As General Napoleon Bonaparte once stated, “If you want a thing done well, do it yourself,” so the next time you’re entertaining and have to make dessert, in the don’t half-ass it by buying a cake at the supermarket. Get in the kitchen and express your culinary flair with a homemade treat like these strawberry Napoleons (no short Frenchmen needed). This take on the traditional French dessert (a.k.a.: mille-feuille) is made up of layers of flaky puff pastry smothered with vanilla pastry cream and strawberry-thyme jam, topped with fresh strawberries and powdered sugar. I promise you don’t need to be a trained pastry chef to pull this off.
The homemade jam I used was infused with fresh thyme — a lovely sweet-savory combination — but feel free to use store bought instead. (Tip: Infuse store bought jam with thyme by heating both together with a little water in a pot over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, then let cool to room temperature.) As for the vanilla pastry cream (a cooked custard), you can have the bragging rights by making it yourself, but if you’re in a pinch, simply use vanilla pudding in its place.
I urge you to go forth and conquer this dish for a special occasion (or any dol’ ay), and remember: it won’t be as difficult as the Battle of Waterloo — it’s just dessert.
Strawberry Napoleons with Vanilla Pastry Cream and Strawberry-Thyme Jam
Makes 6 servings
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
Flour, as needed
Vanilla pastry cream (see below) or vanilla pudding
1 1/2 cups strawberry-thyme jam (or store bought jam)
1 pint strawberries, tops removed and sliced
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Unfold puff dough and place on a surface dusted with flour and roll it out a bit with a rolling pin. Cut it lengthwise into 3 sections. Place dough on greased or parchment-lined baking trays and bake for about 20 minutes or until risen and slightly golden brown. Let cool, then cut each section of dough into 6 pieces (to make 18 small rectangles).
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
In a medium saucepan, combine milk and vanilla bean (if using extract, add later). Cook over medium heat until mixture just comes to a simmer.
In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, flour, and cornstarch. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the hot-milk mixture into the egg-yolk mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, until it has been incorporated. Pour mixture back into saucepan, and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens to the consistency of pudding. (If using vanilla extract, stir it in at this point.) Remove from heat and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled or place over a bowl filled with ice to chill it down.
Set aside 6 pieces of puff pastry to be the “lids”. Top 12 remaining pieces with a dollop of pastry cream and jam, then spread them evenly over the surfaces. Top each with a few slices of strawberry. Place 6 of the topped pieces on top of the remaining 6 topped pieces, then top those with the “lids”.
Heat a bit of the remaining jam in a small pan with a teaspoon or two of water until it becomes more viscous and syrup-like. Pour jam syrup on top of Napoleons, top with more strawberry slices and dust with powdered sugar before serving.