Friday, January 29, 2010


I've been absent from blogging for quite awhile finishing up my new book on CD-rom,  and it's finally off to the printer!  It'll be ready for sale in about a month and I look forward to sharing it with everyone.  I'm headed  to Orlando on Sunday, but thought I'd post one of my favorite pastries before I leave.
Napoleons take a LOT of time to make, even if you start with pre-packaged puff pastry. BUT, they are fantastic to eat and to look at. When you make them at home, you decide how thick and creamy you’d like the filling, how sweet you like the topping and how many layers of pastry there are. You can eat them fresh, rather than having ones that have been sitting in a display case for 8 hours. They’re worth every minute you spend on them. The traditional napoleon has 3 layers of pastry and two layers of cream. The only problem with a napoleon that tall is that the filling tends to squish out when you try and put a fork into it. We prefer the two layer version that you see on the left of the picture. We also prefer to cut them into smaller sizes, as they are very rich and filling.

If you have enough refrigerator space, for the same amount of work, you can double the recipe and use the whole package of puff pastry.  It's hard to say how many this serves, because it depends on if you do a double or triple layer of pastry and how large you cut them (more details follow).

Vanilla Custard (Crème Pâtissière)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
6 tablespoons sugar
6 large egg yolks
2 cups half and half
3-inch piece of vanilla bean, split lengthwise with one end still attached
1-2 tablespoons softened, unsalted butter
1/2 cup whipping cream, optional

1/2 (17 ounce) package frozen puff pastry

Vanilla Icing
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon boiling water
2 tablespoons corn syrup

Chocolate Cream Piping
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

For the custard:
Place the cornstarch and sugar in a medium saucepan. In a small bowl, briskly whisk together the egg yolks and the half and half. A little at a time, stir the egg mixture into the cornstarch mixture. Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the pot and then add the vanilla bean into the pot.

Vanilla beans are supposed to be soft, allowing you to cut them in half and scrape out the seeds. If your vanilla bean is old and hard, soak it in a little bit of hot water until it softens, and then scrape out the seeds.  You can use the water for flavoring, as well.

Over medium heat, cook the egg mixture about 7 minutes, stirring constantly, in a figure eight pattern, to make sure that the eggs don’t overcook. Cook until the custard thickens and comes to a boil. Stir vigorously to get the custard mixed and smooth. Strain the custard, through a medium-mesh strainer, into a storage container. Immediately stir in the softened butter, piece by piece. Press a piece of waxed paper directly onto the surface of the custard.

Let the custard stand at room temperature until it cools slightly and then cover it and refrigerate until ready to use. If you like a lighter custard, just before serving, beat the heavy cream to medium-firm peaks. Fold the cream into the custard.

For the pastry:
The pastry needs to defrost at room temperature for 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. with a rack in the middle of the oven. If the dough has not thawed enough to open the dough up, let it defrost awhile longer. Unfold the pastry onto a lightly floured surface.

Cut the dough into 3 strips, using the fold marks as a guide. Transfer the strips to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Using a fork, prick the dough all over to help it rise evenly.

Cover the dough with another piece of parchment, and then top this with  a baking sheet of the same size.

Set the pan in the oven and bake for 8 minutes. Remove the baking sheet and parchment covering the pastry. Bake for another 5 minutes, until the pastries are golden brown. Turn off the oven, leaving the door ajar, and let the pastries dry out for 15 minutes. Remove them from the oven and transfer to cooling racks to cool completely. They can be made up to 24 hours in advance if stored at room temperature in an airtight container.

For the vanilla icing:
Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl. Add the vanilla and enough boiling water to make a spreadable glaze (about 3 tablespoons). Cover with plastic wrap.

For the chocolate piping:
Heat the cream in a microwave-safe bowl until starting to bubble, about 20 seconds. Stir in the chocolate. Let the mixture stand for awhile, and then stir until completely melted and mixed. Transfer the mixture to a small plastic-bag pastry bag  but don’t snip the tip yet. Tie the top with a rubber band or tie, and set it in a cup.

You can only make 1 decorative pastry top at a time, as the white icing must be wet when the chocolate icing is piped. Have a skewer and the chocolate icing handy.

Spread 1 pastry strip with the vanilla icing.

Immediately, while the vanilla icing is wet, pipe chocolate lines across the pastry (the distance apart is a matter of taste, but approximately 1/2-inch is about right).

Turn the pastry so the lines are horizontal.

Immediately, start at the top right or left of the pastry, 1/4-inch from the edge. Draw a shallow vertical line with the skewer, through the piped lines of chocolate.

For the next line start at the bottom, 1/2-inch from the 1st pass and draw the skewer tip upward to the top.

Continue alternating directions until the whole pastry has a herringbone pattern.

If making the triple layer napoleons, you will only need the one top. If making the dual layered pastry, cut one pastry strip in half and decorate one half.  Set the pastry aside.

If making the three layer napoleons, split one strip of pastry in half, horizontally.

Set a  whole piece of pastry on a tray that will fit in your refrigerator. Spoon on a thick layer of pastry cream (1/4-1/2-inch). Set one of the split pastries on top and spoon on another layer of cream.

Place the top pastry on the tray and refrigerate everything for 1hour.

If making the two layer pastry, omit the split layer and second layer of cream.

After the pastry has been refrigerated for 1 hour, cut the top pastry to the serving size you desire. Set these pieces on top of the stack, and then slice through the stack with a serrated knife, to make the individual napoleons.

Refrigerate until ready to serve, but serve within 8 hours.

* Note: I always double the recipe, because it doesn’t take much more effort to do a whole pound as a half, however, it does take a lot of refrigerator space.

Napoleons can also be filled with whipped cream or Cream Cheese Filling.