A Mille Feuille (a.k.a. a Napoleon in some circles) is a classic dessert that comes in all shapes and sizes, but the core of it remains the same: alternating layers of delicate puff pastry and various sweet fillings (fruits, creams, etc). I decided to use some great local produce to flavor my rendition: blueberry, mango, and (of course ) strawberry.
I was inspired to make this by a fantastic entry way back during Strawberry Seduction. This dessert is really quite easy to prepare (assuming you cheat and use store-bought puff pastry like I did….shhh!)–the bulk of the time and effort is actually spent putting it together so that it looks nice. I think I did a pretty decent job, but looking back at the photos, there’s definitely room for improvement (e.g. my layers of cooked pastry aren’t even close to uniformly flat, so things look a little “rustic” ). There’s a lot of room to dress this up though and this is a fantastic dessert to bring out on the table to wow a few food appreciating guests.
As over the top as it might look, this dessert is actually quite light, so its a great way to end a meal. Flavor-wise, this is absolutely delicious–layers of flaky, light pastry, rich, buttery, sweet, vanilla flavored cream, and a harmonious mix of very fresh mango, blueberry, and strawberry (when you can manage to fit all three on your fork at once, that is!). The creme chantilly provided a nice, lighter contrast to the heavier, richer mousseline, and all in all, this was really quite a sight. I felt guilty cutting it, but I definitely did not feel guilty eating it.
- 1 sheet of puff pastry
- 1 egg white
- 1-2 mangoes
- 1/2-1 cup blueberries
- 6 or more strawberries
- Crème Mousseline
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/2 cups sugar
- 4 Tbsp flour
- 4 Tbsp cornstarch
- 2.5 cups milk
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
- 1 Vanilla bean
- Crème Chantilly
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
The first task is to prepare the creme mousseline so that it will have ample time to cool and firm up before we need it. I also made this for my less than successful strawberry swiss roll, so the procedure is pretty much the same.
Begin by scalding the milk and steeping it with vanilla, taking it off the heat to cool for about 30 minutes and being sure to scrape out every last bit of vanilla in there.
While you wait, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks, until smooth, then working in the flour and cornstarch, whisking again until pale in color. A stand mixer is your friend here.
Once time is up on the steeping milk, warm it up again (not boiling!), remove the vanilla pod, and temper the egg mixture (stirring all the while) with a bit of the hot milk. Slowly pour in a good bit of the simmering milk over the egg mixture, beating vigorously before transferring it back to the saucepan and stirring it well into the rest of the milk.
Now, bring this thick mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Things will be pretty thick, but keep at it as you don’t want the bottom to burn. Give this about 3-5 minutes on the heat (bubbles should slowly be working their way through the surface) and then transfer this to a separate bowl and let it rest in an ice bath to prevent further cooking.
As it is cooling down, add the butter and stir until fully mixed in, at which point, you should remove this from the ice bath and let it rest in the fridge. We’ll come back to it later and it will have a much thicker texture that is a lot easier to work with.
So now, onto the puff pastry. If using store-bought, obviously, it should be thawed out first, after which, you’ll want to roll a sheet out to be pretty thin. Cut this sheet into three rectangles of equal size.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 400°. Transfer the pastry to the sheet and brush lightly with some beaten egg white (diluted with about 1 Tbsp water). If you can’t easily fit all 3 rectangles on one pan, don’t crowd it and just do it on another pan or wait and work in batches. Whatever the case, bake this for 10-15 minutes, just so they puff up and brown nicely.
The next time I do this, I would strongly consider weighing each sheet down a bit (e.g. putting another baking sheet on top of it) so that each piece would be of uniform thickness, so I just put that out there as food for thought. If anybody has any better methods that have worked for them, I would definitely appreciate hearing it in the comments.
Once all three pieces have cooked and cooled off for a few minutes, you can get to work on putting this together. Spread the creme mousseline out on top of two of the pieces, doing your best to cover nearly the entire top surface.
Then, prepare your fruit. For me, this mean peeling and slicing the mango thinly as well as rinsing and ensuring there were no stems or junk in the blueberries. Lay the fruit out on each spread of creme however you find it attractive. For the blueberries, you might want to press them lightly into the creme so that they don’t go rolling off when you’re not looking. Before you proceed, dab a few spots of the creme on top of the fruit in a few places. Don’t worry about appearances–this is to help glue the layers together (whole blueberries aren’t exactly adhesive).
Now, get out something wide and sturdy as you’ve got something that requires great care: you need to put one of these pastry+creme+fruit layers on top of the other and that puff pastry is not exactly super sturdy. I used two fairly wide spatulas to support the pastry as I lifted one onto the other, but a baking sheet or any other wide, flat surface would do. You don’t want this to split in half and collapse.
I put the blueberry layer on top of the mango layer and then gently pressed it down a bit. Finally, put the third, empty layer of pastry on top
You’re almost done! All that remains is decorating the top most layer. I made some creme chantilly and piped little puffs of it all over the top surface using a plastic bag with a corner cut off.
To add a bit more color, I then dipped into my endless supply of strawberries, husked them and quartered them, and tried to arrange them in something of a pattern on top. The creme did a great job of holding them in place.
At this point, you can serve, but if you’re not ready yet, give this some time in the fridge so that the creme mousseline and the chantilly can cool off again. This isn’t the kind of dessert that can be prepared very far in advance though, as while it will still be delicious, the puff pastry will lose its crispness and become soggy.
Lastly, your final challenge when you do serve this: cutting it! Remember how delicate those layers of puff pastry were? Now imagine trying to cut this without just destroying it. I used a long serrated knife. Place one hand on the closest short end of the mille feuille–this is to support the slice you’re about to cut so it doesn’t fall apart. Then slowly and with very long strokes, work your way down from top to bottom, supporting the slice with your hand (or a spatula) as it becomes free so that the individual layers don’t come crashing down. Unless you cut thick slices, I would plate the slice on its side so it doesn’t topple over like a jenga tower.