Food Sunday – Don’t Fear the Napoleon!


Happy Sunday Bread Heads!

Okay, I know , I know, this recipe was promised for last week so you all would be able to have it for you Bastille Day celebrations, but the best laid plans of mice and men will often go astray and all that.

Be that as it may, this week we are going to tackle a pastry treat that many people find intimidating. The thing is there is no reason for that intimidation. A napoleon is really just some pastry you bake flat, cut up and then stack up with layers of pastry cream between. There is nothing here that should deter the home baker.

In fact this is a great recipe to practice making puff pastry and your pastry cream on. If you don’t panic and have even a moderately steady hand, you’ll do just fine.

So, without further adieu, let’s bake!



For Blitz Puff Pastry Dough

2 ½ cups bread flour
1 ¾ cups cake flour
1 lbs (4 sticks) butter
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 cup cold water

For Pastry Cream

4 cups whole milk
½ cup sugar
4 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
¾ cup corn starch
½ cup sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (use the good stuff not imitation vanilla flavor, damnit!)

For Icing

2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons chocolate chips

Baking pans and special equipment: 1 sheet pan (15”x12”), Pastry bags or 1 small and 1 large zip top bags, 1 13”x9” baking pan.


So here is the skinny on how bakers make napoleons, in a word, they cheat. Puff pastry in its traditional form is the difference between an apprentice baker and a journeyman. It can be quite finicky and there a many tears of frustration on the way to developing the “eye” needed to have uniform success. So, instead of taking up the skilled bakers time, apprentices get shown the recipe for Blitz Puff Pastry.

This recipe can be used anytime you want a nice flat sheet of cooked pastry. It does not rise as much as the traditional method, but we don’t need it for napoleons so why bother?
Basically what we are making here is a really flaky pie crust.

In your large mixing bowl, combine the bread and cake flour. Cut the butter into about 10 piece per stick and toss with the flour to coat. Now if you have a pastry knife this is the time to use it. Between the fact that it is not human temperature and the need to leave large thin pieces of butter in the dough, it is the very tool for the job. However if you don’t have one there is no requirement that you run out and get one (though they are handy when you need them and only cost about $8 bucks at your local restaurant supply store).

If you have one use it. If not, then you can do this by hand. Just rub the flour onto the butter. There is a lot of butter to flour in this recipe, so we are not going to try to get to the “sawdust” stage. Instead what it should look like is wood chips. There will be large pieces of butter, maybe an 1/8 of an inch thick and ½ inch wide in the mix.

Dissolve the salt in the cold water then pour over the flour and butter. With your hands mix until a soft dough forms. Turn it out onto a well floured surface and form into a rectangle, about 1” thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and stash in the refrigerator for 25 minutes.

Now we need to build up the flaky layers. The way to do this is roll it out then fold it. Here’s how. Remove the dough from the ‘fridge and place it on a well floured work surface. I usually roll my dough on a marble work board, but it is not big enough for what we’re going to do, so a clean counter is what I use.

Roll the dough out to 8” wide by 24” long. You don’t have to press hard or anything, just run the rolling pin over the surface until it gets the size you want. Do try to make the corners as square as you can. Fold the 8” ends to the middle, then fold over the middle so you have 4 layers. Wrap the dough up and put it back in the ‘fridge for 15 minutes.

Repeat the step above two more times, for a total of three times that you’ve rolled out the dough. Chill for 30 minutes, then it is time to roll it out for cooking.

Roll the dough out so it will cover your sheet pan edge to edge in both directions. Place it on the sheet pan and put it back in the ‘fridge for 30 minutes.

Set a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Pull your dough out of the fridge and dock it with a fork (use the tines to poke a bunch of little holes in the dough) this will let it rise evenly (and it if doesn’t don’t panic!).

Slip the dough into the hot oven for 25 minutes. The pastry will be golden brown and well risen when it is done. Remove it from the oven and cool on the pan on a wire rack.

While you’re pastry is cooling, it is time to make pastry cream. We are going to make too much cream for this recipe, mainly because I don’t like how pastry cream comes out when you cut it down to lower amounts and because I learned to make it in vat sized batches. Any that you don’t use can be stored in an air tight container for up to a week. Make some cream puffs to use it up, that’s what I usually do when I have extra hanging around. (you can find the recipe for cream puffs at this link)

To make the pastry cream, combine the milk and sugar in a large (4 quart preferred) sauce pan, over medium heat and bring to a boil. You must watch the milk and sugar, as soon as it boils take it off the heat.

While your milk is getting up to boiling, in a large bowl whisk together the egg yolks and whole eggs. Sift the corn starch and sugar over the eggs.

When your milk boils, take it off the heat and temper the eggs by putting in small amounts of milk then whisking like the hounds of hell were chasing you. This is the place you can really mess up your pastry cream. Too much hot milk at once will just cook your eggs and give you a bowl full of sweet milky scrambled eggs. Yuck.

So, a single ladle at a time add the milk then whip. When it is completely combined, add the next ladleful. Repeat until you have mixed all the milk and sugar into the eggs. Then transfer the whole thing back into your pan and return to the heat.

Cook, whisking constantly, until it thickens. You can not miss it thickening. The starch will get to a certain temperature and bingo! It will suddenly be much thicker. Remove form the heat and whisk for 1 minute.

Add the rest of the sugar and the half stick of butter. Whisk until the butter and sugar are completely absorbed. Then pour the whole thing into a 13”x9” baking pan. Now I am going to teach you a trick from professional kitchens. Most home recipes will tell you to cover pastry cream with plastic wrap. The problem here is that it holds all the water in and leaves you will a diluted layer on top of your cream.

