Recently my Sister flew away and back to her life after a delirious summer together leaving behind an all too familiar void in my heart and my home. Weeks of wallowing in sadness accomplished nothing except a longing to be comforted so I turned to this sweet course for a supreme consolation. Amidst the gregarious cheese-eating, wine-drinking and sightseeing we managed during her stay here, exercising the right to pacify our sweet appetition was high on our list of summer holiday must-do’s with absolutely no shame. I dare to admit that pastry and gelato tasting put the girlhood back into adulthood with complete congeniality. Pasticcerie and Gelaterie are a rite of passage in these parts, charming tourists away from the sweltering summer Sun with the promise of happiness. We tasted our way down from the sea-side villages in the North of Italy to the French Riviera, sampling everything from Ice-creams to Bavarian creams, Granitas to Gateauxs and some of the finest Italian and French pastries there is to find. With inspiration running wild and sand still in my shoes, I recreated Millefeuille to pack away the holiday blues.
Millefeuille, a famous French classic meaning a thousand sheets or Millefoglie in Italian (a thousand leaves) refers to the chief ingredient of puff pastry used in the recipe. The many layers of flaky sheets that develop when puff pastry dough is baked, literally gave rise to the confection’s illustrious name. When dealing with puff pastry for Millefeuille though, there’s a simple technique involved to condense the layers. In professional bakeries the cold, all-butter dough is baked in a special baking tray that allows the dough to bake evenly through the tray’s indents as well as enabling the pastry to rise just enough (but not to its full potential) by the use of a fitted cover. By using this method the puff pastry no longer remains soft and delicate but rather transforms itself into a crisp, firm almost biscuit-like sheet but with a lightness that is nothing short of excellence. Professional Millefeuille baking trays can cost from 70€ but thankfully there’s always the old fashioned way to prepare these in the most modest of kitchens.
At home this baking form is replicated by placing the pastry dough on a typical baking tray (lined with parchment) and placing another tray on top. This limits the dough’s rise creating solid sheets to be used as slabs between layers of fruit and pastry cream. For this variation, I used fresh raspberries with a classic Vanilla Crème Anglaise. This pastry cream soothes my soul, fragrant with the heart-warming companionship of bourbon vanilla and flecked with vanilla seeds, just a lick of a spoonful makes for happy days.
Once everything is ready double layers of pastry, cream and fruit are built to form little mini-towers that’s easier to make than it looks. In fact this confectionery is so simple to put together that I often say its more of a challenge to eat it than to make it – but when has that ever stopped me. . . .
- 275g sheet (all butter) puff pastry
- 125g fresh raspberries
- 1 vanilla pod
- 250ml milk
- 2 tbs cornflour
- 50g butter
- 3 large egg yolks
- 60g castor sugar
- 250g mascarpone
- confectioners sugar to dust
*Note: The shape of the millefeuille will depend on your choosing. For round millefeuilles, use a 4cm round cutter and cut out as many rounds as possible just before baking. From my experience, it is simpler to cut rounds of unbaked pastry than baked pastry. Carving out rounds after baking, tends to release too much crumb. This sheet of pastry should yieled 15 round discs of pastry, enough to make 5 finished millefeuilles. For the more conventional rectangular shape, the pastry can be baked first then cut after as it is easier to cut lines than circles. Once the sheet of pastry is baked, cut into 4cm x 8cm slices. Remember to bake pastry only when the cream is completely cool and ready to be piped, in the meanwhile pastry dough should be kept cold.
- Prepare a large pastry bag fitted with 1cm pastry tip of your choice.
- Start by preparing pastry cream in advance so it cools. Add milk, vanilla seeds and butter to a small saucepan and heat gently.
- In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks, sugar and cornflour until thoroughly homogenised.
- Bring milk mixture to a gentle simmer. Pour hot milk into eggs, all the while whisking eggs while pouring. This will temper the eggs and prevent scrambling.
