Napoleon Dessert Recipe.
Napoleon Dessert. Layers of flaky French pastry and the most perfect vanilla pastry cream come together in this popular cream pastry, also known as a Mille Feuille.
This Napoleon Pastry is my new favorite dessert. I want to eat it morning, noon, and night. It’s everything I love about most French pastries – it’s rich and delicate, not too sweet and filled with pastry cream. Ok. I actually want to eat anything filled with pastry cream morning, noon, and night, but this is what’s in front of me. So in this moment, this cream pastry is IT.
“Mille Feuille” literally means a thousand leaves, which is a lovely name, is it not? The name comes from the “thousand” layers of puff pastry used to make it. Puff pastry is a beast to make, requiring the baker to roll out the dough, fold it over on itself, refrigerate, roll it out again, fold it again, refrigerate…. and repeat. At least 4 more times. Who has time for that?
Happily, you can pick up a package of frozen puff pastry in nearly every grocery store. This little fact makes this show-stompingly gorgeous and delicious classic French pastry SO simple, you’ll wonder (as I did) why you’ve never made it before. Which brings up an important question…
What has taken me so long to make a Napoleon Dessert?!
The answer to that is simple: I’d simply never tasted a classically prepared (i.e., really good) Mille Feuille before. All that changed earlier this week with an unexpected trip to Vail, CO on a gorgeous Fall afternoon.
One of my favorite things about living in Colorado is that we get to experience four distinctly different seasons every year. I love the change of it. Our routines and activities change with the weather. Spring rolls around just when I’m starting to feel stir crazy and desperate for the Winter’s brown and white to turn to green. Summer brings a break in routine, longer days, weekends spent outside in the warm sunshine, long motorcycle trips with my husband and warm evenings under clear skies, bright with stars. Every year, I think I won’t get tired of Summer and wish that it would last forever.
But you know what? By the end of Summer, I’m ready for my family to get back into the “normal” routine that comes automatically with shorter days and school schedules. I simultaneously mourn the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables that overflow the farmer’s market bins throughout our warmer months while luxuriating in the comfort foods of cooler weather. I love pulling my sweaters out of hiding and heading to bed at 8pm with a good book, the house already quiet.
On early winter mornings, I light candles, huddle over a steaming cup of coffee, and watch the sun light up frost covered branches. I love the crisp, cleanness of the air and the days when the snow forces us to cancel our plans and stay inside. Of all the seasons, winter most makes me want to bake. And just when I can’t take another cold, grey skied day…. it’s spring again.
What does this have to do with a Napoleon Dessert recipe?
Hold on. I’m getting to that.
For me, there’s something good in every season. But, Fall has always been my favorite. Each year, we get several weeks of moderate temperatures, bright sun, incredibly blue skies, and rich red and gold leaves. Also, my husband and I celebrate our wedding anniversary in early October. We always get away for a few days, and you know what? October is beautiful pretty much anywhere.
On Monday, some unexpected schedule changes resulted in a completely free afternoon for my husband and I on one of the MOST BEAUTIFUL FALL DAYS OF THE YEAR. Score! We hopped on a motorcycle and headed up to Vail.
Not a bad way to spend a Monday afternoon.
While in Vail, we had lunch on the patio of The Alpenrose, a small German & Austrian restaurant with a great wine list, fabulous wiener schnitzel, sausages, sauerkraut, german salads, AND, a case full of Belgian pastries. It’s not someplace you can go and not order dessert. Simply not possible.
My husband ordered a Chocolate Eclair and I ordered….
The Napoleon Dessert
I told you we’d come back to French pastry. Eating that delicious cream pastry – thick layers of rich pastry cream sandwiched between gorgeously flaky layers of puff pastry – was one of those dining experiences where I believe licking the plate should be acceptable in polite company. Kudos to the Alpenrose pastry chef. But, here’s a little secret for you…
Making a Napoleon dessert at home is actually really easy. It is important, however, to factor in enough time for both the pastry cream and the assembled Napoleon to chill. The pastry cream needs at least 3 hours in the refrigerator (and up to 24), and the assembled Napoleon should chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, popping it in the freezer for 30 minutes for ease of slicing. But the hands on time is minimal – especially when the result is such an impressive French pastry.
The Mille Feuille is sometimes glazed with vanilla and chocolate fondant, which creates a lovely design on the top, but isn’t really necessary. Just as often, it’s dusted with a layer of confectioner’s sugar or cocoa – a much simpler and just as lovely option. This is how my Napoleon Dessert at The Alpenrose was presented to me, and it’s what I’ve chosen to do in this recipe.
I hope, just like me, you fall desperatly in love with it.
Other Recipes You Might Like:
- Homemade Chocolate Eclairs
- Overnight Cream Filled Homemade Doughnuts
- Cherry Turnovers with Cream Cheese and Roasted Almonds
For more delicious pastry recipes, follow me on Pinterest.
- 1½ tsp unflavored gelatin
- 2 tsp cold water
- 2 cups whole milk
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 6 large egg yolks
- 4 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- One 17.3 oz. pkg puff pastry sheets
- ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
- about ¼ cup powdered sugar - for sprinkling
- In a small dish, stir the gelatin and water together to combine. There should be just enough water to moisten the gelatin, creating a thick paste. Set aside.
- Add milk, sugar, salt, egg yolks and cornstarch to a 4-quart or larger heavy bottomed saucepan and whisk vigorously to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, at which point the mixture will have thickened to the point that the whisk will leave tracks as you stir. Boil for 30 seconds then remove from the heat and whisk for 30 seconds longer. Pour into a bowl.
- Whisk in vanilla. Break the gelatin into small pieces, dropping them into the hot pastry cream. Whisk until the gelatin is completely incorporated, about 20 seconds. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap over the surface of the pastry cream, and punch a few holes in the surface of the wrap with a sharp knife. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Thaw the puff pastry according to the package directions.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Unfold both sheets of pastry and cut each into thirds by cutting along the fold lines, giving you 6 rectangles of pastry. Lay the rectangles on the parchment covered baking sheet, spacing them about ¼-inch apart.
- Cover the pastry with another sheet of parchment paper and lay another baking sheet on top. This will prevent the puff pastry from rising too much and give the pastry nice, flaky layers.
- Bake for 40 minutes. Remove the top baking sheet and the top layer of parchment and bake for another 10-20 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely before assembly.
- Whip the heavy cream until medium peaks form.
- Remove the cooled pastry cream from the refrigerator and add to the whipped cream. Beat on medium speed with an electric mixer to combine, about 1 minute.
- Lay one sheet of baked puff pastry on a serving dish and spread about a ½-inch thick layer of pastry cream evenly over the top. Layer another rectangle of pastry over the cream, repeat with another ½-inch thick layer of pastry cream and top with a third pastry rectangle. Press on the top of the Napoleon slightly just to evenly distribute the layers. Repeat with the remaining pastry rectangles and pastry cream. Cover the Napoleons with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- To make the Napoleons easier to slice, before serving, place them in the freezer for 30-60 minutes. (*NOTE: This is optional, and might not even be necessary if they are well chilled.)
- Dust the tops of each Napoleon with a thick layer of powdered sugar.
- Slice each Napoleon into 6 slices, using a serrated knife. *TIP: Hold on to the sides of each pastry layer as you slice through it, sawing gently with the knife, allowing the knife to do the work of cutting through the fragile layers of pastry without pressing down too hard.