Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lemon Millefeuille



Once I learned how to make caramelized puff pastry, making a millefeuille (meaning "thousand sheets", also known as mille-feuilles or napoleon) was the next logical step. The problem was, I've never really liked millefeuille.

What is a millefeuille?
In France, a classic millefeuille is a three-layer sandwich of puff pastry enclosing vanilla pastry cream (or pastry cream lightened with whipped cream), with striped fondant icing (the pourable kind, not the roll-out kind.) You can see a photo of this traditional dessert here. Not being a fan of pastry cream, this was never one of my favorites.

Inspiration for a lemon millefeuille
What finally prompted me to make something similar to a classic millefeuilles was a side-note in the Pierre Hermé recipe for lemon cream:

"Un de mes desserts préférés est le croustillant au citron, composé de deux rectangles de pâte feuilletée caramélisée, fourrés d'une épaisse couche de crème au citron légèrement gélatinée et additionnée d'un peu de chantilly, au coeur de laquelle je glisse un sablé à la cannelle."

or in English:

"One of my favorite desserts is a crunchy lemon dessert, made of two rectangles of caramelized puff pastry, filled with a thick layer of lemon cream to which a little gelatin and some whipped cream have been added, in the center of which I hide a cinnamon sablé cookie."

This sounded interesting. I like his lemon cream, and the caramelized puff pastry is delicious. How could the combination be bad? I wasn't sure about the cinnamon cookie but was prepared to try.

I had guests coming for dinner, and since the Sugar High Friday theme this month is citrus desserts, I decided to try my hand at this recipe.

Guessing at the recipe
The only thing was, it was hardly a recipe. How much gelatin? When and how to include the gelatin in the cream? How much whipped cream? What kind of cookie to bake? How should the whole thing be assembled?

I couldn't help grumbling that if this was one of Hermé's favorite desserts, he really should have provided a recipe with detailed instructions, rather than a brief side-note. But I looked upon it as an adventure, knowing our dinner guests would be easy-going about results.

Result: delicious components, tricky assembly
The result was encouraging. The cream was perfect: firm enough but not gelatinous, very rich and lemony but not heavy. The first batch of puff pastry was undercooked and warped, but the second one was more successful.

Two aspects of this dessert gave me some trouble: esthetics, and preparing it ahead of time.

One large cake is hard to cut and gets soggy fast
For my first version, I tried to make something similar to a traditional French millefeuilles: spreading the cream on a large rectangle of baked pastry, adding cinnamon sablé cookies, topping it with one more layer of baked pastry (as opposed to two for the traditional version), then cutting the whole thing into a crisp rectangle, as shown here with multiple photos, and here with a video.


Cinnamon sablé cookies embedded in the lemon cream. I'm not sure they're necessary.


The cake before trimming the edges


Cutting the caramelized pastry shell was difficult. I used a long serrated knife and sawed gingerly through the brittle crust.

A crisp rectangle. Yeah. Half the cream oozed out the sides, despite using the utmost precaution to saw the cake. I smoothed the cream around the edges as well as I could, and served a decent-looking rectangular cake to my guests, knowing the whole thing would explode upon serving. As I ate some of the sawed-off scraps I thought "yum! at least it will taste delicious."


I managed to make the cake look presentable, but dreaded having to cut it into serving sizes.


Not very pretty slicing into the cake. Still, it was somewhat easier than I had anticipated, as the pastry layers had absorbed humidity from the cream. Which presented another problem. (Apologies for the poor quality of these photos, it was night time and guests were waiting to be fed.)

Cutting it into individual portions was not quite as difficult as I had expected. That's when I realized the pastry had absorbed humidity from the cream, and was less crisp than initially.

The final taste was somewhat disappointing, compared to the scraps I had snacked on during its assembly. The pastry was not really soggy, but not crisp either. It tasted just like those millefeuilles from my childhood, and now I knew what I didn't like about them, in addition to the pastry cream: they had been assembled too far ahead of time. The couple hours (in this case, about four) that the cake waited before being served spoiled the final texture. In theory caramelizing the puff pastry insulates it somewhat against moisture, but I guess not sufficiently.

So I had made something that was almost impossible to cut, and tasted good only when freshly assembled.

How to prepare esthetically-pleasing individual portions at the last minute
I decided to make individual portions, cutting rectangles of pastry ahead of time and filling them with cream before serving. But I was worried the filling would look gloppy. I wanted crisp and geometric, no oozing.


Cutting the pastry shell ahead of time into individual portions

I piped the filling. Having no piping skills, I didn't want to try anything fancy, so I made these long cylinders with my largest piping tip (size 13, which I guess is 1.3 cm 1.5 to 1.6cm in diameter). I abandoned the cinnamon cookie.


Two rows of cream, a little too far apart.

My first pastry squares were a little too wide (5cm) to hold two cream cylinders, too narrow for three. Slightly less than 4 cm wide worked best, and looked most elegant.


A narrower pastry shell works better


I'm beginning to like the looks of this millefeuille. Too bad the crust here is from my first batch, underbaked and not flaky enough.

Last minute assembly is not a problem if you've cut the pastry rectangles ahead of time, have filled the pastry bag with cream, and have confectioner's sugar and sieve ready for the final dusting.

All in all, this was an interesting baking adventure, and I thank the organizers of Sugar High Friday, Hélène at Tartelette and Jennifer at Domestic Goddess for choosing such a good topic and thereby encouraging me to try something new.





