Our October 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Suz of Serenely Full. Suz challenged us to not only tackle buttery and flaky puff pastry, but then take it step further and create a sinfully delicious Mille Feuille dessert with it!
I wasn't familiar with "mille feuille" until Suz mentioned its other, more common (well, to me) name - the Napoleon. This month's challenge was to create the delicious towering desert that alternates layers of flaky puff pastry with creamy, delicious pastry cream. Wow.
Puff pastry has been on my to-try list for some time, I have just been too nervous to try it. I don't know why, though. It's a laminated dough, and I have had success with laminated doughs before. Yet I was still worried. But this challenge gave me just the push I needed to jump right in.
And, as it turns out, it wasn't that hard! There are two components to prep for the dough - the dough itself, which comes together much like an unsweetened pie crust, and the butter block, which is mostly butter with a bit of flour mixed in. Each component is chilled, and then they are worked together. The butter is laid onto the dough...
...and then the dough is folded around the butter, kind of like an envelope, and then rolled out and folded. And rolled out and folded. And chilled. Then rolled out and folded yet again. This basically created tiny, thin layers of dough and butter throughout the entire piece of dough. As long as you make sure to carefully chill the dough between sets of folds and to keep the work-surface adequately floured, it works out pretty easily!
Once the dough was done and back to chilling out in the fridge, it was time to work on the creamy filling. Traditional pastry cream contains lots of milk and eggs, both of which are no-nos for little man, so I decided to look for a more allergy-friendly filling for our desserts. I also wanted to try to stick seasonal, so was very pleased to find this recipe for pumpkin custard. A can of pumpkin, a can of coconut milk, some maple syrup, cinnamon and vanilla - how could you go wrong?
The mixture is then thickened with a bit of softened, unflavored gelatin (making this recipe allergen free, not vegan...), then chilled in the refrigerator for several hours to set.
When it was time to bake the pastry, little man was itching to help. But his method of helping me with dough often times includes him pinching off little pieces of the dough and eating them. Yuck. So instead I had him help me prep my work surface. Armed with his own little bowl of flour, he helped me flour my counter for dough-rolling.
I then rolled my dough and cut it into pieces. Suz's directions had us making one large pastry, which was to be cut into serving sizes once complete. I decided I'd make smaller ones for us to save the cutting time later.
The interesting part about baking the puff pastry for this dessert is that you bake it weighed-down, minimizing its ability to actually puff. But it still managed to puff for me, and I had some gorgeous, airy pockets in my finished, baked pastry.
And, with this month being as crazy as it has been, I am sad to say that I didn't have a chance to really go to town on the decorating like I wanted to. So rather than a gorgeous royal icing/chocolate design on top, I went with a thin layer of my pumpkin custard and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Which mostly dissolved into the custard on contact, but oh well.
But, despite the lack of decoration, I was really proud of how this came out. The custard was only okay - I will have to keep playing with the recipe a little, but it definitely worked, and little man didn't have to skip out on dessert.
And now I know that I can make my own puff pastry, which is a huge win for me!!
Suz, you are awesome and I am so glad you were our hostess this month. I am definitely going to try the mille feuille again, too, as it is a delicious and totally impressive dessert. What a great choice for us!!
To see the beautiful, amazing and impressive desserts baked in the Daring Kitchen this month, check them out here.
Pâte feuilletée /Puff Pastry
(from the challenge)
(yields: 675g pastry)
1¾ cup all-purpose flour
Scant ¼ cup unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water
14 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
Additional flour for rolling/turning
Cut the larger quantity of butter into smallish pieces and set aside at room temperature.
Put the larger quantity of flour into a bowl with the salt and the cold, cubed butter.
Lightly rub the butter and flour between your fingertips until it forms a mealy breadcrumb texture.
Add the cold water and bring together with a fork or spoon until the mixture starts to cohere and come away from the sides of the bowl.
As the dough begins to come together, you can use your hands to start kneading and incorporating all the remaining loose bits. If the dough’s a little dry, you can add a touch more water.
Knead for three minutes on a floured surface until the dough is smooth.
Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
While the dough is chilling, take your room temperature butter and mix with the smaller amount of all purpose flour until it forms a paste.
Place the butter paste between two sheets of clingfilm, and either with a rolling pin or your hands (I found hands easiest) shape it into a 4.5”/12cm square. You can use a ruler (or similar) to neaten the edges.
Refrigerate the butter block for about 10-15 minutes so the butter firms up slightly. If it’s still soft, leave it a bit longer. If it’s too hard and inflexible, leave it out to soften a touch. You want it to be solid but still malleable.
Once the dough has chilled, roll it out on a floured surface into a 6”/15cm square. Place the square of butter in the middle, with each corner touching the centre of the square’s sides (basically, rotated 45 degrees from the orientation of the dough square).
Fold each corner of dough over the butter so they meet the centre (you might have to stretch them a little) and it resembles an envelope, and seal up the edges with your fingers. You’ll be left with a little square parcel.
Turn the dough parcel over and tap the length of it with your rolling pan to flatten it slightly.
Keeping the work surface well floured, roll the dough carefully into a rectangle ¼ inch thick.
With the longest side facing you, fold one third inwards, so it’s covering the middle section, and ensure that it is lined up. Then, fold the remaining flap of dough (on the left) inwards, so you’re left with a narrow three-layered strip. It's like folding a business letter.
Roll out the dough again into another rectangle and repeat the letter-fold.
Wrap up the twice-folded dough in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and repeat the rolling/folding process two more times.
Wrap up in clingfilm again and chill again for at least 30 minutes.
Remove the dough again and, once again, repeat the rolling and folding process ad additional two times.
Wrap up in clingfilm and refrigerate until you are ready to bake the dough. The dough keeps a couple of days in the fridge.
for the pumpkin custard
14 oz. can pureed pumpkin
14 oz. can coconut milk
1/3 c maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin powder
1/4 cup luke warm waterp
In a medium sauce pot, whisk together the pumpkin, coconut milk, maple syrup, cinnamon and vanilla. Right when it’s about to come to a simmer, remove it from the heat.
While the pumpkin mixture is heating up, in a cup or small bowl, sprinkle the geltain over the luke warm water and stir to combine, making sure there are no lumps. Let it firm up as the pumpkin mixture is heating. Whisk the semi-solid gelatin mass into the pumpkin mixture.
Pour the pumpkin custard into a bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pumpkin custard. This keeps a ‘pudding skin’ from forming on the top.
Refrigerate for 4-6 hours, until the custard to sets-up.
final construction of the Mille-Feuille/Napoleon
(from the challenge, modified slightly for my own version)
1 batch puff pastry (see above)
1 batch pumpkin custard (see above)
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Lightly dust your work space with flour and remove your dough from the fridge.
Roll into a large rectangle, the thickness of cardboard (will probably be about 12" x 18").
Cut the dough into three equal pieces and place on parchment paper on a baking tray. If you don’t have space for all three, you can bake them separately. (I made smaller pieces for mine, to make smaller completed pastries - make what works for you)
Prick the pastry sheets all over with a fork.
Place another sheet of parchment paper over the top and then cover with a heavy baking tray. This will prevent the layers from puffing up too much.
Bake each sheet for about 25 minutes at 400°F, removing the top layer of parchment paper and the tray 10 minutes before the end to allow the tops to brown. Keep an eye on them and lower the temperature if you think they’re browning too much.
Remove the baked sheets from the oven and leave on a wire rack to cool.
Once the pastry has cooled, you’re ready to assemble your mille-feuille. Get a sturdy flat board, your pastry and the chilled custard from the fridge.
Lay one sheet on the board and spread half the custard evenly over the top.
Take the second sheet and place it on top, pressing down lightly with your hands to ensure that it sticks to the filling.
Spread the remaining custard over the second sheet of pastry, then place the last sheet of pastry on top, pressing down again.
The challenge recipe calls for this to be decorated with royal icing and melted chocolate. For my mille-feuille, I spread a very thin layer of the pumpkin custard over the top, then sprinkled it with powdered sugar for a simpler topping/design.