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 recipe makes two Classic French Napoleons for a total of 12 servings. It can easily be halved, if 6 servings is preferable.
- 1 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin
- 3 tsp cold water
- 6 large egg yolks
- 4 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- One 17.3 oz. pkg puff pastry sheets
- 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- about 1/4 cup powdered sugar – for sprinkling
MAKE THE PASTRY CREAM:
- In a small dish, stir the gelatin and water together to combine. There should be just enough water to moisten the gelatin, creating a rubbery paste. Set aside.
- Add the egg yolks and cornstarch to a medium size bowl and whisk to combine.
- Set a 1 or 2 cup glass measuring cup next to the stovetop. Add the milk, sugar, and salt to a 4-quart or larger heavy bottomed saucepan and whisk to combine. Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, just until it barely begins to boil. Pour 1 to 1 & 1/2 cups of the hot milk into the glass measuring cup. (This tempering process will help prevent the eggs from scrambling.)
- Slowly pour the hot milk from the measuring cup into the egg yolks, pouring slowly, and whisking constantly. Then, pour everything back into the saucepan and set it over medium-low heat. (You want to continue to heat the eggs slowly so they won’t scramble.)
- Cook, whisking constantly, until the custard is thick and begins to boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for about 20 seconds, then remove from the heat and whisk for about 20 seconds longer. Pour the pastry cream into a bowl.
- Break the gelatin into small pieces, dropping them into the hot pastry cream. Whisk until the gelatin is completely incorporated, about 20 seconds. Whisk in vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap over the surface of the pastry cream.
- Refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours.
PREPARE THE PUFF PASTRY:
NOTE: I’ve heard from a few readers that the long bake time in this recipe has resulted in overdone puff pastry. After making this recipe many, many times, I can attest that the long bake time works well in my kitchen every single time. I don’t have a good explanation for why the bake time is sometimes too long for others. It’s a mystery I hope one day to solve.
In the mean time, 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.
- 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.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely before assembly.
TO ASSEMBLE THE NAPOLEONS:
- Using an electric mixer, 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 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.
- 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. *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.
- To make the Napoleons easier to slice, before serving, place them in the freezer for 30-60 minutes. (This is optional, and might not even be necessary if they are well chilled.)
- Category: French Pastry
Keywords: Napoleon, dessert recipe, pastry cream