Remember me? Vaguely? Ouch. I probably deserve that. After all, I did up and desert my faithful, intelligent-beyond-their-years, and incomprehensibly attractive readers (yes, I'm groveling) for almost one month without offering any sort of warning or explanation.
I have heard from a few of you who were wondering what was going on. "Hey Julie! Just wanted to check and make sure that everything's O.K!" or "Are on a summer vacation or something? You've disappeared!" Stuff like that. For those of you who inquired, thank you. Knowing that I was missed made me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. I didn't know you cared.
O.K., so here's what happened: I just returned from the most fabulous, glamorous, month-long vacation in the South of France. I sipped Cristal on the beach in San Tropez. I hob-nobbed with Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis on their yacht. I devoured French cheeses, wine, and pastries without gaining an ounce......O.K., so I just might have done all of these things in my dreams. Those dreams were really vivid though, and that counts for something, right?
Actually, I just needed a blogging break. End of story. I know, it's not a very interesting story, but that's the truth. This hiatus wasn't really planned, it just happened. If I ever lack inspiration when working on a writing assignment, the best solution usually is for me to focus on something else for awhile. That way, I return to my writing feeling refreshed. Well, after 305 posts, you might say that I needed to refresh, so I did.
Even though I didn't actually get on a plane an make the journey to the land of baguettes and bouillabaisse, it seems like French influences have been everywhere this month, what with Bastille Day and the arrival of my Rosetta Stone French language software. I definitely consider myself to be a francophile, having developed a fondness for French culture, literature, and history, not to mention the cuisine.
That being said, I just do not understand the draw of the Tour de Lance, er I mean France. Maybe it's because I had a bad spill on my bike when I was 17.....or maybe it's simply because I find the idea of watching a pack of indistinguishable men pedal for hours on end, day after day, to be a toss-up with getting a root canal. Eric, on the other hand, can't get enough of "The Tour", as he so hip-ly calls it. He records the race each morning and watches it upon returning from work. If I'm lucky, I see him for about 5 minutes in between, enough time to ask him my daily question:
"Lance still in third place?"
Who would've thought that my husband would leave me for a guy sporting a yellow jersey?
So with a missing husband, my schedule has opened up, and I have time to work on recipes. I decided to stick with the French theme for my return to the blogosphere, attempting something new, Napoleons. I remember the very first time that I tried a Napoleon. I was with my mom at a French bistro in Houston called La Madeleine. We split one for dessert, and I thought that it was one of the best things that I had ever eaten. The combination of the pudding-like pastry cream and the flaky, buttery layers topped with chocolate and vanilla glaze was unlike any dessert that I had ever tasted before.
I was reminded of this sweet treat when I was flipping through Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, which contains a few different Napoleon recipes. I opted for a variation on her more traditional Napoleons, which were surprisingly easy to prepare. Here are a few extra tips for preparing these pretty Parisian pastries (technically, they are French pastries, but "Parisian" worked with the alliteration.):
- In Martha's version, she of course opted to used homemade puff pastry. Guys and gals, I have attempted the homemade version before. While this time-consuming method results in a buttery, flaky, and scrumptious product......I have found that the store-bought variety is just as good. My advice? Get thee to the frozen foods section. Life is too short to make homemade puff pastry.
- The pastry cream can be prepared up to two days in advance. Line the top surface with plastic wrap and keep chilled.
- Napoleons are a versatile dessert, allowing for creativity with the filling and topping. You can alter the flavor of the pastry cream, or even opt for two different flavors if you are feeling ambitious. The filling can also be supplemented with fresh berries, chocolate chips, or a layer of raspberry jam. Sprinkle the glaze with chopped nuts, toffee bits, toasted coconut, or chocolate shavings.
- The pastries are best eaten the day that they are assembled, however they will keep overnight, covered and refrigerated. The puff pastry will soften with refrigeration.
Classic French Napoleons
Makes 6-8 Napoleons
For the vanilla pastry cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter, cubed
For the Napoleon
1package thawed puff pastry (approximately 1 pound--usually comes in 2 pieces)
1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3-4 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Prepare the pastry cream: In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Cook the mixture over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and cornstarch. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Continue to add the milk mixture until it has been fully incorporated. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it has thickened, about 2 minutes longer.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the butter. Mix vigorously until the butter has melted, and the mixture has cooled slightly. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream. Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.
Prepare the Napoleons: On a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, stack the two separate pieces of thawed puff pastry, and roll them out into one 12X12 inch square. Cut the square into three 12X4 inch strips and transfer the dough and parchment to a large baking sheet. Prick the dough all over with a fork and cover with plastic wrap. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425F degrees.
Transfer the baking sheet to the preheated oven. Bake the pastry for 10 minutes, until golden around the edges. Set another baking sheet directly on top of the pastry strips and continue baking for 6 minutes more. Carefully remove the top baking sheet and bake until the pastry is baked through and golden brown, 6 minutes more. Cool completely.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioner's sugar, corn syrup, butter, and enough milk to reach a consistency that is pourable but still thick. Transfer a quarter of the glaze to a small bowl and whisk in the cocoa powder. Transfer the chocolate glaze to a piping bad fitted with a 1/8-inch tip.
Pour the white glaze onto one of the pastry strips, spreading it evenly with an offset spatula. Pipe lines of the chocolate glaze across the white glaze, about 1/2-inch apart. Drag the tip of a toothpick down the length of the glazed strip in alternating directions to create a pattern.
Fit a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch round tip and fill it with half of the pastry cream. Pipe an even layer of the pastry cream onto one of the remaining pastry strips. Top with the remaining pastry strip, pressing gently to adhere. Fill the pastry bag with the remaining pastry cream and pipe evenly onto the strip. Place the glazed pastry on top. Slice with a sharp knife and serve.