Some of the handsomest items on the pastry tray in a good restaurant or bake shop are the rectangular Napoleons, their white toppings covered with decorative lines of dark chocolate. When you cut into one, you find layers of kirsch-flavored cream sandwiched between layers of light, buttery pastry. They are a treat for dessert, for a snack at the coffee break, and look beautiful on a buffet or tea table.
To form Napoleons, you bake a large, thin sheet of French puff pastry, cut it into 3 four-inch strips, mount the strips on top of each other with filling in between, then decorate the top, and cut the three-tiered strip into 2-inch pieces. The filling for Napoleons is either pastry cream or whipped cream, and the white topping may be either white fondant frosting or a thick layer of powdered sugar.
FLOUR NOTE: We have found that a combination of 1 part plain bleached cake flour to every 3 parts all-purpose flour makes an excellent formula for a puff pastry.
Pâte Feuilletée (French Puff Pastry)
- 4 cups or 18 ounces flour (see note on flour) – measure by scooping dry-measure cups into container and leveling off excess with a straight edge of knife.
- Large mixing bowl
- ¾ stick (3 ounces) chilled butter
- 2 teaspoons salt dissolved in 1 cup cold water
- 3 sticks (3/4 pound) additional chilled butter
Note: Puff pastry is easiest to make when everything is cold: if you have a pastry marble, chill it in the refrigerator; if your pastry softens while you are rolling, chill it immediately for 15 minutes, then continue.
Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. Cut the ¾ stick chilled butter into ¼ inch pieces, and rub flour and butter rapidly together between the tips of your fingers, or work with a pastry blender, until the mixture resembles course meal. Rapidly blend in the water, at first with a rubber spatula, then with the slightly cupped fingers of one hand, pressing the mixture together to make a firm but pliable dough. (Work in a few drops more water if necessary.) Knead briefly into a rough ball; wrap in waxed paper and chill for 30 to 40 minutes. Then roll out into a 10-inch circle. (Dough should look rough; it will smooth out later.)
Beat and knead the 3 additional sticks of chilled butter until smooth, free from lumps, malleable, yet still cold. Shape into a 5-inch square, and place in the middle of the dough circle. Bring edges of dough up over butter to enclose it completely, sealing top edges together with your fingers.
Turns 1 and 2:
Lightly flour the package, and roll the dough into an even rectangle about 16 by 8 inches. Your object is to spread the butter layer evenly between the dough layers, the length and width of the rectangle. Then, as though folding a letter, bring bottom edge of dough up to the middle and top edge down to cover it, making three even layers. This is called a “turn.” Rotate pastry so top edge is to your right, roll dough again into a rectangle, fold in three, then wrap in waxed paper and a dampened towel. Chill 45 to 60 minutes.
Turns 3 and 4; 5 and 6:
Repeat with two more rolls and folds; chill again 45 minutes then complete the final two rolls and folds, making six turns in all. Chill again for 45 to 60 minutes (2 hours if you are using instant-blending flour), and the dough is ready for shaping and baking. (Note: the first four turns should be completed within an hour; after the fourth turn, you may leave the pastry overnight or freeze it.)
Napoleons — Millefeuilles
- The preceding puff pastry
- 1 tablespoon softened butter
- 4 baking sheets, 12 by 18 inches
Preheat oven to 450 degrees
Roll the chilled pastry again into a rectangle; cut in half and chill one piece. Roll the remaining piece rapidly into a 13-by-19-inch rectangle 1/8 inch thick. Run cold water over a baking sheet, roll up pastry on your pin, and unroll over the baking sheet. With a knife or pastry wheel, cut off ½ inch of dough all around. To keep pastry from rising when baked, prick all over at 1/8-inch intervals with two forks or a rotary pastry pricker. Chill for 30 minutes to relax dough. Repeat with the second half of the pastry.
Lightly butter undersides of other baking sheets and lay one over each sheet of dough. Set in upper-and lower-middle racks of oven and bake for 5 minutes. Lift covering sheets, prick pastry again, and replace covering sheets, pressing down on pastry. Bake 5 minutes more, then remove covering sheets to let pastry brown; if pastry begins to rise more that ¼ inch, or starts to curl, replace coverings. Bake 18 to 20 minutes in all, or until pastry is nicely browned. Cool 5 minutes, with covering sheets, then unmold and cool on racks. (Cooled baked pastry make be frozen.)
Forming and Cutting the Napoleons
- 1 cup apricot jam forced through a sieve and boiled to 128 degrees with 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 cups pastry cream or stiffly beaten whipped cream, sweetened and flavored with kirsch
- 1 cup white fondant icing or powdered sugar in a sieve
- 1 cup melted chocolate
- A paper decorating cone
Cut the baked pastry into even strips 4 inches wide. Paint the top of each with warm apricot and spread about ¼ inch of pastry cream or whipped cream on two strips; mount one on top of the other and cover with the third. Repeat with the other three strips. Spread melted fondant icing or a 1/8-inch opening, and fill cone with melted chocolate. Squeeze crosswise lines of chocolate over the top of each strip, spacing lines about 3/8 inch apart. Draw the dull edge of a knife down the middle of each strip, then draw another line in the opposite direction on each side, to pull the chocolate into a decorative pattern.
Let the chocolate set for a few minutes, then cut the strips into crosswise pieces 2 inches wide, using a very sharp knife held upright; cut with and up-and-down sawing motion.
Arrange the Napoleons on a serving tray and chill an hour. Remove from the refrigerator 20 minutes before serving, so that chocolate (and fondant) will regain their bloom. Napoleons are at their best when freshly made, though you may keep them several days under refrigeration or you may freeze them.
Makes 16 pieces
In 1961, as a recent graduate of the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, Julia Child co-authored the book Mastering the Art of French Cooking and launched her career of educating Americans in delicious ways with food. In 1963 she began her own cooking show The French Chef, produced at WGBH. This recipe was published in The French Chef Cookbook*.
Watch these newly digitized episodes from the first year of The French Chef, 1963.
*THE FRENCH CHEF COOKBOOK by Julia Child, copyright © 1968 by Julia Child. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. For online information about other Random House, Inc. books and authors, see the Internet Web Site at randomhouse.com.