I was so excited when I saw this months “Daring Baker’s” challenge. After arriving in France earlier in September I fell in love with REAL French pastries and whilst at ‘Paul’ Patisserie I was so taken by the big glossy strawberries of the ‘Tartlette au Fraise’ I overlooked a little gem not too far from it. When dining at ‘Gill’ a few days later however, I was to discover the wonder of ‘Mille Fueille’, ‘A Thousand Leaves’ in it’s true form. I was mesmerised by the thick, golden, buttery and flaky tower that stood before me. What needs to be understood is I’ve made ‘Mille Fueille’ before, MANY times in fact, annually with one of my senior classes …..so I thought. Oh how our flat and pale layers of pastry interlaced with custard and jam have fallen short, FAR short of it’s sisters in France. Back to Gill, I sat there staring at my dessert and wondering “How on earth do they make this???”
A few days later I found myself at one of my French cooking classes, no, I didn’t head for traditional cuisines, I was there for something far more complicated – pastry! Indeed it is one of the more complex areas of cookery that has scared away many a good cook. It is time consuming and labourous, then requiring an eye for detail and special talent for fine work. I’ve decorated many a kids birthday cake before and I can make a brownie like you wouldn’t believe, but this stuff …best left to the professionals, so I thought! My first class included this same little gem – Mille Fueille – AWESOME!!! I was going to learn the great secret.
I watched a Jamie Oliver show once, he was making pies I believe, and out came the puff pastry. “Just use store bought” he said, explaining that these days the time and effort required to make your own just wasn’t worth it when there was such great stuff in the supermarket. “If it’s good enough for Jamie, it’s good enough for me” I thought. Sorry Jamie, unless your UK puff is something considerably better than ours here down under then I have to disagree on this one. Whilst I doubt I will go to this effort for a regular meat pie, for a dessert such as this there is NO other option – ‘Home Made’ is a MUST.
Back to this months challenge, I knew after leaving my cooking classes in France I couldn’t wait to get home and give this another go. Oddly enough, despite being a ‘labour of love’, the process wasn’t that complicated after all. It takes time, mostly waiting time, but is definitely worthwhile. My first couple of weeks after my return I was out of action, but October rolled around and so did our next challenge, “What will it be this month? Oh my, MILLE FUEILLE!!!” I was so excited. There would be no putting it off for a rainy day, I now had my perfect reason to go to all this effort …a challenge to be met.
My return to work had a few hurdles, there’s been a lot going on at home too, but this weekend I finally got around to it. A fortunate break in the Spring ‘heat wave’, my Saturday evening was at least a bit cooler than many we have had lately. Certainly, Queensland weather doesn’t lend itself well to pastry making most of the year unless you are fortunate enough to have an air-conditioned kitchen. Still, I knew what I was up against and what needed to be done.
The initial stage was so easy, a few ingredients in the Kenwood and it’s done – back in the fridge to get this dough cool. In the meantime my block of butter was to be bashed and flattened to a similar size – bugger that. Cut into thick slices carefully wedged back together in another form was more my style …by the time this is rolled and rolled later I knew it would be fine, I needed to save my energy!
Puff is then a simple process of rolling and folding. Ok, by ‘simple’ I mean it doesn’t take much special talent or skill – just a bit of muscle. The major tip I learned in France was for rolling, firm and slow [no rolling back-and-forth please] as friction creates heat. Don’t take too much time either – the longer out of the fridge the more heat. Noticing something here? Pastry doesn’t like heat! My first set of rolling and folding went well – but refrigerating for 2 hours? I was a little time poor, so I popped it in the freezer, supposedly a blast-chiller cuts cooling time by two-thirds, surely a freezer quarters it? Well, only just. I got away with it …but probably not the best practice to continue. I popped it in the fridge overnight with plans to do my third roll and fold the next day. I rose early in the morning, gave it another go and back in the fridge …and back to bed!
That was the hard part over – so I thought. Other than one final roll before baking, I needed to decide how I was going to make my final masterpiece. Whilst a traditional Mille Fueille has a basic ‘Creme Patissiere’ filling and a simple icing on top, there are definitely more creative options out there. Strawberry and White Chocolate, Blueberry and Lemon, Raspberry and Almond, Praline? Hmmm. Of course, there are many ways to make a creme patissiere too, varying from some custard powder and a bit of cream to the more complex egg-custard. This is a challenge though, it’s ridgy-didge custard that’s going to happen here, fortunately I had LOTS of practice in France. One final dilemma, neither of my recipes supplied by the cooking class actually completed the process, my pastry recipe had NOTHING about cooking it, and the custard recipe didn’t mention it either, let alone assembly of the final dish. I guess I’m going to have to try and remember (this was over 6 weeks ago now) and match with some similar recipes for cooking temperatures.
I decided my Mille Fueille would have those glossy red strawberries – I just love them. With my pastry in the oven I worked on my custard, both would have to cool before my final assembly. By now my arms had grown weary – this pastry making stuff really IS a workout for someone with spaghetti arms like mine, but it IS doable. As my pastry baked something didn’t seem right, it was puffing fantastically, but just didn’t seem as dense as the one I made only weeks ago. Just past the 11th hour, as I pulled my trays from the oven, it popped into my head …..pierce the dough! I had forgotten one very simple, yet somewhat important step which was to poke holes all over the dough before baking. I was devastated, all that work for what would have otherwise been a perfect pastry, was now falling a little short. Note to self: Buy one of those spiky rollers for next time (although a fork would suffice).
Never mind, I was still able to pull together a number of slices of Mille Fueille. Well worth the effort, there were many pleased faces around me wanting to sample my final masterpiece. Home made DEFINITELY tastes much better than store bought puff. Now that I’ve had a go for myself I can definitely see myself making it again, AND giving it a go with a bunch of teenagers every year also.
Challenge met, done, conquered!!!!
…I’ll post the recipes later 😉