Napoleons are stunning but relatively easy-to-make layered pastries, also known as millefeuilles. For this really show-stopping dessert, you can make all the components ahead of time and then assemble just before serving. You can fill them with all sorts of flavours and ingredients. Feel free to make these your own with a pastry cream or a fresh and easy crème Chantilly.
Before you start, make sure you have two large baking sheets that can fit inside your fridge. Line each of the baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cut the puff pastry in half and then roll each piece out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle slightly larger than 15 x 36cm. Use the rolling pin to lift the pastry rectangles onto the lined baking sheets. Put them in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up and allow the gluten in the pastry to relax, preventing the pastry from shrinking in the oven.
Once the pastry rectangles are cooked, remove them from the oven and sprinkle with a little icing sugar. Turn the grill onto a medium heat and pop each pastry rectangle underneath for the icing sugar to melt and caramelize a little, or use a blowtorch if you have one. This process takes seconds, so keep an eye on it so it does not burn.
Remove the pastry rectangles from under the grill and leave to cool down completely. Using a very sharp knife and a ruler, trim each piece to make precise 15 x 36cm rectangles.
You will need to divide each rectangle into nine smaller rectangles, each 5 x 12cm in size. To do this, place a rectangle on the work surface so that a long side is facing you. Cut it widthways into three pieces of the same size, and then cut each of the thirds into another three pieces. Repeat this process with the other large pastry rectangle until you have eighteen rectangles, each 5 x 12cm in size.
To make the filling melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Make sure the base of the bowl does not touch the simmering water. You can also melt the chocolate in 30-second bursts in the microwave, stirring until melted. Leave to cool.
Put the butter and icing sugar in a stand mixer and whisk really well until light and fluffy, then add the vanilla and the cooled melted chocolate and beat for another moment. Add the red colouring whisk again and then add the cream cheese and whisk for a moment. Don’t over-whisk the cream cheese otherwise it will go runny. Once the filling is ready, use it to half-fill the piping bag with the mixture – filling halfway ensures that the mixture does not squidge out of the top when you are piping.
Take six pastry rectangles and put them on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Pipe equal-sized blobs of filling all the way along the border of each shape, then fill in the centre – you don’t have to be super neat for the middle bit as only the outside blobs will be visible. Half-fill the piping bag again. Put the second layer of pastry on top of each piped rectangle and pipe again in the same way as you did for the bottom layer. You should now have six almost finished Napoleons.
To decorate, put a small palette knife in the centre of one of the remaining pastry rectangles – you can either do this so it is straight down the centre or at an angle. Sprinkle icing sugar all over the top, leaving an undusted stripe where the palette knife has been. Repeat with the rest of the tops and then place each one on top of the layered pastries, giving each Napoleon three tiers. Put a little blob of the filling at the end of each Napoleon to act as glue and arrange the redcurrants and raspberries on top.
Serve and enjoy. You can also garnish with some mint leaves if you fancy it.
© Lorraine Pascale, 2017. Images: © Myles New, 2017.