How to Make the Classic French Napoleon Dessert
Napoleon Dessert. Layers of flaky French pastry and perfect vanilla pastry cream come together in this popular, decadent cream pastry, also known as a Mille Feuille.
The Classic French Napoleon Pastry is without a doubt one of my all time favorite desserts. If I could, I would eat a slice for breakfast, as a mid-afternoon snack, and for dessert later that night. (Who am I kidding with all this talk of wishes? I’ve totally made that three times a day situation happen in my life.)
The first time I ever ate a slice of a true European style Napoleon was sitting on the patio of The Alpenrose on a gorgeous fall afternoon in Vail, one of my favorite Colorado mountain towns. The Alpenrose is a small German & Austrian restaurant with a great wine list, fabulous wiener schnitzel and German sausages, AND, a case full of Belgian pastries.
If you’re anything like me, the pastry case is impossible to resist. And that day, the Napoleon was calling my name.
Eating that delicious pastry – thick layers of rich pastry cream sandwiched between incredibly flaky layers of puff pastry – was one of those dining experiences where I believe licking the plate should be acceptable in polite company. The next day, I got to work figuring out how to replicate that experience at home and have been making this recipe on the regular ever since.
The Napoleon is everything I love about most French pastries – it’s rich and delicate, not too sweet and filled with pastry cream.
An amendment to my earlier confession about eating Napoleon three times a day: I actually want to eat anything filled with pastry cream three times a day.
- Apple Butter and Pastry Cream Hand Pies? Yes, ma’am.
- Salted Caramel Pastry Cream Filled Doughnut Holes? Hell, yeah.
- Peaches and Cream Crepe Cake? If it’s peach season, this is ALL I’m eating.
- Chocolate Covered Eclairs? That’s not even a serious question.
- Blackberry Custard Tarts? Just made them (and ate three) last week.
- Extra Creamy Coconut Cream Pie? Or, Chocolate Cream Pie? Or Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie? I’ll have a slice of each, please.
“Mille Feuille” means a thousand leaves, which is a lovely and appropriate name for this dessert.
The name comes from the “thousand” layers of puff pastry used to make it. Puff pastry is kind of 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?
I’ve made puff pastry from scratch a few times and while it IS super satisfying when it comes out right, it’s also super frustrating when it doesn’t. Also, most of the times I want to make a Napoleon, I don’t really have time for all that rolling and refrigerating.
Happily, packages of frozen puff pastry can be purchased in the freezer section of nearly every grocery store. Isn’t modern life wonderful? This little fact makes this show-stopingly gorgeous and delicious classic French pastry SO simple, you’ll wonder why you’ve never made it before.
The Napoleon is One of the Easiest Desserts You Can Make.
It’s even something you can whip up mostly on a whim. Pastry cream is primarily made with sugar, milk, and eggs – ingredients many of us have on hand most of the time. Everything else (some gelatin and frozen puff pastry) can be picked up with a quick trip to the market.
As long as you account for a few hours to allow your pastry cream to chill, making a Napoleon is as simple as making pudding.
You can also make the pastry cream filling days, weeks, or months in advance. It will keep well in the refrigerator for several days and can even be frozen for up to three months. Click here for the pastry cream recipe and all the information you need about cooking and storing it.
To fondant or not to fondant? That is the question.
Traditionally, the Mille Feuille is made up of three layers of puff pastry and two layers of pastry cream. Check, and check. But, it’s also 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 desperately in love with it.
More delicious pastry cream dessert recipes:
- Cannoli Filled Napoleon
- Coconut Cream Cake
- Extra Creamy Coconut Cream Pie
- Cream Filled Doughnuts
- Salted Caramel Cream Filled Doughnut Holes
- Cream Puffs (Cream Filled Profiteroles)
- Chocolate Eclairs
- Butterscotch Eclairs
- Apple Butter and Pastry Cream Hand Pies
- Olive Oil Cake with Mascarpone Cream
- Strawberries and Cream Pie
- Peaches and Cream Crepe Cake
- Blackberry and Amaretto Custard Tarts
- As the filling for Vanilla Layer Cake or Devil’s Food Layer Cake
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #ofbatteranddough on Instagram.
- 1 recipe Perfect Vanilla Pastry Cream, chilled for at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours.
- One 17.3 oz package puff pastry sheets
- about 1/4 cup powdered sugar - for sprinkling
Prepare the puff pastry:
- 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 divide 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 1/4-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 35-40 minutes. Remove the top baking sheet and the top layer of parchment and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. (*Please read the note below abotu preventing your puff pastry from burning.)
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely before assembly.
TO ASSEMBLE THE NAPOLEONS:
- Lay one sheet of baked puff pastry on a serving dish and spread about a 1/2-inch thick layer of pastry cream evenly over the top. Layer another rectangle of pastry over the cream, repeat with another 1/2-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. (*See note below.)
- Dust the tops of each Napoleon with a thick layer of powdered sugar right before serving.
- Slice each Napoleon into 6 slices, using a serrated knife.
How to prevent burnt puff pastry:
After making this recipe many, many times, I can attest that the long bake time (about 45 minutes) works well in my kitchen every single time. I've also heard from hundreds of readers who have said that the bake times in the recipe work out for them as well.
But, every once in a while, someone will write to tell me that it took them much less time to cook their puff pastry to a rich golden brown.
This issue has perplexed me for years, but I think one reader might have solved the mystery. It has to do with how thawed your puff pastry is. Here's what she said:
"Yesterday I made a batch of pastry in the oven after ‘defrosting’ the puff pastry on the counter for 1 hour from frozen – this then took 50 min to cook to golden brown in the oven at the temp you suggested. Today I had one sheet of puff pastry left that was in the fridge. This took 20 to bake to perfection. So I believe the cooking time is varying for folks so much as it depends on the stage at which the frozen puff pastry has defrosted."
Regardless of whether or not this is the cause of the bake time discrepency, to prevent overcooking, peek under the top baking sheet and check the pastry after 15 minutes of baking. If it's already getting brown, go ahead and remove the top baking sheet and bake for another 5-10 minutes until golden brown. The goal is to end up with puff pastry that is only slightly puffed, golden brown, and flaky.
To make the Napoleons easier to slice:
Place them in the freezer for 30-60 minutes before serving. If the napoleon has been in the refrigerator for several hours, this is not necissary. However, if the napoleon is freshly made, and you want to serve it within the next hour, placing it in the freezer will make it easier to slice.
To slice: Hold on to the sides of each pastry layer with one hand as you slice through the Napoleon gently with your other hand. A serrated knife works best. Use a gentle side to side motion to saw through the puff pastry, allowing the knife to do the work of cutting through the fragile layers of pastry without pressing down too hard.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 385Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 129mgSodium: 209mgCarbohydrates: 32gFiber: 1gSugar: 11gProtein: 8g
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