There are several base dishes you can add to your repertoire that you can change up on a whim based on your palette, the type of meal you’re having or the season. One of these dishes is napoleons (sometimes called mille-feuille). Once you learn the technique of napoleon you will be a master of creating new flavors and able to impress your guests and yourself.
For the simplicity of it, you will regularly see people competing on cooking shows cop out in the dessert round using the napoleon base. A napoleon is a dessert of puff pastry strips with crème patissiere and stacked in layers. The top may be iced. Due to the popularity and simplicity of the technique, it has also become a staple for savory dishes too.
Note: Puff pastry is something that is easier to buy frozen. I am all about making everything homemade, but more often than not one can’t taste the difference between homemade and frozen here, and it is much easier to buy frozen. Just check the ingredients to make sure it’s all natural.
- 2 sheets puff pastry
- 2-1/4 cups milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 2/3 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out puff pastry. Prick with fork. Bake for about 10 minutes until lightly brown. Cool. Cut into thirds, be gentle.
- Simmer two cups of milk. Beat the yolks, sugar and remaining milk, until light and pale yellow. Add cornstarch and flour. Temper the yolk mixture with the simmered milk. Return to saucepan, cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Reduce to low heat and simmer for about two minutes. Stir in vanilla, cover with plastic wrap and chill.
- Layer puff pastry with pudding, on the top put the melted chocolate. Serve soon, if left too long it gets soggy.
Mix It Up!
Peach Pie Napoleon
Layer puff pastry, peaches sliced very thin, pudding. Glaze top with white chocolate.
Layer puff pastry, then pudding, then pastry, then strawberries and crushed pistachios, then pastry. Top with a glaze made of water and confectioners’ sugar.
Death by Chocolate Napoleon
Make pudding as is and add 3 ounces of melted dark chocolate that’s been cooled after tempering the egg mixture. Layer pastry, pudding, in the middle layer add chopped chocolate, top with chocolate glaze.
(No pudding here!)
Mushroom Goat Cheese Napoleon
Sauté 8 ounces of mushrooms (button, crimini, portobella) with two cloves of garlic in olive oil. Set aside. Make a mixture of goat cheese, chives, and cream cheese or boursin cheese. Layer pastry, cheese mixture then mushrooms. Serve at room temperature.
Tomato and Polenta Napoleon
Prepare polenta as package states, add parmesan cheese. Slice tomatoes thinly. Layer all. Top with sprinkling of olive oil and chopped dill or parsley.
You don’t just have to use puff pastry! Here are a few other options:
- Butter cookies
- Graham crackers
- Pre-cooked polenta (the type in a log you slice and sauté)
- Thin pie crust
- Sponge cake
- Thin focaccia
- Vegetables sliced thinly with a mandolin
- Savory cheese mixtures made with cream cheese
- Whipped cream
- Salad fillings (ham salad, shrimp salad, egg salad, chicken salad)
The possibilities are endless, so get creative and don’t be afraid to experiment!
Of course you probably don’t want a whole dinner with only this technique, but it would be totally awesome if you had friends or family over and you each made your own style of napoleon and taste-tested them all. Serve a simple salad and some cocktails and you have a fun get-together!