A thousand leaves of pastry puff, golden and buttery, is the trademark of this dessert, from which it has taken its name (mille feuille in French stands for mille=a thousand, feuille=leaves). A velvet cream made from scratch and desirable, juicy strawberries (in our recipe) complete the pleasure hidden in each and every leaf of this crispy strawberry mille-feuille. And if France was not the Mother of mille-feuille, which country could it be? Italy perhaps? Is the Napoleon dessert mille-feuille distant cousin or its identical twin or is it just the exact same thing?
Μillefeuille, with its exact roots still unknown, is placed in the cooking-pastry chronology in 1651, in the book Le Cuisinier François from François Pierre La Varenne, while a bit later, in the 18th century, is improved by Marie-Antoine Carême, known as “King of Chefs, and Chef of the Kings”.
For some, Napoleon is a kind of mille-feuille, the cream of which includes almonds or other nuts while others say that the difference lies in the leaves. With the existing information and knowledge stepping on one another and with the credible Larousse Gastronomique not recognising the Napoleon but the Napolitain cakes, noting only that like mille-feuille and other desserts they were used as decoration for buffets, the issue remains somewhat blurry. In the recipe that is offered though, it is referred that the cream is indeed enriched with almonds, so we will keep this along with the aristocratic name of mille-feuille for the said dessert with the thousand leaves.
The classic mille-feuille is made with three layers of puff pastry leaves and, between them, two layers of pastry cream. Homemade cream always! The leaves, folded a thousand times with butter, rise in the baking – although pricked acquire multiple height and become fluffy. Here, though, because the idea for them was to become really crispy and caramelised, an old trick was used which is no other than the combination of sugar and pressure, that makes the pastry puff leaves thinner and totally crispy (take a look at the photos).
Tip: For the puff pastry leaves, the trick to become extra crispy and to leave a sweet, addictive aftertaste is a second round of baking after they have been sprinkled with lots of powdered sugar. That way, the pastry puff will caramelise and will be perfect to be eaten even on its own.
With a cheerful attitude and feeling blissful for the sun that came out to push the clouds away, we decided to add some strawberries to our dessert. Red and sweet strawberries give the fresh mille-feuille an extra tone of “airy” taste. Colour, sweetness and substance that inspires respect among the other pastry creations. You will find the crumbling of the buttery puff pastry in the mouth quite addictive, a sense that religiously follows the freshly baked pastry smell that has spread around the room.
Note: Our familiar classic mille-feuille that we usually buy ready-made has less crunchy leaves filled by pastry cream alone. Also, it is prepared much more quickly. To make it, use the pieces of the buttery pastry puff untouched, without putting any pressure on them. Prick them in multiple places and bake them in the oven. In the same way add the cream and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Crispy Strawberry Mille-feuille – The recipe
Preparation: 1 hour and 15 minutes approximately. Both the pastry cream and the strawberry sauce can be prepared a lot earlier – even 2 days in advance and stored in the fridge. Stir the cold cream with the whisk until homogenised again, before adding it into the mille-feuille. The cut strawberries and the puff pastry leaves should be fresh (same day baked). Medium difficulty, more complex recipe.
Ingredients (for 10-12 pieces, depending on the size)
half packet puff pastry, 1 leaf cut in 3 equal parts
600 ml pastry cream – 1 dose (check link)
500 g washed strawberries (for the filling)
2/3 -1 cup of icing sugar
for the strawberry sauce
280-300 g washed strawberries, cut and sliced
2 tbsps superfine sugar
2 tbsps Cointreau or brandy
Preheat the oven at 200 C.
To prepare the pastry puff leaves: Take them out of the fridge and bring them in room temperature – if they are frozen they will need approximately 2 hours.
Fill a sheet pan with greaseproof paper. Cut one pastry leaf in 3 equal parts. Press with the rolling pin to spread each part (⅓) until it has become visibly thin (upper right photo) and almost double in size. Prick in multiple places with a fork to prevent rising of the dough. Bake each leave at 200 C for 15 min.
Rise oven temperature to 250 C. Sprinkle the leaves with plenty of icing sugar and bake again for 3 minutes.
Note: It is more convenient to bake first all the leaves at 200 C and then at 250 C. Attention! Do not exceed the 3- 3.5 minutes during the second round of baking, otherwise the sugar and leaves may burn.
To prepare the pastry cream and the strawberries for the filling: While the leaves are baking, prepare the pastry cream by following our recipe and leave it to cool. Wash and cut the strawberries in small pieces of 1 cm approx.
Νοte: If you find extremely small strawberries, put them as they are – the result will be prettier.
To prepare the strawberry sauce: Cut the rest of the strawberries and put them in a pan along with the sugar and the Cointreau. Place it in a medium to low fire until they are very well heated and the sugar has melted (5-7 minutes) without boiling too much. The strawberries will soften inside the warm sauce and bring out their juice.
Remove from fire, leave it to cool and mash in multi or blender. If you want to have an even more refined result, strain the sauce into a bowl, stirring and pressing with the back of a spoon on the strainer in order to extract the biggest part of the pulp. Of course, you can always skip this procedure and keep the sauce as it is, kind of rustic.
Το complete the strawberry mille-feuille: With a sharp knife, trim the edges and cut in the desired shape, putting the one above the other, creating this way a bigger rectangle millefeuille or two oblongs.
Place one leaf – base in a serving tray/platter. Using a spatula or a pipe (for ease and more standardised result) spread half the pastry cream and put half the strawberries on top. Continue with the second pastry leaf and the rest of the strawberries.
At this point, pour part of the strawberries sauce with a spoon, letting it spread in the sides of the millefeuille. Finish with the third pastry, after you have sprinkled its surface with plenty of icing sugar.
For smaller strawberry mille-feuille: Follow the same procedure of making but cut the puff pastry leaves in portions –they are very easily cut so do not worry that you may destroy them.
Το serve: Either in individual portions or as a whole, millefeuille should be eaten while fresh as the leaf absorbs moisture and softens. It is highly unlikely of course, that someone will deny a piece on the next day but it will not be the same. Put some sauce at the base of the dish and place the strawberry mille-feuille piece on top or next to it.