To combat that, sprinkle the top of the cream with sugar and then press wax paper onto the top of the cream. This will allow some of the water to escape as it cools and what does not will be absorbed by the sugar.

Place the whole thing in the ‘fridge to cool, about 2 hours.

Now it is time to make our icing. This is really easy. In a small bowl combine the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla and whisk until they are thoroughly mixed.

Now that all of our parts are ready, all that is left is to assemble the dessert!

Slide the pastry off of the sheet pan onto a cutting board. Trim the edges and then, using a serrated knife, cut it into three equal width strips, cutting longwise.

Then cut each of the strips into four equal squares. In professional kitchens they assemble napoleons in long strips. I understand why they do it, but since you are only making four big desserts there is no reason to do it that way.

On a sheet pan set out the four worst looking pieces. They are going to be on the bottom so no one will care.

Take a large zip top bag and cut the corner out of it. If you have pastry tips, you can put a large plain one in but if you don’t have them, just make sure the corner you cut off is only ¼ inch and you can pipe straight from the bag.

Remove the pasty cream from the fridge and whisk until completely smooth. Scoop about half into the bag and seal the bag. Scoop the rest into an air tight container and put back in the fridge. Pipe the pastry cream onto the squares in a back and forth motion that leaves 1/8 inch all the way round the pastry uncovered (the cream will flow a little bit and we don’t want drips). Cover with the second worst squares and repeat.

Stash all of this in the fridge while we fix up the tops.

To ice the tops, turn them over so the bottom is facing up. This will give you a flatter top piece. Completely ice the tops to the edges. While that is drying just a little bit we will get the chocolate icing ready.

In a small bowl heat the chocolate chips for 30 seconds in a microwave or in the oven turned just to Warm for 5 minutes. Stir to finish the melting process. Stir the hot chocolate into the remainder of the icing. If it get really thick (and it might) dilute with 1 teaspoon of milk.

Whip until the icing is evenly dark brown. If you have pastry tips, select the smallest round tip you have, cut the corner out of a small zip top bag and put the tip through the cut. If you don’t have tips, just cut a very small corner out.

Fill the bag with your chocolate icing. On each of the four top squares pipe four parallel lines. Using the back of a knife, drag it gently down to make a dip in the all the chocolate lines (place the knife back over all four lines and pull back about ½ inch then lift the knife vertically away from the pastry) repeat this three more times. Then do the same pulling from the opposite direction so you have a total of 8 pulls, 4 in each direction and the tops look like the picture at the top of this post.

Repeat with the other three tops. Pull the pastry out of the ‘fridge and then place the tops on. Cover gently with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. Then pull those bad dogs out and munch!

Yes, there are a lot of steps to this, but no, none of them are hard. Anyone reading this can make this special treat, and then tell people that it is grueling to do.

So, get baking Bread Heads! The flour is yours.

Oh, rather than give you a link to the Cream Puffs, here is the recipe!

For Pate A Choux Dough

1 ½ cups water
10 tablespoons butter (unsalted preferred)
1 ½ cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
6 or 7 eggs

Method for Puffed Shells:
Set a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

Now for those of you have made cream puffs before, you’re about to freak out. I am going to break a couple of rules here, but I have found that the recipes all over the internet and in a lot of cook books are overly complicated and hard for first timers. All I can say is my puffs turn out light and fluffy every time and yours will too if you follow this method.

In a heavy sauce pan, combine the water butter, sugar and salt. Place over medium heat and stir occasionally until it comes to a simmer. When the pot is simmering remove from the heat and using a wooden spoon stir in the flour. Return to the heat and keep stirring until the dough pulls away from the sides and is shiny. This can take as little as two minutes and as much as 6 just watch it and you’ll know when it is done.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Transfer the dough to large bowl or the work bowl of your stand mixer. Using either the flat paddle attachment or a large wooden spoon stir the dough for one minute to cool it even more.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating them completely into the dough before adding the next. If there is dough sticking to the sides, scrape the bowl down before adding the next egg. When you get to the sixth egg, it is time to check the batter. What we are looking for is batter that is thick but will run off of the spoon or flat paddle. If you have that, then you’re done. If some drops off, then stops running it is too thick and won’t rise in the oven, in this case, add the seventh egg. You really want to be sure on this step, as there is no leavening in the puffs and it is the heat of the oven and the protein from the eggs that give puffs their structure.

When your dough is ready line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Now we are going to pipe the batter onto the sheets. If you have a pastry bag, groovy. I don’t use them anymore because they are a real drag to clean and I only use them a couple of times a year. The best substitute is a 1 gallon zip top bag. Just clip ¼ inch of one corner off with scissors and put your pastry tip (yeah, you have to have a tip) through the corner.

Get someone to hold the bag open while you use a spatula to scrape the batter into the bag. Press out all the air and seal.

To pipe the puffs, hold your tip at a 45 degree angle to the pan and draw a circle that is about 1 ½ inches across. In a spiral motion fill in the center so you have a mound that is about 1 ½ inches tall, this will help you get round puffs. Move over about 2 inches and repeat. You should be able to get 24 or so puffs on each pan, but don’t make the second pan until you have fully baked the first.

Place the pan in the hot oven and bake for 18 minutes (this is where experienced puff makers are going to freak) don’t turn down the oven like you might have been told other recipes, trust me, Bill is good, Bill is wise. At 18 minutes turn the oven off and let the puffs stand for 15 minutes in the cooling oven. They will come out golden brown and fully puffed.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the puffs cool on a wire rack. Reheat the oven to 450 and repeat with the rest of the batter. This should give you about 48 puffs.

When the puffs have all cooled, use a clean ½ pastry tip to puncture the bottom of the puffs. Set aside.

Then fill up a bag with the rest of your pastry cream and fill. Chill for 30 minutes before serving.

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