Classic French Napoleons
These Classic French Napoleons feature layers of flaky dough filled with silky vanilla pastry cream. It’s a stunning (and surprisingly easy) dessert!
By now, I think you guys know that I love sports. I’m not some crazy guy that watches sports like 18 hours a day, but I do enjoy catching a good football or basketball game on the weekends. However, come summer, the sports lineup just isn’t very entertaining (I’m not a huge baseball fan). Every few years, we get lucky enough to have the Olympics or the World Cup…but in general, summer is definitely the low point in the sports year. That is, until the Tour de France.
I don’t know what it is, but I am totally enamored with professional cycling…and particularly Le Tour. (I suspect the Tour de France is a favorite among cycling races because it’s a classic, but also because it’s the easiest to find on tv here in the States.) There’s something completely fascinating with watching these guys cycle around an entire country. An added bonus of watching the Tour is all of the incredible French countryside scenery. It makes me want to pack it all up and move over there!
Speaking of French countryside, my and wife I almost moved there after grad school. Seriously. She was looking at a job which would have required us to live in a small town in France for 2 years (near the company’s headquarters.) At first, the idea scared me…but then I said, “what the heck…let’s do it!” It turns out that upstate New York was a better fit professionally, but I often wonder what it would have been like had we moved over to rural France for a couple of years.
While I’ve not yet had the chance to visit France, I’m still obsessed with their breads and pastries. I mean, French baking has set the standard for decades…and I secretly want to be a pastry chef in France. (Instead, I just have to live vicariously through my friend Lindsey…who will indeed one day be a pastry chef in France.) If I ever do visit France, I’m pretty sure I will spend entire days eating bread and pastries. One of my favorites is the Classic French Napoleon. Interestingly enough, a Napoleon is not called a Napoleon in France. Nope, that’s an Americanized term. Thanks to its’ many layers of puff pastry, the Napoleon is called a mille-feuille (or “thousand leaves”) over in France.
So here’s the thing about these Classic French Napoleons. I cheated. I didn’t make my own puff pastry. I’ve done it one time, and it was awesome…but it took way too long. I used frozen puff pastry, and I’m ok with my little dessert hack. (I have, however, seen a quick version of puff pastry floating around, and I want to give that a shot sometime.) Filled with silky vanilla pastry cream between layers of flaky dough, this Classic French Napoleon is an impressive (yet surprisingly easy) dessert. I’ve seen versions of this dessert with boxed vanilla pudding as the filling. I guess that could work, but that’s a bit too much of a dessert hack for me. Pastry cream isn’t all that difficult to make, and it’s a great skill to add to your repertoire.
What’s your favorite French dessert? What about cycling? Have you ever watched a stage of the Tour de France?
Did you make these Classic French Napoleons at home? Leave a comment, or snap a photo and tag me on Instagram (@Spicedblog) – I’d love to see your version!
Classic French Napoleons
- 1 box frozen puff pastry thawed
For the Pastry Cream
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 5 Tbsp cornstarch
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter room temperature
For the Icing
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 Tbsp milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter melted
- 2 tsp cocoa powder
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
- On a well-floured countertop, stack both pieces of thawed puff pastry on top of each other. Roll into a 12”x12” square. Cut into three equal 4”x12” rectangles. Prick the dough every 2 inches with a fork.
- Lay the rectangles onto the prepared baking sheet. Place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the rectangles. Next, place a second baking sheet directly on top of parchment paper. Set a large oven-safe dish on top of this second baking sheet in order to weigh it down. (Note: This step ensures that the pastry rectangles bake flat and do not puff up too much in the oven.)
- Bake rectangles at 425°F for 10 minutes.
- Remove the dish, extra baking sheet and top piece of parchment paper. Return the rectangles to the oven and bake for 6-8 more minutes, or until golden brown. Set baked rectangles aside to cool. (Note: The sheets will puff up in this last stage, but they will deflate again once baked.)
For the Pastry Cream
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch until smooth and pale in color. Set aside.
- Using a medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat until it just begins to simmer. (Tip: Stir milk often to prevent it from scorching.)
- Slowly pour half of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking vigorously the entire time. Pour this egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk. (Tip: Use a fine mesh strainer when you pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan. This will ensure a smooth pastry cream later.)
- Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat and then continue cooking for 1 more minute, stirring constantly the entire time. Remove mixture from the heat, and add the the butter and vanilla extract; stir until fully combined and smooth. Set pastry cream aside to cool. (Note: The pastry cream will thicken quickly at this stage. It becomes somewhat difficult to stir, but keep stirring to prevent the cream from burning!)
