Mille-feuille. French Vanilla Slice. Napoleon dessert. Creamy, flaky and sweet, a refreshing dessert that is never sickly, perfect for near any occasion with layer upon layer to admire and enjoy.
It’s just a bit of puff pastry, some custard and a layer of icing, right? If you’re up for a challenge and looking to hone some culinary skills, it’s time to accept the Mille-feuille Challenge. Pronounced ‘meel-foy’, Mille-feuille translates from French to mean ‘a thousand leaves’ and that’s pretty close to how many layers of pastry the final product has. To prepare this dessert the authentic way, expect to set aside about two days for the final product.
To break it down, these are the following sections:
- Classic Puff Pastry
- Custard Cream
- Assembling the slice
Taking it slow, let’s start with making your own puff pastry and as many a pastry chef will tell you, folding butter into dough to produce hundreds of flaky layers is an experience that every cook should have at least once. You can make either quick puff pastry by adding the butter into the dough mix, or classic puff pastry where the butter and dough are kept separate and the butter is folded into the dough in a series of ‘turns’. To make the challenge that little bit harder, we are going to give instructions for classic puff pastry.
Once you have made the pastry, it can be used immediately, or if you have made more than enough for your Mille-feuille slice, it can be stored frozen for several months. Our best tip is to start cool, calm and collected. Be patient, this recipe is not for those in a rush. Everything should be kept quite cold so the butter does not melt and the pastry is able to be rolled without reducing back in size again. If it does, place it in the fridge for 10 minutes or so to cool down again and continue working. If you have a marble board and rolling pin, use this for rolling out your dough as the marble also stays cooler.
Ingredients for classic puff pastry:
420 g to 482 g unbleached plain flour
454 g (4 sticks) unsalted butter, 57 g chilled, the rest at room temperature
1 tsp salt
283 ml cold water
Method – remember when we told you to be patient? It is time. The below method creates one mostly-flour dough and one mostly-butter dough and together, they will make your classic puff pastry.
The mostly-flour dough. Measure the flour into a mixing bowl. Remove 1/2 a cup and set it aside in another bowl. Take the half stick of chilled butter, cut it into small pieces, and drop it into the flour. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles cornmeal.
Add the salt to the water, then add this to the flour. Mix gently with a fork until you have a rough dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If you need to add more water, do it with one tablespoon at a time until the dough holds together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it is smooth, about 2 or 3 minutes. Pat the dough into a 9" (23cm) square and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
The mostly-butter dough. Take the remainder of the butter and the 1/2 cup of reserved flour and mix the two together until they're well blended and smooth with a mixer, a food processor or by hand with a spoon. Pat this butter mixture into an 8" (20cm) square on a lightly floured piece of waxed paper. Cover it with second sheet of waxed paper and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.
Remove the mostly-flour dough from the refrigerator and put it on a lightly floured surface. Gently roll it into a square about 12" (approx 30cms) on each side. Try to get the right dimensions to make it easier for yourself.
Put the chilled butter dough in the centre of the flour dough as shown. Fold the corners of the flour dough over the butter dough until they meet in the middle. Pinch and seal the edges of the flour dough together. You now have the pastry dough.
Turn the square over and tap it gently with your rolling pin or by hand into a rectangular shape. (Make sure everything is still completely, but lightly, floured.) Roll the dough into a larger rectangle, 20" x 10" (50cm x 25cm). As you work, keep the dough, the table, and the rolling pin well dusted with flour. Turn the dough over from time to time to keep the layers even.
When the dough is the right size, brush any excess flour off the top, and fold one lengthways third of the dough to the centre and opposite lengthways third over (like a business letter). Line the corners up as neatly as you can; dab them with a little water to help them stick together if necessary, and turn the dough package so it looks like a book ready to be opened. If the dough is still cold and relaxed, do another rolling and turning the same way. (If it begins to feel too soft or wants to resist being rolled, cover it, put it on a small baking sheet, and refrigerate it for 15 minutes to chill and relax.)
If you've successfully rolled it out and folded it twice, you've completed two full turns. Classic puff pastry gets six. Continue refrigerating it after each two turns (or more often if necessary) until all six turns are completed. Keep a tally of how many turns you’ve made so you don’t lose count.
