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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Puff Pastry and an Easy Summer Dessert

 Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse

Puff Pastry and an Easy Summer Dessert:  Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse
by Victoria Challancin

Who doesn't appreciate simplicity in the kitchen?  Who doesn't love fresh summer berries?  This recipe capitalizes on both:  simplicity and delicious seasonal fruit.

Recently I wrote a post with a recipe for Eggplant Napoleons with Tri-Colored Goat Cheese and a bit of history about the napoleon.  Today the napoleon takes on a new guise in a simple, modern take on the traditional French pastry so easy to make that even the novice cook can make in a jiff.  It uses purchased frozen puff pastry--an indispensable ingredient to have on hand.  

Puff Pastry
If you have both the time and the inclination, make your own puff pastry.  It's a rewarding way to spend time in the kitchen and well worth the effort.  However, if you are like me and many other cooks, dont be afraid to rely on the frozen purchased kind.  Here in San Miguel de Allende, I buy frozen pastry made with good butter by the talented Melissa Sumner of La Buena Vida Bakery. 

Puff pastry is a light flakey pastry made by repeatedly layering pastry dough with fat (butter, vegetable shortening, lard, and sometimes olive oil).  Probably, I don't need to tell you the importance of using pastry made with quality butter; we've all tasted pastries that leave an icky "coated" feeling in the mouth as a result of using hydrogenized shortenings.

To make puff pastry, the dough is rolled out and repeatedly folded, but never mashed as mashing destroys the layers.   As the pastry cooks, the pastry puffs or rises as the water evaporates and turns into steam during the baking process, lifting each layer as it cooks.  Wikipedia offers an actual formula for calculating the number of layers


Simply put, that is the number of finished layers,  l, equals f, the number of folds, and n represents the number of times the dough has been folded.  Was that really simple?   Example:  If you fold the pastry twice for four times (that is 2 + 1) to the power of 4 equals 81 layers (or 3 x 3 x 3 x 3).  Well, don't worry about this too much.  I'm sure if you are an accomplished enough baker to make your own, you will have mastered the number of folds you want.

Far be it from me to get in the middle of the Arabs, the Spanish, and the French when it comes to sorting out the actually history of puff pastry.  Probably it is a distant relative of phyllo pastry, which entered Spain via the Moors, and then travelled to France, where it seems to be commonly thought to have originated. Puff pastry may be a relative of the Middle Eastern phyllo dough, but it is definitely not the same thing, although it is often used in similar ways.  Phyllo dough is made with flour, water, and fat and is stretched rather than rolled.  No matter who claims it, we are happy to enjoy it in any of its various forms.

A Few Fun Facts
  • In France puff pastry is called pâte feuilletée or feuilletage or mille feuille
  • Some food historians claim that a Frenchman named Claudius Gelle invented puff pastry in 1645; others say it came to France via Medieval Spain in the olive oil version called milhojas, or hojaldre; still others claim it is simply a descendent of the very ancient Middle Eastern phyllo dough (of course, the Spanish version seems to be a variation on what they clearly adapted from the Moors)
  • An article in the Palm Beach Sun Sentinel claims the oldest recipes for puff pastry appear in 13th century Spanish Arabic cookbooks; the dough was called murraqa, which means "leafy" in Arabic,lending credence to its probable Arabic beginnings
  • Early recipes used it for a type of cheese pie and for crumbling into stew
  • Julia Child recommends 73 layers for regular pâte feuilletée and 730 for pâte feuilletée fine 
  • Puff pastry can be leavened with yeast to create croisants or Danish pastry
  • Olive oil can also be used instead of butter
  • Faster versions of puff pastry are often labeled "blitz", "rough puff", or "flaky pastry"

