Yes, it’s dessert time again. I wanted to make something that I haven’t made before and I wanted it to be appealing to look at. So it was back to my trusty American’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. In the pastry section I came across this recipe for Napoleons. It’s been years since I’ve eaten one and my son has never tried them before. Napoleons are a bit challenging to make. I made the pastry cream filling from scratch but I found the puff pastry in the freezer section at the supermarket. My baking book had a recipe to make puff pastry from scratch which I would have preferred however it’s way too warm this summer to work with a butter-rich dough. The store-bought puff pastry is not made with butter so it isn’t as flavorful as I would have liked it but it was a suitable substitute. The pastry cream was made from scratch which helped make up for any flavor deficit. I found these Napoleons to be quite rich. The recipe makes 6 servings but can be cut in half to make 12. If you are short on time or are still a novice cook, you can substitute vanilla pudding for the pastry cream. This recipe really needs some step-by-step photos however I don’t have any windows in my kitchen so there is no natural light to take decent photos. To help make up for the lack of photo steps, here is a video of a Martha Stewart recipe that you can use as a template for this recipe if you are brave enough to tackle this pastry recipe. 😉
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Baking Book
You will need 2 large rimmed baking sheets of the same size to make this recipe. Thaw store-bought puff pastry in the refrigerator overnight, then unwrap both pieces of dough, stack one on top of the other and roll into a 16 by 12-inch rectangle between 2 sheets of parchment paper.
1 pound box of frozen puff-pastry dough, thawed
2 tablespoons milk
1 ounce bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
3/4 cup (3 ounces) powdered sugar
1/4 cup (1 ounce) powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons milk
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups pastry cream (recipe follows) or vanilla pudding
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Roll the puff pastry into a 16 by 12-inch rectangle, about 1/4 inch think, between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Remove the top sheet of parchment and prick the pastry with a fork every 2 inches.
2. Replace the top sheet of parchment and slide the dough onto a rimmed baking sheet. Place a second rimmed baking sheet on top of the dough and weight the baking sheet down with a large ovenproof dish. Bake the pastry until cooked through and lightly golden, 50 to 60 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking.
3. Remove the weight, the top baking sheet, and the top sheet of parchment paper, and continue to bake the pastry until golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Let the pastry cool completely on the baking sheet, about 1 hour. (The pastry will shrink slightly.)
4. Cut the cooled pastry in half lengthwise with a serrated knife and trim the edges as necessary to make them straight. Cut each pastry half crosswise into 3 rectangles, then cut each rectangle crosswise into 3 small rectangles (you will have a total of 18 rectangles).
5. For the chocolate glaze: Microwave the milk and chocolate together in a small microwave-safe bowl, whisking often, until the chocolate begins to melt, 20 to 30 seconds. Whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth.
6. For the vanilla glaze: Whisk the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla together in another small bowl until smooth.
7. Spread the chocolate glaze evenly over the top of 6 rectangles of pastry and lay them on a wire rack set over a sheet of waxed paper (for easy and cheap cleanup). Drizzle thin horizontal streams of the vanilla glaze over the chocolate glaze. Run the tip of of small knife or toothpick lengthwise through the icing to make a design. Let the icing set, about 20 minutes.
8. For the filling: Meanwhile, spread about 2 1/2 tablespoons of the pastry cream or pudding evenly over 6 more rectangles of pastry. Gently top each with one of the remaining 6 rectangles of pastry and spread the remaining pastry cream evenly over the tops. Top with the glazed pastry rectangles and serve.
Test kitchen tip: Weight it down
There’s only one way to stop puff pastry puffing up, and that’s weighting the pastry. And since you want the layers of pastry that make up each Napoleon to be flat and dense (not puffy and domed), it’s important to follow this step. We place a second sheet pan over the pastry, then weight the pastry with a large ovenproof glass dish.
makes 2 cups
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
Pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons rum or brandy (optional)
1. Bring the half-and-half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar and the salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
2 Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar together until smooth.
3. Whisk about 1 cup of the simmering half-and-half mixture into the egg yolks to temper. Then slowly whisk the tempered egg yolks back into the simmering half-and-half mixture. Keep heat at medium and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the pastry cream is thickened and few bubbles burst on the surface, about 30 seconds.
4. Off the heat, whisk in the butter, vanilla and rum (if using). Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and press plastic wrap directly on the surface. Refrigerate the pastry cream until cold and set, about 3 hours.