Recipe: Lemon Millefeuille

Inspired by Pierre Hermé

8 to 10 servings


1. Caramelized puff pastry



- One recipe inverse puff pastry: see recipe in this post
[If you don't want to make it yourself, you can probably use ready-made puff pastry, preferably made with only butter]
- 40g sugar
- 30g confectioner's sugar

Clear out a shelf in your refrigerator and choose a baking sheet that will fit in the fridge. Roll out the puff pastry to 2mm [I think I could have rolled mine thinner]. Cut it to the dimensions of your baking sheet [I think it's important to cut the edges to allow regular expansion of the dough.] Place a sheet of parchment paper on the pan, and wet it slightly with a brush. Place the dough on the paper.

[Dock the dough by pricking it all over with a fork. The recipe doesn't say to do this but I read it in enough other recipes to think it might be necessary.]

Cover with plastic wrap and put the baking pan in the refrigerator. Let the dough rest 1 to 2 hours so it doesn't shrink when baked.

Preheat oven to 230°C.

Dust the dough with sugar [I would say less than the amount specified here]. Put the pan in the oven, and immediately lower oven to 190°C. Total baking time will be about 20 to 24 minutes, as follows:

Bake for 8 minutes then cover with a cooling rack to prevent dough from rising too much.

[I covered with a parchment paper and a baking sheet after as little as four minutes, as the dough rises a lot and fast; but remember to heat the baking sheet in the oven so it doesn't slow overall baking time]

Bake for another 8 minutes [or more. My first batch was undercooked.]

Remove baking sheets from oven, increase temperature to 250°C. If you used a cooling rack to compress the dough, replace it with baking parchment and a baking sheet on top. Turn over both baking sheets, holding them tightly together. Remove the first pan and parchment paper which are now on top. The bottom of the dough is now facing up. Dust it uniformly with confectioner's sugar.


Dusting the partially-baked pastry with confectioner's sugar

Bake for 8 minutes until it caramelizes. Keep an eye on it to prevent burning. The sugar will first turn yellow, then melt, and ultimately caramelize. Remove pastry from oven. The top should be smooth and shiny, the bottom is crunchy with the incrusted sugar. [I fixed non-caramelized spots with a crème brulée torch.]

Let the pastry cool completely on a rack, then wrap it tightly until you need it.


Parts of the pastry were not fully caramelized. I placed it under the grill, but as the edges were beginning to burn I decided to finish the caramelization with my small crème-brulée torch



This was my first batch, warped and undercooked, perhaps because I used a warped, cold baking sheet to cover the dough.


2. Lemon Cream*



Source still Pierre Hermé

The changes I made based on Hermé's instructions for the "croustillant au citron" are in blue

Ingredients
- Zest from three lemons
- 220g sugar
- 160g freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 eggs
- 300g butter

Additions to turn this into a millefeuille cream:
- 2,5g gelatin (1 1/2 sheets), soaked for 5 min. in cold water
- About 150g very cold cream


Mix the sugar and lemon zest: turn for one minute with a spatula so the sugar absorbs the flavor of the zest. Whip in the eggs, then the lemon juice.

For the millefeuille cream, add the soaked and drained gelatin at this point. This being my first experience with gelatin, I heated the lemon juice and added the gelatin to it before adding both to the sugar and eggs. I didn't know if 85°C was warm enough to dissolve gelatin. I think it is, so don't bother heating the lemon juice separately.

Place the bowl in a simmering hot water bath and cook the mixture while whisking continuously until it reaches 82-83°C.

Remove it from the hot water bath, filter it and let it cool to 50°C before adding the butter. If it were any warmer the butter would melt and become greasy.

Place a bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes, then whip the cream until it holds peaks.

Cut the butter into 1cm cubes. Mix it into the lemon cream in four or five times, whisking rapidly to create an emulsion. The best solution is to use an immersion blender, which makes the cream very smooth and silky and gives it a lot of stability.

Fold the whipped cream into the lemon cream, then cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator for an hour or so.


3. Assembly



Put a large, plain tip (1.3 about 1.5 cm) in a pastry bag. Fill it with lemon cream. If you plan to assemble the cakes later, put plastic wrap over the tip and store the bag in the refrigerator until needed.

Cut the caramelized puff pastry into twice as many 4x11 cm rectangles as you want to make servings. (The amounts of cream given in this recipe allowed me to make one cake serving four, plus about four to six individual portions. There was puff pastry left over). To cut the pastry, use a long serrated knife with a sawing motion. If you plan to assemble the cakes later, carefully wrap the rectangles, either individually or with parchment paper separating them, or they will stick together.

When ready to serve, place a pastry rectangle on a dessert plate. Pipe two cylinders of cream on the shell (use a knife or scissors to cut the cylinder away from the piping tip), then place another pastry rectangle on top. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and serve immediately.

I am looking for a little extra garnish to dress up the plate. I used lemon wedges, but since they are not really edible I'm not happy with this option. Perhaps I can make candied lemon slices like Aran from Cannelle et Vanille did.



My husband taste-testing one of the millefeuilles. And in the background, hanging under the lamp, my first batch of homemade pasta, coming soon on this blog!

*Update July 2008
For another (easier) recipe using this delicious lemon cream, see my post on financiers with lemon cream.

* * *
Recap of all puff pastry-related recipes on this blog:

Puff Pastry recipes
- Traditional pâte feuilletée
- Pâte feuilletée inversée

Recipes that use puff pastry
- Galette des rois or Pithiviers first post
- Galette des rois second post and third post
- Palmiers (particularly good for using up the precious scraps of dough)
- Cheese straws or puffs (see above, under "First Test")
- Caramelized puff pastry (pâte feuilletée caramélisée)
- Fig and goat cheese tartlets
- Lemon millefeuille (This post)