Every now and then we all like to take short cuts. I realise this may sound odd coming from someone who loves food but frankly, today I just wasn’t in the mood to be stirring, beating and whipping endlessly to create the perfect crème patissière. However, having made the puff pastry from scratch I do feel justified in taking the easy option when assembling this dessert (but feel free to buy ready made pastry for the ultra easy option!).
A classic Napoleon or Mille Feuille consists of cream and jam sandwiched between layers of crisp, buttery, puff pastry. The top can be simply decorated with icing sugar or more elaborately with fondant glacé and chocolate or flaked almonds. This dessert is thought to date back to the 19th century and has absolutely nothing to do with the diminutive Emperor. In the Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson states that the name is a corruption of ‘Napolitain’ (the Neopolitans are renowned for their layered confections).
So this is my easy version of a classic. I have gone for individual, round ones rather than one large rectangle. The creme patissiere has been replaced with mascarpone and lemon curd and I have added some fresh fruit to boot. Hopefully, I have made them a lot less daunting to make (particularly if you buy ready made pastry) even if they aren’t quite as pretty as those you can buy from a patisserie.
*Incidentally, there is no evidence to support the theory that these words were uttered by Napoleon Bonapart to his mistress.
Rather like a Pavlova this dessert is best assembled just before you serve it to keep the pastry crisp.
- 340g puff pastry (this will be more than you need but at least gives you a little leeway should you have any mishaps)
- 2 tsp Icing sugar plus more for dusting
- 200g Mascarpone cheese
- 2 tbsp Lemon curd
- 50g white chocolate
- 25g flaked almonds
- About 8 tsp Jam e.g. strawberry
- Fresh berries e.g. raspberries or blueberries, a handful or two
You will need two baking trays, ideally one slightly larger than the other.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Cut two pieces of baking parchment to fit the larger baking tray.
- Cut the pastry in half. Refrigerate one half and place the other on a lightly floured board. Roll it out into a thin rectangle ideally no more than 3mm thick. I know it sounds ludicrously thin but I promise the pastry will expand considerably as it cooks. My first batch were too thick and looked more like mini leaning towers of Pisa when they came out of the oven (hence the recommendation that you have more pastry available than you actually need) so trust me on this one!
- Using a 10cm round pastry cutter, cut 6 rounds from the pastry. Use one piece of baking parchment to line the larger baking tray then place the rounds onto the tray. Repeat this with the remaining pastry in the fridge.
- Prick each round several time with a fork. Cover with the remaining baking parchment then place the slightly smaller baking tray on top. Place in the oven for 15 minutes.
- Remove the top baking tray and the parchment. Sprinkle each round with a little icing sugar then return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. The rounds should be crisp, lightly browned and have risen significantly. Allow to cool.
- To make the filling, beat the mascarpone, lemon curd and 2 tsp icing sugar in a bowl.
- Melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Take 4 of the cooked puff pastry rounds and dip the top into melted chocolate. You need the top to be covered (although not to the point that it is dripping off). If needs be, spoon a little melted chocolate on top of each round and smooth with a palette knife. Immediately sprinkle each round with the flaked almonds and leave some where coolish (not the fridge) to firm up.
- Spread the tops of the remaining rounds with the jam of your choice (½-1tsp each should do it). If the jam is particularly thick try warming it in the microwave for a few seconds to make it easier to spread.
- Spoon the mascarpone mixture into a piping bag with a small star nozzle attached. Pipe ‘stars’ of mascarpone over the jam then top with a few berries of your choice (I used blueberries and raspberries which I cut in half).
- Carefully place one jam and mascarpone round on top of another then place a chocolate and almond round on top of this. Serve as soon as possible after assembly.
Making individual Napoleons means you will be left with lots of scraps of pastry. Find out what you can do with them next week!