Tips for Working with Puff Pastry
  • Keep pre-made or purchased puff pastry in the freezer
  • To thaw, place the frozen pastry in the refrigerator for about 6 hours or overnight
  • Thaw only what you need; rewrap the remaining pastry in plastic wrap or foil and return to the freezer
  • You can accomplish a "quick thaw" by separating the frozen sheets and covering them with plastic wrap and allow to though at room temperature for 30 minutes
  • Keep your pastry chilled; work with only one sheet at a time and leave the rest in the refrigerator 
  • You never want the pastry to get warm enough for the butter or fat to melt as you work with it
  • Work on a lightly floured, clean work surface
  • Do not overwork the pastry or it will become tough
  • If the pastry becomes too soft (i.e. warm) to work with, return it to the refrigerator
  • Cut the pastry into various shapes using a very sharp knife
  • Piercing the dough with a fork will prevent excessive puffing as it allows for the evaporating water to escape (unless, of course, you want it to puff!)
  • Crimping the edges will prevent the layers from flaking all the way to the edges, unless that is the effect you are looking for
  • Brush pastry with an egg wash before baking for a deeper brown color
  • Pastry can be sprinkled with chopped nuts, seeds, or grated cheese for added interest
  • Pastries can be pre-made and kept covered in the refrigerator until ready to bake
  • Make only what is needed at one time as puff pastry looses its crispness after a few hours
  • Holes often appear in the folds of puff pastry; use a bit of pastry to repair them
  • When rolling out the pastry, gently roll in one direction, north to south; roll again in the opposite direction, east to west

Cook's Notes:  This is such a flexible recipe.  Just use any fresh, seasonal fruit.  The Cream Cheese Mousse is flexible as well.  You could add a bit of berry preserves or lemon curd (or other fruit curd) to it to change it up a bit.  I used almond extract (less), because I thought it would be nice.  And I happened to have a few fresh raspberries on hand, so I added those.  Easy, pretty, and delicious.

Recipe:  Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse
(Adapted very slightly from a recipe from Bon Appétit via
Makes 6

For the mousse:
6 oz/170g cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, divided use
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract)
2/3 cup chilled whipping cream

1 sheet frozen puf pastry (half of 17/3-ounce package), thawed

1/2 cup blackberry preserves
3 1/2 cups fresh blackberries

Fresh mint sprigs

Heat oven to 375 degrees F.  Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, and vanilla or almond extract inmedium bowl until fluffy.  Using same beaters, beat whipping cream in another medium bowl until peaks form.  Fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture in 3 additions.  Cover mousse and refrigerate.

Roll out pastry sheet on lightly floured surface to 14x10 1/2-inch rectangle.  Cut sheet into twelve 3 1/2-inch squares.  Pierce squares all over with tines of a fork.  Sift 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar over squares.  Place squares on ungreased baking sheet.   Bake 12 minutes.  Using metal spatula, flatten squares and continue baking until crisp and brown, about 5 minutes longer.  Cool pastry squares on sheet.

Heat preserves in small saucepan until just melted. Transfer to medium bowl.  Add berries and toss to coat.

Place 6 pastry squares on work surface.  Spread each with 1/4 cup mousse.  Top with 6 to 8 berries.   Cover with remaining pastry squares.  Dust napoleons with remaining 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar.  Top each with berry and mint sprig.  Place napoleons on plates.  Serve, passing remaining berries.

Parting Shot:
Kitchen silliness

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Recipes, like life, are meant to be shared.  But please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!


Hotly Spiced said...

Wow! These look so delicious Victoria. I love how you plated them and photographed them. As for me, I have never made puff pastry. It just sounds beyond me with such a lot of effort. These little puff pastry fruit squares would delicious and I'll have two (maybe three) please! xx

Eha said...

Even tho' I do not bake nor eat baked dessert goods, these look absolutely beautiful and delicious! Regarding puff pastry, remember Jamie Oliver looking straight into the TV camera and stating: 'If you have time to make puff pastry, you have too much time on your hands' :) ! Not that he is necessarily right but there is the economics term 'opportunity cost of time'! Interesting to have all the facts tho' :) !

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

That's great that you have a good supplier for really good butter puff pastry. The flavour just can't compare can it? :)

Nancy said...

I really appreciate simple recipes like this one. It may be simple but lacks nothing in the taste and wow department. Really great treat, thanks for sharing Victoria.

BTW My hubby's favorite salsa is Cholula:)

The Squishy Monster said...

One word: GORGEOUS!

Have a great 4th!
Twitter @aSquishyMonster said...

These look so summery and delicious. Good on you for making the pastry. There is nothing like homemade puff