Holiday Cook

Napoleons: A Light Custard Pastry

Napoleons require a puff pastry, which truthfully is not quick and easy like most of my recipes. Remember, Napoleon did not conquer Europe in a day. Even so, the extra effort for this amazing pastry is well worth it. Crunching through the flaky crust to get the custard within creates a dual sensation in the mouth of buttery, airy, insubstantial, barriers followed by the more substantial and ultimately satisfying pudding. The time consuming part is in the dough, which requires a bit of patience and diligence. Be warned, this is something that will very likely be demanded again and again.

-- For Crust --
2 cups flour
1 3/4 sticks butter
1/2 cup very cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt
-- For Custard --
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup of sugar
3 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons of vanilla
-- To Top It Off --
1/4 cup melted sweet chocolate
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Using a sifter, thoroughly blend flour and salt. Chop in cold butter. This takes a bit of work, but keep blending in the butter with a fork until the flour begins to resemble meal. Now add cold water and form into a dough ball. Dust with flour and wrap in wax paper. Put in refrigerator for one hour.

After this chilling experience, remove the dough ball and roll into a square approximately twelve-by-six inches orienting the dough so that it is taller than it is wide. Dust lightly with flour and bring the lower third up over the middle, then the upper third down over the top, rather like folding a letter to fit into a legal sized envelope. The dough should now be a square about four-by-six inches. Place back in refrigerator for 30 more minutes.

Repeat the above step two more times, chilling the dough for 30 minutes again at the end of the third time.

Sometime during the above steps you might have been thinking ahead to the custard since it too must go through the time consuming process of chilling. However, the preparation is fairly simple as long as you don't mind doing a lot of stirring. Place one cup of the milk and all of the cream into a sauce pan and slowly heat on medium-high until it just begins to bubble. Be careful with this, scalded milk is no fun. It smells a bit off and isn't always easy to clean. In a smallish mixing bowl beat the egg yolks, then mix in remaining milk, cornstarch, sugar, and vanilla. Quickly whisk together ingredients (may use a fork). Add this mixture to bubbling milk a cream in the sauce pan. Turn down heat to medium; cook and stir until custard is thick. Remove from heat and refrigerate for a good hour or until custard is cool.

Waiting for the custard to chill, is a good time to bring out the dough again. At this point preheat the oven to 450° F or 230° C. Roll out the dough until it is 1/8 of an inch thick. Use a micrometer to measure or use your own judgement. Lay the dough on a well-buttered cookie sheet. Stab lightly with a fork at intervals of approximately one inch. Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the crust is golden in color. Cut the pastry into two-by-three inch rectangles.

When the crust has cooled, which shouldn't take long. Spread the custard on two or three pieces and top with another, making a kind of multilayer sandwich. Drizzle on the melted chocolate, dust lightly with the powdered sugar and reserve for a triumphal presentation of Napoleonic proportions (and we are not talking about his height here).

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