- Once all the milk has been transferred to the bowl, give it a quick stir and then pour mixture back into the saucepan and place it back on the heat. To ensure a smooth pastry cream, continue whisking on a gentle heat. As the mixture heats it will gradually thicken into a pastry cream. Once it’s thick enough to form visible lines left by the whisk, add half of the mascarpone. Whisk to a smooth and velvety consistency, before adding the other half and whisking it in. Remove from heat.
- Transfer pastry cream into a large piping bag. Work as quickly as possible to prevent unwanted skin from forming onto the surface of the cream. Twist the top end of the bag to prevent the cream spilling and leave to cool in the refrigerator until completely cool.
- Once the pastry cream is ready to be used, preheat the oven to 190°C gas fan/210° C convectional/230°C conventional. Place the oven rack in a midway position in the oven.
- To prepare pastry for baking, the sheet of pastry should be placed on a large baking tray lined with parchment. Once all the discs have been cut, remove the excess pastry. Cover the pastry discs with additional parchment paper then place a second baking tray, directly on top. This will limit the pastry from puffing up too much. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove pastry from oven, remove the top baking tray and top parchment, dust the pastry with confectioners sugar using a fine mesh sieve and place the pastry back in the oven, this time under a hot grill. Leave pastry directly under the grill for no more than 2-3 minutes until golden brown and caramelised. Remove pastry from the oven and leave to cool, (15 minutes).
- While pastry is cooling, slice raspberries in half lengthways.
- Dust pastries with confectioners sugar.
- Starting at the centre of the disc, pipe cream from the centre outward in one circular motion. Place four pieces of halved berries in a star shape over the cream. Cover with another disc and repeat this step. Finish with a top disc dusted with confectioners sugar.
- If using jam and making rectangular millefeuilles, work with three pieces at a time. Brush two pieces with jam and assemble the first two layers according to the picture below and finish with a top layer of pastry dusted with confectioners sugar.
- Best served immediately however if not permissable, do not refrigerate. Chilling will cause the pastry dough to turn soggy and lose its crisp texture. Best to leave pastries at room temperature until service.
Maestros Need to Know *Raspberries tend to develop mould quite quickly so get them fresh and don't prolong using them. When choosing raspberries, smell them to understand how sweet they are. Usually sweet raspberries will give off more fragrance. Look at the colour too, darker raspberries mean that they have been sun-ripened for longer and are usually sweeter. Be very delicate when washing them, do not run them under the tap as the pressure of the water will damage them. Instead, place them into a large mesh sieve and submerge the sieve into a bowl of water moving them around. Transfer onto a clean dry tea towel to remove any excess water. When all the water has been removed they can be covered and placed into the refrigerator. Doing this step in advance is advantageous as the raspberries are washed, dried, chilled and ready to be used for recipes that call for fresh berries instead of cooked berries. *When working with puff pastry always remember to keep the dough chilled until right before the moment it needs to be used. Butter is the key ingredient in a good puff pastry and chilling the dough up to the point of baking essentially means that we are keeping the butter from melting prematurely which results in a dense, soggy pastry. The contrast in temperature from a cold fridge to a hot oven is what determines the flakiness of baked puff pastry. Usually it is advisable that if the dough stayed at room temperature for too long then it should go back into the refrigerator to chill just before baking. *There are many varieties of vanilla pods one can buy. The most common and second to the best you can buy is the bourbon vanilla variety. When choosing pods always look for a shiny pod, this reveals the strength of the aroma and the freshness of the pod. An oily vanilla pod should have a powerful perfume. Note that vanilla pods are pricey so you want to ensure you are getting value for your money so steer clear of dry looking pods. To make the most of a pod, always use your sharpest knife, preferably a pairing knife, and make a long slit down the centre of the pod. Scrape out the seeds carefully for the pastry cream and keep the empty pod to flavour sugar, home pickled fruits and so on by simply placing the pod into the respective jar. The empty pod will continue to release oils and flavour.