This week I braced myself and returned to two of my baking nemeses: piping and puff pastry. And all in the name of my other half, who loves a Millefeuille. This custard filled pastry treat is a staple of French patisserie shops around the world. And like most good ideas, it’s been copied and re-imagined the world over too. In New Zealand, you can find a variant known as a custard square, and in the UK, Paul Hollywood refers to the ‘custard slice’ as ‘own great British pâtisserie!’ and fellow challenge participant Stephanie made some beautiful Spanish milhojas recently too. Admittedly, the custard square does look a little less refined than the millefeuille, but I can assure you, it’s still just as delicious.
How much is ‘a bit’ of sugar?
I’ve mentioned before that French recipes are on the whole much vaguer than their English counterparts. This includes not specifying the size of dish to be used, or the consistency your mix should have; and not providing precise ingredients, or measures of ingredients. For instance, in my source recipe, the ingredients list includes un peu de sucre (‘a bit of sugar’).
However, listing ‘a bit of sugar’ in an English recipe would seem so out of place. It might even be construed as carelessness or laziness. We’re used to precise measures, with the odd exception, like ‘a drizzle of olive oil’, or ‘a pinch of salt’. And even that is seen as too ambiguous for some – I once had a set of measuring spoons which included a spoon for ‘1 pinch’.
But what to do, where there is no measure provided in the source text? Well, I considered what it’s used for, and how much is likely to be used. In this case, it’s dusted over the top of the sheets of puff pastry before baking. So I decided to use ‘a dusting of sugar’. Since the reader now knows what it’s used for, they can more easily estimate how much they need. And when it boils down to it, this is what’s important, especially at a time where you might be eyeing your dwindling store cupboard supplies.
Well my millefeuilles certainly have the ‘homemade’ look. They won’t be gracing bakery counters any time soon. But they were tasty – although a bit too sweet for my liking.
I used pre-made puff pastry, because making it myself once was enough. Yet I still struggled with it – I should have baked it for longer and weighed down each layer as it baked (my recipe didn’t call for this, but I see that others do). This would have made for a thinner, crispier pastry, and would have made it easier to assemble everything. The good news is, I’ve made (a little) progress on my piping – as you can see in the brown stripes on top of the icing. I found it much easier with a plastic bag I chopped the corner off of, rather than a proper piping bag. Pity it’s not the sustainable solution.
Recipe and substitution ideas
This Tesco recipe looks fairly straightforward. Interestingly, it adds whipped double cream to the pastry cream and then pipes it in between the pastry layers. If, like me, you don’t get along well with a piping bag, you could try omitting the double cream and just spreading on the pastry cream.
For substitutions, you could change the icing, although royal icing, and in particular, the featured design, is the iconic millefeuille look. But other recipes just top with Chantilly cream.
Personally, I wouldn’t bother making your own puff pastry – unless you happen to have the time, the flour, and the inclination for it.
A savoury dish next time. I’m hoping to make something that was recommended to me a long time ago, when I was first beginning this challenge.