For the Icing
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, vanilla and melted butter until smooth. (Note: The consistency of the icing should be thick but still pourable. If necessary, add a small amount of additional powdered sugar or milk to create a thicker or thinner icing as needed.)
- Pour approximately ¼ of the icing into a separate small bowl. Whisk the cocoa powder into this portion to create the chocolate icing. (Tip: You may need to add a splash of milk to the chocolate version.)
- Place one pastry rectangle on a large plate or cutting board. Spread half of the pastry cream on top.
- Place a second pastry rectangle on top; press gently into the pastry cream. Spread the remaining pastry cream on top.
- Place last pastry rectangle on top. Using an offset spatula, spread the vanilla icing evenly across top.
- Transfer the chocolate icing into a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip. (Note: You can also use a sandwich bag with a tiny corner snipped off.)
- Pipe 4 straight lines of chocolate icing lengthwise down the rectangle.
- While the icing is still wet, drag a toothpick back and forth horizontally across the rectangle to create the traditional Napoleon decoration. (Note: For each line, alternate the direction that you drag the toothpick.)
- Refrigerate for 1 hour. Using a serrated knife, trim the edges of the Napoleon.
- Slice remaining rectangle into smaller pieces before serving.
Looking for more tasty pastry recipes? Check out some of these other favorites, too:
Trdelnik (Czech Cinnamon Sugar Pastry)
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I love watching Le Tour as well (not THE Tour LE Tour) and btw you guys should have moved to France. Upstate is nice but France…I mean France. I’ve been to Paris and Provence and let me tell you, I can’t wait to go back it’s GORGEOUS
I love Napoleons but my fave French pastry is probably to the Eclairs (they make some mean ones at Balthazar here downtown!)
Have a great weekend my friend!
Ah! I am jealous that you’ve traveled in France, Mike. We need to make that happen. I’m guessing the breads and pastries over there beat the heck out of those here in upstate New York. Hah! Hope you had an awesome weekend! (Is it time for Le Tour yet?)
Mmm that napoleon looks stunning! Just layers on layers of pastry, yummy!! Pinned 🙂
Thank you so much, Christina! These layers upon layers of pastry disappeared quite quickly in our kitchen…not sure how that one happened. Oh wait, I remember now. Haha!
David, oh my gawd, this is beautiful!!! and who cares that you used frozen puff pastry?!!! I LOVE this!!! Wishing you and the family a wonderful Easter weekend!!!
Thank you so much, Alice! I went down to Dallas (and East Texas) to visit family…and it was awesome! I actually got hot thanks to the weather. And then I returned to upstate New York where they’re calling for sleet this afternoon. Sleet! I think I need another slice of this Napoleon. 🙂
I love napoleons and have had this on my to-bake list for ages! I would def go the puff pastry route too. This looks PERFECT, great job!
Thanks so much, Bianca! We must have similar to-bake lists because this one was hanging out on mine for quite some time, too. And now I’m ready to make it again…because this one disappeared a little too fast. Haha!
Vive la mille-feuille! I took French for two years because I wanted to study cooking over there… many moons ago. LOVE France and could easily live there. But, back to these bad boys. Wow, delicate pastry cream filled deliciousness there and that glaze is beautiful. Well done! #WolfpackPastisserie
Thank you so much, Kevin! That means a lot coming from you, too, since you are the expert pastry chef of the Wolfpack crew. I say we organize a Wolfpack field trip out to Paris. Chris is a teacher…I’m sure he has some forms we can fill out to make the field trip happen. 🙂
Sign me up!
Mate…..You’re killing it with all my favourites. When I first saw the picture in Bloglovin, I was like MILLE FEIULLE!!! That was one my most used lines in Paris- Je Voudrais Une Mille Feuille avec une cafe! The other being Je Voudrais Une Crepe Au Chocolat.
I’ve always been afraid of trying this out because it looks so fancy but I’m game. Ps- Cadel Evans. Australian pride.
You just pulled out the Cadel Evans! I love that guy! He was so easy to pull for…and I’m glad he got the victory a couple of years ago. Maybe we can all take a field trip to France to watch Le Tour and eat Napoleons and crepes all day. Is that a reasonable request?
