© The Financial Times Ltd 2015 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
Last updated: June 9, 2012 12:07 am
Part of my apprenticeship with the Roux brothers consisted of making pastries for the wholesale arm of the operation. The morning would start before dawn with the cooking of the viennoiserie – croissants, pains au chocolat, brioches – prepared the previous day, and the rolling, folding and moulding of those items for the next. On the other side of the room was the more fancy work of the entremetier, who would be in charge of the cakes, Bavarian creams, mousses and fancies that several distinguished houses would pass off as their own (outsourcing is hardly a new concept) on their dessert menus.
Somewhere in between was the millefeuille. It needed the skills of the tourier – who would turn the pastry – to make the structural planks of the dessert, but the skills of the entremetier to make the vanilla-scented pastry cream (woe betide the young commis chef who did not cook out the flour in his crème pâtissière) and to perform the final finish with the fondant. I loved the “feathering” of the chocolate fondant into the white one, a technical trick that looked incredibly professional but was easily attained.
I can understand those who hanker after the old cream slice, but it is the sort of unbelievably sweet and gluttonous indulgence that we now expect only old ladies in French tea shops to tackle. A millefeuille these days must mean something much lighter. Even if waiters and customers alike struggle to pronounce it, this does not seem to prevent admiration when it is given to them. It may just be a different way of packaging strawberries and cream, with only the crisp leaves of pastry as a point of difference, but it is a pleasing aesthetic statement and one any adventurous cook will enjoy making.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
It takes a while – and a bit of a kerfuffle – to cook the pastry so that it is thin but multi-layered and beautifully crisp: a certain amount of dexterity, or at least care, is called for. Serves four.
300g puff pastry
75g icing sugar
30g caster sugar
300ml double cream
20g vanilla sugar (or sugar with a few drops vanilla extract)
● Roll out the puff pastry very thinly to produce a rectangle 350mm long and 225mm wide on a sheet of baking parchment. Prick the pastry very well with a fork and allow to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
● Place the pastry – on its paper – on a flat oven tray and cover with another sheet of baking parchment and another flat tray. Place in a medium oven (180°C) and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the top tray and return to the oven for five minutes before dusting with a third of the icing sugar and returning to the oven for five minutes or until the top is a lovely, shiny golden-brown glaze. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for five minutes.
● With a sheet of parchment placed over the pastry, replace the tray on top and then flip the whole ensemble – tray, paper, pastry, paper, tray – completely over and remove the tray and paper to reveal the unglazed bottom side of the pastry. Dust this with icing sugar, return to the oven to glaze as before and then leave to cool. Once cool, cut the rectangle of pastry into 12 pieces by cutting down the middle lengthways and then cutting each long strip into six pieces, thus producing 12 60mm x 110mm rectangles.
● Hull the strawberries. Select the most even, medium-sized ones for the millefeuilles and take a quarter of the less perfectly shaped or slightly soft ones and blend them with the caster sugar and a tablespoon of water to make a nice smooth purée. Whip the cream with the vanilla sugar until it is light and fluffy – take care not to over-whip – and load a piping bag with a star-shaped nozzle with the cream.
● Place the strawberries on a piece of pastry with a little space between them. Pipe a little cream into the gaps and then place a pastry slice on top, making sure it is stabilised by the cream. Repeat the process on the second layer. Dust the last piece of pastry with the remaining icing sugar and place on top. Place a strawberry on top and sit the finished ensemble in a little pool of strawberry purée.
Rowley’s drinking choice
For all the sugar involved, a millefeuille is not overpoweringly sweet, so a wine of some complexity can be deployed. A fairly modest Barsac or Sauterne would be ideal.