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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Lemon & Raspberry Mille-Feuille

This is, by far, my favorite wedding cake that I've done so far!
Recently, I had the privilege to do a mille-feuille for a beautiful wedding down at Casa Somerset, which is a beautiful B&B in Paola, KS. The venue is run by some dear friends and colleagues of mine from the ACF(American Culinary Federation) and they were approached about doing a millefoglie, which is an Italian version of a mille-feuille. Since complex pastry isn't exactly the Chef's forte, he passed it on to me, knowing I'd be thrilled to do it. He was right!

A mille-feuille is a French pastry that takes a lot of technical skill. There are distinct layers and flavors, and good technique is a must. This pastry consists of layers of gorgeous, crisp and flaky puff-pastry, alternating with thick and luscious creme patisserie, and some sort of topping. This dessert must have distinct layers, and it must be consumed within 2 hours of creation, at absolute most. It must be cut gently with a serrated knife, using long sawing motions. More than anything, though, this dessert must be respected.

The couple I made this 'wedding cake' for was a beautiful couple, and the wedding was barely 30 people. I just love small weddings, and I think intimate ceremonies with close family and friends are often so much more meaningful than big events.

Aren't these cute???
When doing smaller events, I like to do a little something special for the wedding party. Since I had plenty of puff pastry(I cheated a little and bought the dough frozen to save myself some time), I chose to make some little elephant ears and layer it with lemon curd and pastry cream, making little morsels of delight for each of the wedding party. There were only a dozen, so it was easy to make!

For those unaware, puff pastry is a fantastic dough in which a solid, flat block of butter is folded inside an envelope of dough, and then said dough is rolled and folded, rolled and folded, rolled and folded again until layers upon layers are formed. It is this technique that is called laminated dough, and is the cornerstone of puff pastry, croissants, and all of those flaky delights that you love in the coffee shops you frequent. The stuff is hard to get just right, especially when time is not on your side, so please don't feel bad about buying a convenience product now and again. Besides, there's always time for good practice.

Are you ready to learn how to make this glorious pastry for yourself? It's easy!

Lemon & Raspsberry Mille-Feuille
for the pastry:

  • 3 sheets of puff pastry, frozen
For the creme patisserie
  • 7 egg yolks
  • 1/8 cup cornstarch
  • 1 oz butter, cubed, cold
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
    • OR 1 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
    • OR 2 tsp vanilla extract PLUS 1 tsp good rum
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
For the lemon curd
  • 1 whole egg
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 oz butter
  • 3/4 cups plus 3 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
To finish
  • 2 clamshells of fresh raspberries
  • Powdered sugar, as needed, for dusting

To ensure that your puff pastry puffs up correctly, make sure that it goes into a hot oven while the temperature of the dough is cold. Cold dough plus hot oven equals butter melting quickly, and creating steam. This steam will cause the dough to rise quickly, and thus give you the volume that you want. Since we don't necessarily want or need volume in this particular application, but we still want layers, you must use two sheet pans, sandwiched atop one another with the dough in the middle. The weight of the top sheet pan will keep the dough from rising unevenly, as well as still give you the layers you want. 

See those visible layers in the puff pastry? That's what you want!
To begin, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Depending on how many sheet trays you have, you'll have to bake in batches. If this is the case, don't take your puff pastry out of the freezer until you're ready to bake. Simply bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden-brown and fully done, with each sheet sandwiched between two sheet trays. Remove from the trays and place on a cooling rack to let cool completely. While steam was your friend in your first step, it is your enemy in all following steps.

To make your lemon curd, melt your butter, lemon juice, and powdered sugar together. Combine the yolks and whole egg in a bowl with a whisk and ensure it is entirely incorporated. Line a sheet tray or baking dish with plastic wrap and set aside. When the lemon juice mixture has come to a boil, remove from the heat and whisk in about a third of the hot liquid to your egg mixture. Whisk quickly, and then combine all back into that pan. Return the pan to the heat and whisk-whisk-whisk over medium heat until the curd thickens. Remove immediately from the heat and pour into your plastic-lined sheet tray/baking dish. Cover immediately with plastic wrap, touching the plastic to the surface of the curd, so it does not form a skin. Laying it out in a thin layer like this will not only give you a faster cooling time, but an easier cleanup.

To make your creme patisserie, combine your vanilla, salt, a pinch of your sugar, and milk to a heavy-bottomed saucepot. Bring to a boil and then remove from the heat, covering with aluminum foil and letting sit for about 15 minutes. Take this time to set up another sheet tray lined with plastic wrap, just like you did for your lemon curd, so you can quickly cool your pastry cream in the same fashion. Now whisk together your egg yolks, remaining sugar, and cornstarch and whisk briskly until it changes into a lemon-colored bowl of goodness. While you can use a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment for this step, I find it unnecessary.

Splash in a third of the warm milk mixture to the eggs, whisk until combined, and then scrape the egg mixture into the pot. Return all of this yummy liquid to the stove and heat over medium-high flame until it reaches 180 degrees F, or it thickens significantly. Remember to constantly whisk, and that the very moment that it thickens, remove it from the heat immediately and get the pot onto a cooler surface, such as your kitchen counter.

At this time, add that cold butter and whisk-whisk-whisk to stop the cooking process. Scrape your yummy pastry cream into your plastic-lined tray and press another layer of plastic on top so that it doesn't form a skin. Let this, and your lemon curd, cool completely before you begin layering.

To begin assembly:

Start with one of your puff pastry layers. Take about a third of your lemon curd and spread thinly and evenly over your first layer. Take a big handful of raspberries and sort of break them up with your fingers, spreading them evenly over the curd. Then take a heavy third of your cooled pastry cream and layer atop the berries. You can use a piping bag for this step, but you don't absolutely have to.

Top with another layer of puff pastry and repeat the process, ending with your third layer of puff pastry. You'll have some curd and some pastry cream leftover, and you may use this as you see fit. You may use this as a final decoration on top, as a glue for your berries(which is what I did), or just leave it as is and finish your pastry with a dusting of powdered sugar. Pastry cream and lemon curd store for up to a week in your fridge, and can both be used as fillings for cookies, cakes...or just eaten plain. (I eat the extra pastry cream like pudding and I'm not ashamed of that.)

Let the pastry "settle" for about 10 minutes before cutting. Again, use a serrated knife and use long, gentle, sawing motions. Pressure is your enemy, as you don't want to crack your gorgeous layered dessert of delicate-ness.

You must consume this pastry within TWO HOURS AT MOST OF ASSEMBLY. Otherwise, the pastry will soak in the moisture from the creams and curds and will go tragically soggy...and you don't want that. If you make this for a party, gather everyone around and have them watch you do it. It's a neat little morsel entertainment to have a bit of dinner theater at a party, unless you have a timeframe in which you'll be consuming it.

I recommend making this for a dinner party, as you'll know your schedule for meals. You can also make this for a birthday, anniversary, or because it's Wednesday. Really, you don't need an excuse to make this.

Sure, it's a bit labor intensive, but it is well worth it. Happy eating!

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