I would say you may just end up a French pastry chef, especially after this perfect creation! 😀
Kudos to you, this looks fantastic and I can only imagine how delicious it is…love French desserts (who doesn’t?!) Perfect job 🙂
Thank you so much, Tammy! Using the puff pastry shortcut made this dessert surprisingly easy. If I truly want to be a French pastry chef, I’ll need to master the real deal, though. But for now, I’ll take the shortcut version. Thank you so much for commenting! 🙂
David you make it sound so easy but the looks say that you have done a great job here!!! These look so amazing and delicious! Perfect for weekend mornings with a big cup of coffee!
Thank you so much, Ami! I can say from personal experience that these Napoleons go great with a cup of coffee on weekend mornings. They also go great with a cup of coffee on weekday mornings. Just sayin’. 😉
Aww I love you David! Thanks for the shout out! I would do unspeakable things to be a pastry chef in France. Unspeakable. My love of France is probably bordering on crazy!
And you nailed the chevron design on top. Nailed it! Just reading your pastry cream recipe made my arm hurt! lol! If you even knew how often I’ve made it in school, you would bring me ice for my arm (with some of this mille feuille, obvi)!
ps- super impressed you baked the puff under a second baking sheet. That is 100% the right way to do it and there were 2 people who forgot to do that on the practical exam…huge mistake. Pinned!
Hahaha, I was wondering if this was going to be a Lindsey approved recipe…. glad David is legit in the napoleon category! Sadly, I don’t have these type of skills… but I’m very happy to have 2 very awesome blogging friends that could make this for me… and one of those friends I know for a fact shares their bounty of baking goodness 🙂
Haha! My stamp of approval has been issued! David will get it in the mail over the next 3-5 business days. 😉
I would share more if you came into the City more!! I am also pretty sure you could whip on of these up too.
Wait. Are you getting pastries shared with you, Chris? Where the heck are my pastries, Lindsey?? 😉 (and Lindsey is right…these are incredibly easy when you cheat and use puff pastry!)
Haha! Clearly I need to be taking pastry classes with you, Lindsey. And clearly we’d need to be partners. Actually, wait. That might be a bad idea. We might eat everything before it got graded. Haha!! Instead, I think we should all just organize a trip to France so we can eat our weight in bread and pastries over there. Sound like a plan? Ok, good!
Oh David, if you have just taught us how to make these napoleons, then I’ll adore you! 😀
Haha…why thank you, Lily! I did cheat and use puff pastry, but these Napoleons are surprisingly easy to make. You just need to make some pastry cream as the filling. The hardest part is waiting for the pastry cream to chill in the refrigerator! 🙂
this is gorgeous David! Happy Easter! 🙂
Thank you so much, Manali! Happy Easter to you, too! 🙂
I am so, SO excited to finally be visiting your lovely blog back, David! Your photos are gorgeous, and it’s a real pleasure to just read your stories! It’s crazy how one decision can make you think about all the possible routes your life could have taken, right? Either way, it looks like you still got some great access to French cuisine sitting right on your countertop. I am definitely sticking around here and checking out some more great recipes (and stories!) In the coming weeks! So great to meet you here on your blog!
Wow, thank you so much, Ala! Meeting new awesome people like you is one of the best parts about blogging. I appreciate your kind comments, too! It is indeed funny to look back at decisions we’ve made and just wonder what might have happened. Not that I’m complaining or anything…but it’s just fun to wonder. It’s a pleasure meeting you, Ala! 🙂
These look fabulous! I remember making Napoleons in my pastry classes – so yummy! 😀 Loving all that flaky pastry and feathered icing design! Lovely recipe, David! 😀
Thank you so much, Jess! Napoleons are indeed a fun recipe to make…and even more fun to eat! Haha! 🙂
Perfect Napoleon! I made a strawberry Napoleon last year but didn’t make my own pastry cream or puff pastry. I could totally make pastry cream so I’ll have to try your recipe.
You can totally make your own pastry cream, Tamara! It’s not really all that hard, either. Plus, it just sounds fancy to say that you made your own pastry cream. Haha! 🙂
My favorite dessert of all time…there’s only one issue. How do you cut it? Previous attempts have resulted in pastry cream squishing out of all sides. It’s not pretty. Any hints?
Great question, Polly! I always have trouble with this, too. This time it worked pretty well, though. I refrigerated the entire Napoleon until the pastry cream was firm, and then I carefully cut (more like gently sawed) it into pieces using a sharp serrated bread knife. It’s not the easiest…but it works decently well. 🙂
OK…I’ll sharpen the knives and chill the pasty cream…thanks for the response!