When all six turns are done, put the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour (preferably overnight) before shaping.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough until it's a rectangle about 12" x 18"(30cm x 46cm). Trim 0.5cm off the edges of the dough all the way around with a very sharp knife (if you have a pizza wheel this also works very well). This cuts off the folded edges which would stop the pastry from fully developing it’s "puff."
Using half the dough, roll it into a 12" x 18"(30cm x 46cm) rectangle that is about 0.5cms thick. Trim the edges of the dough on every edge using a ruler and a knife or pizza wheel. Cut the dough in thirds lengthwise ready to make the Mille-feuille slice.
You have finished creating your very own classic puff pastry! If you have made it this far with no problems, perhaps take a day to unwind, relax and then move on to creating your own custard cream, white frosting and assembling a mouth-watering dessert. Now there are plenty of variations on your standard pastry cream filling so we will give you one basic recipe and add a few images for inspiration at the end.
5 egg yolks
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp sugar (90 ml)
1 1/2 cup full cream milk (375 ml)
3 Tbsp flour (45 ml)
1 vanilla bean, split in half and scraped
1 cup (250 ml) icing sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons (10 to 15 ml) water
Extra chocolate icing for patterns:
1/3 cup icing sugar
1-2 tsp water
1 Tbsp Dutch cocoa powder
In a medium bowl, stir together 1/3 cup milk with flour, salt and whisk until smooth. Add the yolks and 3 Tbsp of sugar and whisk vigorously until mixture is smooth and pale lemon in colour.
In a heavy bottom saucepan, heat remaining milk with the remaining 3 Tbsp of sugar and vanilla scraping over medium heat.
Heat until milk just comes to a boil. While stirring the yolk mixture, slowly pour 1/4 of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. This will temper the egg yolks so they don’t start to scramble.
Immediately pour yolk mixture into hot milk in the saucepan. Whisk over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from heat immediately.
Cover custard cream with plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming. Cool completely.
Finish baking your classic puff pastry and assemble the slice with the following method:
With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 200 °C.
Put the three layers of pastry dough onto the baking sheet. Prick entire surface of the dough with a fork. Brush with very thin layer of milk and sprinkle with fine sugar. Bake for about 15 minutes. Let cool. ?
Cover your first pastry strip with custard cream and cover this with a second pastry. Top with custard cream again (or pipe if you wish) then cover with the last piece of puff pastry. Ice the top of the Mille-feuille with white frosting, decorate with chocolate icing.
In a bowl, combine the icing sugar with the water. Use to frost top layer of Mille-feuille slice.
Combine the chocolate icing ingredients and to pipe the iconic Mille-feuille slice pattern, follow the below method.
Cut the tip of the piping cone and quickly draw multiple chocolate lines on the fondant before it dries completely. You can aim for perfection, but even if the lines are not perfectly straight, don't worry too much, (almost) nobody will notice!
With the back of the tip of a knife, make some evenly-spaced perpendicular lines.
Halfway between the marks created in the previous step, make some more marks moving the knife in the opposite direction.
For further direction, check out this short youtube video!
Chill the Mille-feuille for at least a couple of hours (or freeze it for 20-30 minutes), then refine the edges by cutting a few millimetres per side with a serrated knife to make them straight and making it easier to display the layers inside.
Finally, cut the Mille-feuille (only if it is cold and firm) in equal portions with a serrated knife. Serve, savour and enjoy. See below for inspiration and gorgeous variations of the classic vanilla and white icing Mille-feuille slice. Have you made your own Mille-feuille before? Did you attempt our challenge? Let us know how it went! Facebook or instagram your creations with #agfgrecipes.
Compiled by Annabel Rainsford.
Custard adapted from Christine Cushing.
Frosting adapted from Ricardo Larivee.
Yuzu and Berry Mille-Feuille by Oh, How Civilized.
Classic French Napoleon by Culinary Couture.
Mille Feuille of 72% Arriba & Tonka by Natalie Eng.
Early Grey and Vanilla Bean Mille Feuille with Lavender aka London Fog by Twigg Studios.
Chocolate and Matcha Mille Feuille by Twigg Studios as shown on Jet & Indigo.