I never outgrew my sweet tooth, though there are some pastries which I prefer above all others. Given a choice, I’ll take a Napoleon over almost anything else. In Australia and England they call it vanilla slice, in Italy mille foglie, in Argentina milhojas, in Canada it is gâteaux Napoléon or Napoleon cake, in Poland it’s known as napoleonka, whatever the name and slight variations, I’m addicted to this pastry.
About a year ago, I sampled an incredible variant of a Napoleon, not only did it not look like the traditional version sold in your local bakery, but its flavor was far better than anything I tasted before. Chef Ehud Ezra, Pastry Chef at Basil Pizza and Wine Bar would not divulge his recipe, so it took me a while to come up with one that would be similar to what I had at the restaurant. While looking for a version that somewhat resembled the one that so inspired me, I came up with some bits of food history that I found fascinating. A few details follow:
In 1651, François Pierre La Varenne described a version in his Le Cuisinier François. This was later improved by Marie-Antoine Carême, who – writing in the early part of the 19th century – described Milles-Feuilles as pastry of ancient origin. The Larousse Gastronomique refers to it as Gâteau Napolitain (Neapolitan Cake), after the Italian city of Napoli rather than after the French emperor.
I could never fully duplicate Chef Udi‘s recipe but here’s my approximation:
On Leah Cooks Kosher I found this recipe for the cream which I adapted by reducing the gelatin about 1/4 teaspoon her original called for:
- 1 1/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder
- 4 teaspoons cold water
- 1 1/2 cup cold heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Dissolve the gelatin in the water. Set aside.
- Whip the heavy cream until is starts to thicken. Slowly add the sugar and beat the cream until it is stiff. We don’t want it too soft but we don’t want it to curdle.
- Add the gelatin mixture and beat until combined. Chill for 30 minutes before using.
You can buy frozen puff pastry or, if you are adventurous, make your own; it will certainly taste better!
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter (or margarine, for pareve dough), frozen
- 5-6 tablespoons ice water
- Whisk four and salt in a chilled large metal bowl. Set a grater in flour mixture and coarsely grate frozen margarine into flour, gently lifting flour and tossing to coat butter.
- Drizzle 5 tablespoons of ice water evenly over flour mixture and stir gently with a fork until incorporated. Test mixture by gently squeezing a small handful; the dough will not crumble if it has the proper texture. Add another tablespoon if needed stirring until fully incorporated and test again. Remember that if you overwork the dough or add too much water it will be tough.
- Form the dough into a 5″ square. It will be lumpy and streaky. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, wrapped in plastic until firm.
- Roll out on a floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, into a 15 by 8 inch rectangle. Position dough with a shorter side facing you, fold into thirds (like a brochure): bottom third over center, top down over dough. Rewrap and refrigerate until firm, about another 30 minutes approximately.
- Position dough with a short side facing you again, on a well floured surface and roll out again folding and refrigerating two more times. Brush off excess flour wrap again in plastic and refrigerate for an hour and half or longer.
For the Napoleon, thaw the dough (whether your own or store bought) for 30 minutes and cut into 4 fairly equal squares; use a toothpick to make about 3 pricks on each. Preheat oven to 400 F, lower to 350 F and bake the squares on a cookie sheet for approximately 25 to 30 minutes or until puffy and golden brown. Take out, let pastry cool completely and spoon the cream over the first and cover with a second square, spoon cream over it and cover with a third square spooning the cream again. Top it with the fourth piece and sprinkle it with lots of confectioner’s sugar.
Enjoy, gentle reader, enjoy!