I’ve wanted to try my hand at puff pastry for ages, but have never been particularly confident with any kind of pastry and each time I read a recipe it just seemed too involved, but it actually turned out to be quite straightforward. It’s fairly time-consuming, but not at all technically difficult. I can get beautiful all-butter organic puff pastry in my supermarket, so I won’t be doing this too frequently, other than for special occasions when I want something 100% homemade, but it’s great to have in my repertoire. And it’s great to have another thing ticked off my bucket list. And they were both spectacular to eat!
So, my first attempt was a traditional millefeuille as an anniversary cake for my son and his girlfriend (happy anniversary M & Miss D!), filled with vanilla crème pâtissière and topped with pink royal icing. For my second go, I made a special treat for my lemon-loving youngest before he went away for a week with his class, a millefeuille filled with lemon cream and topped with whipped lemon royal icing. Both times, I made the pastry dough and filling one day, baked the pastry the next morning then filled and iced it in the afternoon. For the pink icing, I made the full batch and ended up only using about half of it, so I halved the recipe for the second icing.
I’ll give the recipe for the pastry first, then recipes for the two filling and topping variations.
Puff pastry (pâte feuilletée)
250g all-purpose (plain) flour
50g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 tsp salt
150 ml cold water
200g butter, room temperature
30g all-purpose (plain) flour
Whisk the flour and salt for the dough together in a large bowl. Drop in the cubed, cold butter and rub it in with your fingertips until it resembles soft breadcrumbs.
Add the cold water and bring together with a fork until the mixture starts to cohere and come away from the sides of the bowl.
As the dough begins to come together, you can use your hands to start kneading and incorporating all the remaining loose bits. If the dough’s a little dry, you can add a touch more water.
Knead for three minutes on a floured surface until the dough is smooth.
Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the butter and flour for the beurrage until it forms a paste.
Place the butter paste between two sheets of clingfilm, and gently shape it into a 12cm square. You can use a ruler (or similar) to neaten the edges.
Refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes so the butter firms up slightly. If it’s still soft, leave it a bit longer. If it’s too hard and inflexible, leave it out to soften a touch. You want it to be solid but still malleable.
Once the dough has chilled, roll it out on a floured surface into a 15cm square. Place the square of butter in the middle at a 45° rotation to the dough, so that each corner of the butter square is at the middle of the dough square’s sides.
Fold each corner of dough over the butter so they meet the centre (you might have to stretch them a little) and it resembles an envelope, and seal up the edges with your fingers. You’ll be left with a little square parcel.
Turn the dough parcel over and tap the length of it with your rolling pan to flatten it slightly.
Keeping the work surface well floured, roll the dough carefully into a rectangle 5mm in thickness.
With the longest side facing you, fold one third (on the right) inwards, so it’s covering the middle section, and ensure that it is lined up, then fold the remaining flap of dough (on the left) inwards, so you’re left with a narrow three-layered strip.
Repeat the rolling and folding.
Wrap up in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Repeat the rolling and folding twice.
Wrap up in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Repeat the rolling and folding twice more.
Wrap up in clingfilm and refrigerate until needed. The dough keeps a couple of days in the fridge.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 210 °C.
Prepare a large sheet of parchment.
Roll out dough on parchment to a rectangle, 30cm x 45cm.
Cut into three equal pieces (pastry and paper together) and place on a baking tray. If you don’t have space for all three, you can bake them separately.
Prick the pastry sheets all over with a fork.
Place another sheet of greaseproof paper over the top and then a heavy baking tray. This will prevent the layers from puffing up too much.
Bake for 15 minutes, remove the top layer of greaseproof paper and the second tray and bake another 10 minutes for the tops to brown.
Remove the baked sheets from the oven and leave on a wire rack to cool.
2 cups whole milk 4 tbsp cornstarch 200g sugar 2 large eggs 4 large egg yolks (reserve 2 whites for the royal icing) 60g butter 2 tsp vanilla
Dissolve cornstarch in 1⁄2 cup of the milk in a bowl. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan, bring to boil and remove from heat.
Beat the whole eggs and the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.
Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream into the milk while continuously whisking.
Continue whisking until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.
Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill overnight.
Pink royal icing
350g icing sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
2 large egg whites
1/2 tsp pink food colouring
Whisk egg whites with lemon juice until lightly frothy.
Whisk in about 300g of the icing sugar on a low setting until smooth and combined. The mixture should be thick enough to leave trails on the surface. If it’s too thin, whisk in a bit
more icing sugar.
Whisk in as much food colouring as desired.
150ml fresh lemon juice, strained
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for the icing)
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
225g unsalted butter
Pour some water into a saucepan so that a stainless steel bowl will sit in the top of it without touching the water. Place the saucepan (without the bowl) over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
Combine the lemon juice, whole eggs, yolk, sugar and salt in the bowl. Place the bowl on the saucepan and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes very thick and the whisk leaves a swirl in the curd – 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove the bowl from over the saucepan, place on a dry towel to absorb the condensation on the bottom of the bowl and let cool a bit, stirring occasionally to release the heat.
Cut butter into tablespoon-sized pieces.
Pour the lemon curd into a blender. With the blender running, add the butter one piece at a time, blending after each addition until fully incorporated before adding the next piece. The cream will be pale yellow and opaque and quite thick.
You can use the cream immediately or refrigerate it, tightly covered, until ready to use.
Whipped lemon royal icing
1 large egg white
200g icing sugar, or more to thicken
juice of 1/2 lemon, strained
Beat the whites until fluffy. Add sugar and lemon juice and beat for 1 or 2 minutes more. If icing is too thick, add more egg whites or a few drops of water; if it is too thin, add more sugar.
Constructing the millefeuille
Once the pastry has cooled, you’re ready to assemble your millefeuille. Get a sturdy flat board, your pastry and the chilled crème patissiere/lemon cream from the fridge.
Lay one sheet on the board and spread half the crème patisserie/lemon cream evenly over the top.
Take the second sheet and place it on top, pressing down lightly with your hands to ensure that it sticks to the filling.
Spread the remaining crème patissiere/lemon cream and place the last sheet of pastry on top, pressing down again.(Don’t worry if there’s some oozing at the sides – that can be neatened later if you are so inclined.
Chill while you prepare the icing.
Spread the icing evenly over the top.
Chill for a couple of hours to give the icing time to set.
Use a large, very sharp knife to cut.