Saturday, April 12, 2008

Strawberry Napoleon

The boyfriend said I needed more desserts, and the first thing that came to mind was this strawberry napoleon. The first time I had this was at a restaurant where I worked, The Mill Cafe, and I just thought the simplicity of the flavors was so fantastic, it became my favorite dessert. I haven't had one since I was last there almost four years ago. The most difficult part about this dessert is the pastry cream, which is very simple to make, as long as you have your mise en place, all your ingredients within reach when you get started because the thickening process is a quick one. The rest is just a matter of piling deliciousness on top of deliciousness.

Mini Strawberry Napoleons

The ingredients:

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed to room temperature
1 lb fresh strawberries
1/4 c cake flour
3/4 c granulated sugar
1 c milk
3 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
1/2 oz butter
1 c heavy whipping cream
1/8 c confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp peppermint extract

Other non-food ingredients:
an ice bath in a bowl large enough to fit the bowl in which you will keep your pastry cream
a spatula
a whisk or an electric mixer

First and foremost, take the puff pastry out of the freezer and let it thaw out while you're making everything else.

Next, make sure your ice bath is ready, your butter is cut and set aside, a spatula is handy, and the bowl to which you'll move your pastry cream when it's ready

In a small mixing bowl, sift the flour and sugar together.
In another small bowl, whisk 1/8 cup milk with the egg yolks until well blended. Then add the flour and sugar mixture into the egg mixture. Whisk until smooth.
In a non-reactive (not copper or aluminum) pot, bring the remaining milk and the vanilla to a boil.
When the milk has just begun to boil, remove the vanilla bean and add one third of the egg mixture and whisk quickly to blend (you may want to remove the pan from the heat while you incorporate).
Once it's been incorporated, add another third, whisk, then add the remainder of the egg mixture and return the pot back to the heat and whisk furiously until the mixture thickens. This should happen within 1 to 1-1/2 minutes. You might see some lumps develop but they will go away as long as you continue to whisk quickly.
Remove the pot from heat and fold in the butter.
Move the pastry cream to the final bowl and set the bowl in the ice bath. Cover with plastic wrap (place the wrap right on top of the cream so you don't develop a film) and move into the refrigerator to cool.

While the pastry cream is cooling, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the pastry sheet into thirds along the folds, then thirds again. You'll have 9 squares.
Place the squares at least two inches apart on a lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes.

While your pastry is baking, slice your strawberries. Set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, pour heavy cream, peppermint extract, and sugar, and whisk till it forms peaks. (I couldn't find mint leaves at the grocery store, so I added the peppermint flavor directly to the whipped cream). Cover and keep cold.

Once the pastries have finished baking, cool for 5 minutes. Get your pastry cream, strawberries, and whipped cream together and prepare to assemble.

I cut my pastry into thirds, but it was a little difficult to get that third middle layer. If you can only get two, don't worry (you're saving yourself from extra calories anyway). On the bottom layer, spread about a tablespoon (or more if you like) of the pastry cream. Top with strawberries and top with the next layer.

On the top layer, spoon a dollop of the mint cream and top with a whole or sliced strawberry and mint leaves. Serve and enjoy!

Some notes:
You may or may not like mint, so you can always leave out the mint if you don't like it. I like the combination of mint and strawberries, but since I couldn't find any at the grocery store but did not want to sacrifice the flavor, I added it directly to the cream.

In lieu of using cake flour, I used all purpose flour. If you can avoid it, do. There is more gluten in AP flour and I think it is the reason my pastry cream is a little thicker than I would like. The flavor is still great, and if you don't have cake flour, you can lighten the consistency of the pastry cream by folding in some whipped cream (without mint).
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