanilla pastry cream (crème pâtissière) and topped with royal icing and distinctive chocolate squiggles. It is also known as a Napoleon (thought to refer to Naples in Italy rather than the diminutive French emperor), a custard slice or a vanilla slice.
While it looks pretty lengthy and complicated, the mille-feuille recipe is not so daunting for those who have worked with puff pastry in the past. Instead of the classic pastry cream, I used whipped heavy cream to sandwich my layers of puff pastry, finishing with a thin coat of icing sugar and chocolate criss cross pattern.
MILLE FEUILLE / NAPOLEON
For the Puff Pastry
1¾ cup (250g) plain/all-purpose flour
Scant ¼ cup (55 ml) (1¾ oz)(50g) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 teaspoon (5ml) (6 gm) salt
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (5/8 cup)(150 ml) cold water
14 tablespoons (210 ml) (7 oz) (200g) butter (for the beurrage), room temperature
3½ tablespoons (55ml) (30g) plain flour (for the beurrage)
For the Filling & Icing
2 cups cold heavy whipping cream
2 ¾ cups (660 ml) (12⅓oz) (350gm) icing sugar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) warm water
½ cup (2¾ oz) (80gm) dark chocolate
- For the puff pastry, cut the larger quantity of butter into small pieces. 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 until the mixture starts to come away from the sides of the bowl.
- As the dough begins to come together, use your hands to start kneading and incorporating all the remaining loose bits.
- If the dough is a little dry, you can add a touch more water. Knead for 3 minutes on a floured surface until smooth.
- Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. While the dough is chilling, prepare the beurrage.
- 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 clingfilm. With a rolling pin or your hands shape it into a 4.5”/12cm square.
- You can use a ruler (or similar) to neaten the edges. Refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes so the butter firms up slightly.
- If it’s still soft, leave it a bit longer. If it’s too hard, leave it out to soften a touch. You want it to be solid but still 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 centre of the square’s sides.
- Fold each corner of dough over the butter so they meet the centre and it resembles an envelope.
- Seal up the edges with your fingers to form a little square parcel. Turn the dough parcel over and flatten slightly.
- Keeping the work surface well floured, roll the dough carefully into a rectangle ¼ inch /6 mm in thickness.
- With the longest side facing you, fold 1/3 (on the right) inwards, so it is covering the middle section and 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 the above 3 steps and wrap up in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes. Repeat twice more.
- Wrap up in clingfilm and chill again for at least 30 minutes. Repeat the folding for two final times.
- Wrap up in clingfilm and refrigerate until needed. The dough keeps a couple of days in the fridge.
- Preheat oven to moderately hot 200 °C /400°F/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, about 12”/30cm x 18”/46cm.
- Cut into three equal pieces and place on a baking tray. Prick the pastry sheets all over with a fork.
- Place another sheet of greaseproof paper over the top and then a heavy baking tray.
- This will prevent the layers from puffing up too much. Bake each sheet for about 25 minutes.
- Remove the top layer of greaseproof paper/tray 10 minutes before the end for the tops to brown.
- Keep an eye on them periodically 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.
- Once the pastry has cooled, you’re ready to assemble your mille-feuille.
- Get a sturdy flat board, your pastry and the whipped heavy cream from the fridge.
- Lay one sheet on the board and spread half the cream evenly over the top.
- Take the second sheet and place it on top, pressing down lightly to ensure that it sticks to the filling.
- Spread the remaining cream and place the last sheet of pastry on top, pressing down again.
- Pop in the fridge while you prepare the icing. Melt chocolate in a bain marie, stirring periodically.
- Once melted, transfer to a piping bag or plastic bag with the end snipped.
- To make the icing, whisk 2 egg whites with 2 teaspoons lemon juice until lightly frothy.
- Whisk in about (2 cups) 300gm of the icing sugar on a low setting until smooth and combined.
- The mixture should be thick enough to leave trails on the surface. If it’s too thin, whisk in a bit more icing sugar.
- Once ready, immediately pour over the top of the mille-feuille and spread evenly.
- Working quickly, pipe a row of thin chocolate lines along the widest length of your pastry sheet.
- Still working quickly, take a sharp knife and lightly draw it down (from top to bottom) through the rows of chocolate.
- A centimeter (½ inch) or so further across, draw the knife up the way this time, from bottom to top.
- Move along, draw it down again, then up, and so on until the top is covered in a pretty swirly pattern.
- Once you’ve decorated your mille-feuille, with a clean knife mark out where you’re going to cut your slices.
- This depends on how big you want them to be and leaving space to trim the edges. Chill for a couple of hours.
- With a sharp knife, trim the edges and cut your slices. Servings: Makes 8- 10 pieces.
- The puff pastry recipe requires you to chill your dough after every 2 turns, but if your kitchen’s a bit warm or you think the butter might be melting, you can chill it after each turn. You’ll need lots of flour on hand for the rolling and folding. The beurrage for this puff pastry recipe is a chilled butter/flour paste instead of pure butter.
- 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, though will become less crisp.
Daring Bakers October 2012 Challenge