Monday, July 27, 2009
Mille Feuille - French Vanilla Slice
Mille Feuille. Is there anything more dreamy? Generous amounts of creamy, vanilla-flecked crème pâtissière, sandwiched between layers of crispy, flaky, buttery puff pastry. Traditional versions are topped with a layer of icing or fondant, but I want nothing to get in the way of the crème-and-pastry magic.
Mille Feuille was my weekend baking project, to take to my friend Jess' house for dessert. Mille Feuille is one of her favourite desserts, and I had my puff pastry that needed using. The night before, I took 2 patons of pastry from the freezer and gave them their final 2 turns. I then rolled them into large rectangles, and heavily docked the pastry (i.e. pricking it all over with a fork). This prevents the pastry from rising too much in the oven. The next morning, when completely cool, I sliced and trimmed the pastry into 4 even pieces.
I also made the crème pâtissière the night before, and kept it in the fridge. Look closely and you'll see I made good use of one of the many fresh vanilla beans that I have stashed in my fridge. I just love fresh vanilla. (A good quality vanilla extract would work too, if you haven't come across a cheap source of good vanilla beans!)
By the next morning, the crème had unfortunately solidified into a big rubbery disc - I bet if you threw it on the floor it'd bounce right back up at you - definitely not suitable for spreading on frangible pastry. I took a tip from the masterful Roux Brothers, and folded some whipped cream through to lighten it up. (The way you do when making their croquembouche). It wasn't completely smooth, but still, it was light and spreadable, and the colour had softened from intense sunny yellow, to a pale cream. Lovely.
As you can see above, I did have 4 pieces of pastry. I used 3 to make the big mille feuille, and I sliced the remaining piece into thirds, and made a mini one to share with some other friends and family.
Back: Large Mille Feuille
Front: Half the smaller one
I didn't follow a recipe per se, but used those pieces of pastry and one quantity of crème pâtissière (i.e. 4 egg yolks, 500ml milk, 1/3c castor sugar, 1/3c flour). There was enough to fill the layers generously, with some leftover for the all important taste-tests! (Eating the offcuts of pastry with the excess crème is cook's treat).
You don't have to make the pastry yourself, with fancy Ardennes butter, but I'd definitely suggest making the crème yourself. (Google a recipe, there are gazillions out there!) It's not too difficult, and much better than anything shop-bought. Although, come to think of it, puff pastry isn't that difficult to make, it's just a time-consuming, annoying process. While researching mille feuille recipes online, I came across way too many recipes that used frozen puff, and custard from a carton. Blergh! Carton custard surely has its place (mmm... in a boozy trifle perhaps), but not in a dessert where it's the dominant flavour.
I loosely glad wrapped the mille feuille on the tray you see above, and, driving about 20km below the speed limit, made my way to Jess' house. Luckily, both the dessert and myself arrived unharmed and on time.
We were treated to a wonderful, Masterchef-inspired lunch (10 points Jessie!) of sliced potatoes stacked with coriander and dill sauce, mixed salad leaves, Bulgarian fetta and char-grilled lamb with a red wine jus. (There is something about those Meditteranean, oily-green sauces, seeping into still-warm boiled potatoes that is truly delicious).
It was not too huge a drama to slide the mille feuille from tray to chopping board, or even slicing it. (With my trusty super-sharp Wusthof bread knife).
For slicing something as delicate as this, I recommend a sharp serrated knife, and gentle, horizontal sawing motions. Whatever you do, don't simply press down, unless you want custard squishing out all over the place!
One neat slice, woohoo!
What you do once it gets to your plate is another matter entirely...