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: