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Classic French Napoleon

Servings: 9
The Napoleon is a pastry made of many layers of puff pastry with filling alternating the layers. It can be eaten as a dessert, or even as a decadent meal.

As a French pastry it is called mille-feuilles, or thousand leaves, and it is usually filled with whipped cream, pastry cream, and fruit preserves - most often raspberry jam. The topping may be simply powdered sugar, or a layer of fondant, often with strings of chocolate drawn into a chevron design.

In Italy, where the pastry is thought to have originated in Naples, it is called mille foglie (again, thousand leaves), and contains a similar layering like the mille-feuilles of cream, pastry cream, and fruit preserves.

A traditional napoleon is filled with plain pastry cream but if desired you may add a thin layer of fruit preserves such as seedless raspberry or strawberry jam or preserves to the filling.

For Puff Pastry:
1/2 of a 17 1/4-ounce package (1 sheet) frozen puff pastry, thawed

For Cream Filling:
1/4 cup granulated or superfine sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup half and half or light cream
2 slightly beaten egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup whipping cream

For Glaze:
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons boiling water

Fruit Preserve or Jam Filling: (optional)
1/3 cup seedless raspberry or strawberry jam or preserves

Chocolate Drizzle Topping:
1 1/2 tablespoons melted semisweet chocolate

For Puff Pastry:
Preheat oven to 425°F/220°C. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or plain brown paper; set aside.

Unfold puff pastry sheet and trim edges to a 9-inch square. Cut pastry into nine 3-inch squares. Transfer pastry squares to the prepared baking sheets; prick pastry. Bake in a preheated oven for 18-23 minutes, or until golden. (Or bake according to package directions.) Carefully remove pastries from baking sheet. Cool on a rack.

For Cream Filling:
In a heavy, medium saucepan stir together sugar, flour, and salt. Slowly stir in half-and-half or light cream. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 minute more. Slowly stir about half of the hot mixture into beaten egg yolks. Return all to saucepan. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Transfer mixture to a bowl. Cover surface with plastic wrap and cool just until warm without stirring. In a small mixing bowl beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. Fold whipped cream into warm pastry cream.

For Glaze:
In a medium mixing bowl combine confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Stir in enough boiling water to make a glaze of spreading consistency; set aside.

To Assemble:
Use the tines of a fork to separate each pastry square horizontally into 3 layers.

If Using Fruit Jam or Preserves:
Spread about 1 teaspoon of the raspberry or strawberry jam or preserves on each bottom layer. Spread about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the pastry cream over raspberry preserves or if not using a layer of fruit jam or preserves, spread about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the pastry cream on the bottom layer and preceed as follows:

Top with middle pastry layers. Spread another 1 1/2 tablespoons of the pastry cream on each middle layer. Finally, top with remaining pastry layers. Spread glaze over top of napoleons, then drizzle with melted chocolate. Chill up to 1 hour.

Makes 9 napoleons.

Date: June 18, 2006