Sunday, May 26, 2013

French Napoleon pastries

Although my parents aren't big fans of desserts in general, one thing they can definitely sink their teeth into is a classic French Napoleon pastry. My dad, you see, is a pastry cream addict. He can eat the stuff with a spoon or any other utensil you give him (chopsticks too!). There is a fabulous bakery in the D.C. area called Stella's Bakery that we used to order from. Every time I'd head home to Delaware, I would order a half sheet cake of their Napoleon. My parents would eat a row of it and then package up the rest for their friends. The half sheet cake would be devoured in the matter of 2-3 days. We Asians can eat.

I was tickled pink when I found out when Cara from The Boys Made Me Do It! had selected puff pastry as this month's theme for our What's Baking group. Napoleons have been on my baking bucket list, and I honestly do not know what took me so long to make these. They weren't nearly as difficult as I imagined.

I made the pastry cream one evening and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, I baked up my puff pastry and allowed the layers to cool. Then I made my white and chocolate glazes and made a nice decorative pattern on top. Once the glaze hardened, I was ready to assemble. Easy peasy, right? The flaky layers of puff pastry were sandwiched between the thick and rich vanilla pastry cream. Then it was topped with a sugary glaze with a fun decorative design. Yes, the Napoleon is one of my all-time favorite desserts.

Although I had a hard time cutting these into pretty slices (I had pastry cream oozing everywhere, but I did enjoy licking my fingers afterwards!), these Napoleons were spot on. I used a commercial puff pastry so my layers weren't quite as flaky or light as Stella's. Regardless, I am still beyond the moon that I was able to make these on my own. When I see my family the next time, I will make this so we can save ourselves the $78 (!!!!) the bakery charges for a half sheet cake.


French Napoleon pastries
Pastry cream (note that this will require ~2 hours to chill, so plan accordingly)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, cubed
Puff pastry layers and glaze
  • 1 package thawed puff pastry (about 1 pound; the package usually includes in 2 sheets)
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3-4 Tablespoons milk
  • 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
Directions
Make the pastry cream: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Heat until the mixture comes to a simmer.  Do not turn off the stove.

While the milk mixture is warming up, whisk together the egg yolks and cornstarch in a medium-sized bowl.  Keep whisking and slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the warm milk mixture into the egg yolk/cornstarch mixture.  Add the remaining warm milk into the egg yolk/cornstarch mixture and mix well until the milk has been fully incorporated.  Transfer the mixture back into the medium saucepan and heat it on medium-high. Continuously whisk until the mixture has thickened significantly, about 2 minutes. 

Turn off the stove and remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the cubed butter and mix vigorously until all the butter has and is fully incorporated. Transfer the pastry cream to a medium bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Be sure to press the plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Bake the puff pastry:  Stack the two sheets of thawed puff pastry on a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper or on a flat surface. Roll them into a single 12X12 inch square. Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry sheets into thirds so you get three even 12X4 inch rectangular strips.  Place the dough and parchment paper onto a large baking sheet.  Using a fork, prick the pastry dough all over and cover with plastic wrap. Chill the puff pastry in the refrigerator until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.

Transfer the baking sheet to the preheated oven and bake the puff pastry for 10 minutes, until golden around the edges.  Remove the pan from the oven and place a sheet of parchment paper and another baking sheet directly on top of half-baked puff pastry and bake for an additional 6 minutes. This prevents the pastry from puffing up too much and will keep the pastry layers nice and flat. If needed, you can weigh it down with additional oven-proof baking dishes to add more weight. Finally, remove the top baking sheet and bake for another 6 minutes or until the pastry is a nice golden brown. Turn off the oven, remove the pan from the oven and allow the puff pastry to cool completely.

Make the glaze: In a medium bowl, mix the confectioner's sugar, corn syrup, butter, and milk until you achieve a glaze that is thick yet still pourable. You may need to adjust the amount of milk.

Reserve about a quarter of the glaze and transfer to a small bowl.  Whisk in the cocoa powder until it is fully incorporated. Transfer the chocolate glaze to either a piping/pastry bag fitted with a small round tip or in a zip-top bag with a tiny hole cut off one of the bottom corners.

To assemble the Napoleons: Gently pour the white glaze onto one of the pastry strips and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly. Using the prepared pastry bag or zip-top bag, carefully pipe horizontal lines of chocolate glaze on top of the white glaze, about 1/2-inch apart.  Using a toothpick, drag the tip down the length of puff pastry strip in alternating directions to create a pretty pattern.

Spread half of the pastry cream onto one of the remaining pastry strips and make sure you spread the cream evenly (it helps to use an offset spatula). Stack the remaining pastry strip on top and push down gently (do not squeeze out the pastry cream). Evenly spread the remaining pastry cream onto the top layer of puff pastry. Finally, stack the glazed and decorated puff pastry layer on top. Use a sharp knife to slice into 6-8 servings.

Note: The Napoleons need to be stored in the refrigerator and will only keep for about 2-3 days in an airtight container. The puff pastry will get slightly soggier each day it remains in the refrigerator, so this is best eaten the day it is assembled.

Yield: About 6-8 pastries



Source: Peanut Butter and Julie

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