Although some sources try to connect these pastries with Napoleon I of France, it is more likely that they originated from Naples in Italy with the connection with the Emperor made at a later date. Mille-feuille a French word is translated literally ‘thousand leaves’, referring to the fine layers of puff pastry. In the UK the most common version contains thick cream or custard (and sometimes jam as well) plus a feathered decorative icing, when it is is often given the name Cream, Vanilla or Custard Slice. Whatever the name this pâtisserie is relatively simple to make, especially as if uses ready made puff pastry (make your own if you wish), with the pastry layers made in advance and the layering done within an hour or so of eating to avoid losing the crispness. This last stage is rather fiddly and time consuming but well worth the effort and should earn appreciative comments from those you are serving!
This recipe called Napoléons with Lemon Cream and Strawberries was found in a small book from the library: French Desserts by Laura Washburn. It is a variation on the original plainer versions and containing layers of lemon cream and strawberries. I felt that the finished Napoléons, whilst delicious, could be rather too acidic in flavour for some people. Using a sweeter, less acidic, lemon curd mixed with extra cream and well sugared strawberries (rather than unsugared) could go some way to solving this. In my version of the recipe I have substituted my own lemon curd (still lemony but milder), sugaring the strawberries well to counteract their natural sharpness. Thinking further, it would be interesting to try some more combinations using curd and cream mixtures with fruit: orange curd would go well with apricot and lime curd with stem ginger and both could have added chocolate shavings, for example. If the curd was omitted and the cream was increased then flower flavourings such as rosewater or orange flower water would be delicious in combination with fruit. Dainty individual servings of just a bite each would make an ideal finger buffet snack or single element of a multi part dessert. There are many possibilities for these Napoléons and I shall definitely be doing some experimenting.
Mille-feuilles Napoléon with Lemon Cream & Strawberries
Napoléons au citron et aux fraises
(Makes 10-12 pastries)
500g packet of Puff Pastry (or home made if you wish)
Milk, just a little for brushing
Caster sugar, just a little for sprinkling
2lb/900g strawberries, aproximately
4 or 5 tbsp sugar, depending on sweetness of Strawberries, more if needed
For the lemon cream:
1 jar of lemon curd, home made if possible or good quality
150ml whipping cream, Elmlea half fat if possible
Icing sugar, to dust
1. Preheat oven to 200oC/400oF/Gas 6
2. This step can be done well in advance, leaving just the finishing to be done closer to serving. Roll the Pastry into a large oblong on a floured board and cut into 15 to 18 equally sized 2 x 4 inch/5 x 10cm rectangles. Place these, spaced out, on baking trays. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 10-15minutes, or until golden. Carefully lift onto a wire rack and leave to cool.
3. Slice the strawberries into thin layers, sprinkle generously with sugar and leave to one side.
4. Within an hour or two before eating whip the cream well and thoroughly combine with the lemon curd.
5. The pastry rectangles must be completely cool before filling. Slice each carefully in half. This is easiest with a serrated knife. The pastries are made in three layers so choose the best looking top pieces and keep to one side. The remaining pieces, either tops or bottoms, form the other layers.
5. Layer the Napoléons together. First put about 2 teaspoons of cream mixture on a bottom layer. Cover with about 8 strawberry pieces. Add a second pastry layer (this will be either a bottom or a top of the halved pieces). Follow again with lemon cream and strawberry pieces. Finally, add one of the selected top pieces as a lid.
6. Move each Napoléon to a serving dish as it is completed.
7. Just before serving dust the completed plate of Napoléons generously with icing sugar.
8. Serve with additional strawberries and extra cream. Allow 1 or 2 Napoléons per person, depending on size of serving and appetites of diners.