Hi, my grandmother loves napoleon! We’re celebrating her 90th bday tomorrow evening. I’ve heard mixed things about preparing it ahead of time. Do you think it’s ok to make the cream tonight and then just bake the puff and assemble tomorrow? I don’t want the cream to be too hard to work with but I don’t want it soggy if I make the whole thing tonight. Thanks!
Hey Jennifer! First of, happy (early) birthday to your grandmother! As far as making the napoleon ahead of time, I wouldn’t do it. It will definitely get soggy overnight. However, with that said, you can make the cream tonight and store it in the fridge. Then just bake the puff pastry rectangles closer to the party so that they are still crispy. I’d recommend assembling as close to the party as possible (within reason of course). I hope this helps, and I hope you enjoy!! 🙂
Hey David! I’m new to your blog and I made your recipe tonight and it was a big hit! Everyone loved it, and I will definitely make it again! One thing I did slightly differently though was put the dessert in the freezer instead of the fridge for one hour after I assembled it so it would be easier to cut. But the recipe was very good! I like that it’s slightly lighter than other Napoleon desserts I’ve had, keep up the amazing work!
Hey there, Cheyenne! Thank you so much for the very kind comment…it totally made my night yesterday when I saw it. 🙂 That’s a good idea to freeze this one so that you can cut it easier. I’ll have to keep that in mind for the next time I make it. I can’t thank you enough for being a fan of my blog…it truly does mean the world to me! Thanks again, and I hope you have a relaxing (and delicious) weekend!
Hey David, this looks fabulous! I am French but never would have dared making this lush dessert…. However your explanations are so clear I am thinking of making it for a Holiday party I am having next weekend at my house.
I have two questions: the recipe you described would be for how many servings?
Also, could I make any of the steps the day before so I don’t get overwhelmed on the day of? I love preparing things in advance especially desserts as I often freeze my cakes but I don’t think the Napoleon would survive the freezer 😉
Thanks a lot for your guidance!
Oh gosh, thank you so much, Regine! I try to write these recipes in a way that makes sense, so I really appreciate your kind words. 🙂 I think you can totally make this recipe yourself!
Servings all depends on how big you slice the pieces. Haha! Seriously, though, if you slice 1.5″ pieces then you’d end up with 8 servings…and that’s a totally legit size. You could scale it back to 1″ slices, but I’m afraid that might start to get difficult to slice.
So I would highly, highly recommend assembling this Napoleon as close to serving time as possible. The puff pastry will absorb liquid from the pastry cream and become soft. A little soft is ok for sure, but you don’t want soggy! However, you can absolutely make the pastry cream a day or two in advance. Just put it in a bowl in the refrigerator and cover it with plastic wrap. (Press the plastic wrap all the way down so that is actually touches the top of the pastry cream…that will keep it from forming a thicker film on the top.) If you have the cream made in advance, then all you’d need to do is just bake the puff pastry and assemble…which is totally manageable for a dinner party. I do hope you enjoy this one as much as we do! Thank you again, and Happy Holidays! 🙂
Thanks a lot David! You are wonderful. I will make the pastry cream the day before and cover it the way you suggest. I will follow your blog with great pleasure now!
Best Wishes for Happy Holidays 😀
Thanks, Regine! My pleasure…and thank you SO much for following along. Don’t be a stranger if you’ve got questions or comments in the future. 🙂 Happy Holidays!
I have always wanted to try and make these myself. Thank you for the recipe. I made them yesterday and they came out amazing.
Awesome! Napoleons are definitely a classic dessert, and I’m so glad you enjoyed this recipe, Mary! I haven’t made this one in a while myself, so I should make it again. 🙂 Either way, happy baking, and thank you so much for stopping by to leave a comment!
I just stumbled across your post. I’m very late to the party. lol. I can’t wait to try this recipe. As July is fast approaching, it can only mean one thing. T.D.F! And I can’t think of a better dessert to serve our guest’s at one of the watch parties we have. Finding Napoleons at bakeries these days is hard find. So, D.I.Y is going to have to be the route I will have to take. This sounds simple enough. Thanks for posting.
Hey, Cathy! There’s no such thing as late to the game when it comes to a classic recipe like this one. 🙂 I agree that Napoleons seem to be a thing of the past in most bakeries these days. Fortunately, the puff pastry is an easy way to “cheat” and make your own at home. I hope you enjoy this recipe…and get ready for the Tour! Starting in Copenhagen this year is a fun little twist.