I can’t believe I’m already two-thirds of the way through my Art of Pastry course! In Week 3, we completed our look at puff pastry by using the second half of our dough (first batch was used in Week 2) to make what is called a “Napoleon slice”. It’s basically a dessert that consists of layers of baked puff pastry covered in cream and fruit. Often, you’ll see this dessert in pastry shops with the top layer of pastry covered in fondant that has a design on it.
As I mentioned in my Weeks 1 & 2 write-up, I somehow made a mistake while laminating my puff pastry dough. I can’t remember if I either forgot a turn or perhaps completed one turn too many, but my puff pastry did not have the lift and layering that it should have. While it tasted alright, it was far more compact than it should have been.
Our instructor recommended that prior to rolling out the pastry to bake for the Napoleon, I do an additional “book fold”. A book fold means that you roll your puff pastry out to a certain size and then fold each end into the middle. You then take the folded puff pastry and fold it again in half, as though you were closing a book. I completed this step at the beginning of close, all the while hoping it would help my pastry perform better.
The first step in preparing for the Napoleon was to make a pastry cream. We made a very basic cream of eggs, sugar, milk, cornstarch, vanilla extract and butter. Our instructor taught us a very interesting trick in terms of the butter. Whenever I’ve made pastry cream at home, I’ve always incorporated the butter after the cream has thickened and is off the heat. To cool the cream, I’ve put a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream before refrigerating it. The plastic wrap prevents a skin from forming on the cream.
Our instructor taught us that you can avoid using plastic wrap by using the butter as a tool against formation of a skin. Instead of mixing the hot butter into the cream, you let it melt on the surface of the cream, swirling it around to form a layer of melted butter. You then let your cream cool and prior to using it, you simply mix the butter in.
To make the Napoleon slice, we rolled our pastry out into large sheets and then trimmed it to fit a parchment-line baking sheet. We carefully scored the puff pastry to allow steam to escape while it was baking. By scoring the puff pastry, you’re helping it not to puff up too much in the oven. While that may seem strange as usually you want lots of puffiness out of your pastry, in this case you don’t want too much puffiness because you’re going to use the pastry in a layered dessert that will hopefully be somewhat even!
Unfortunately, my pastry didn’t perform very well. It rose a bit and turned a nice golden colour in the oven, but it didn’t rise as much as it should have. However, as our instructor pointed out, slightly imperfect puff pastry is easily camouflaged by lots of pastry cream!
Once our pastry had cooled, we divided it into three pieces and began building our Napoleon by covering one piece of puff pastry with cream and sliced strawberries, and then topping it with a second piece of puff pastry. We repeated the cream and strawberries before topping the Napoleon with the final piece of puff pastry. Instead of finishing off with fondant, we sprinkled our Napoleons with icing sugar that had a bit of pink in it (the pink was added by mixing the icing sugar with food colouring and then sifting it through a fine-mesh sieve). A bit of whipped cream and some fresh strawberries and there you go!
The Napoleon slice certainly looked nice and it tasted alright. The pastry cream was very good but I thought my puff pastry tasted quite tough. I suspect this was due to the additional turn that I gave it, which really didn’t help out at all.
As well, the pastry left a lingering oily taste in your mouth that I know comes from the roll-in fat that we used. Pastry made with butter would have tasted much better.
Still, though, I enjoyed the experience of building my very first Napoleon and look forward to trying it at home.
I was very excited to tell you about my Week 4 class, which was dedicated to chocolate tarts and chocolate pastry, unfortunately I didn’t make it to class. I was feeling under the weather and knew that there was no way I would make it through a four-hour baking seession. I look forward to hearing from my classmates next week about how the tarts turned out.