For the finale "Showstopper" on the Great American Baking Show, we had to make a festive "Tower of Treats." One of the treats I featured was a Mille-feuille with Bourbon Pastry Cream (and I added a little nutmeg to make it festive!) Making 3 completely different desserts in five short hours was no small feat. This final challenge felt more like a battle than a cutesy-type baking competition (which is evident by how exhausted we look in the finale pictures), but remarkably, we all finished! And the lovely people at Extra Crispy invited me to make a tutorial video for this dessert!
I wanted to make mille-feuilles because I think they’re just so darn cute. Wandering the cobblestone ruettes of Paris and stumbling upon boulangeries with their eye-catching pastries are some of my fondest memories from my semester abroad in Paris. And the flaky layers sandwiching a thick pastry cream in mille-feuilles always stood out as particularly special.
But this was a competition. I wanted to show the judges a technically challenging dessert. After a lot of uncertainty, some soul-searching with my favorite culinary producer Joel, and a couple of practice batches that ranged from somewhat-successful to What. The. Heck., I decided to just go for it and even up the ante by making the mille-feuilles with one of the most challenging types of dough: inverted puff pastry.
Puff pastry is already this mythical thing even experienced home bakers balk at. Making a traditional puff pastry (the flaky part of mille-feuilles and a number of other tasty dishes like salmon wellington and vol-au-vents) involves making a dough, encasing it over a giant block of butter, and repeatedly rolling it and folding it up like a letter, with lots of rest in the refrigerator in between each step.
If that isn’t bizarre enough, making an inverted puff pastry involves encasing dough in butter. Yes, you take a giant rectangle of pure butter and place dough inside of the butter. Then, you do the same rolling and folding. It’s much harder than it sounds. In fact, when Paul Hollywood stopped by my station to ask me what I was doing, he gave me that “another baker is about to bite the dust with the inverted puff pastry nonsense” look. As I was baking it, I had no idea how it would come out. But when I pulled it out of the oven, I was astonished at my success and I remember muttering to myself (or maybe it was a cameraman—), “I have never baked on such a high level before.” They came out perfect.
Oh, and Paul loved it.
But here’s the thing: although inverted puff pastry is rumored to make the flakiest of the already-very-flaky puff pastries, for something like a mille-feuille, a quick puff pastry works wonderfully. That’s because in a mille-feuille, I actually don’t want the pastry to rise. In fact, I put baking sheets on top of it while it’s baking to ensure that it doesn’t rise!
So, I’m sharing a slightly-adapted version of this recipe. I’m making the quickest of the “Quick Puff Pastry” recipes. I’ve discovered the cheat code to pretty much any recipe where you want your butter to stay cold (I’m talking puff pastry, pie dough, flaky buttermilk biscuits, everything!!) I’m using frozen butter in this recipe. Yes, you read that correctly. Frozen. Butter.
A frozen block of butter and a cheese grater work wonders here. Because the butter is actually frozen, you can do all of the turning and folding without resting the dough between each step. You make the whole block of puff pastry from start to finish in one fail swoop.
And while the puff pastry is resting, you can knock out the pastry cream. And then, you just roll out the dough, give it a final rest, and bake. Bake it until it’s completely brown throughout. If you under-bake it, the layers won’t fully form and you’ll miss out on all of the flakiness that makes puff pastry puff pastry.
So, here it is! I added some berries because they’re beautiful and the perfect tangy accompaniment. You can use any berries you please. Shout out to the wonderful Kat Kinsman and the rest of the fine folks at Extra Crispy for inviting me to make this super fun video! I hope you enjoy!
Raspberry Mille-Feuille Recipe
Quick Puff Pastry
2 cups all-purpose flour* (250g)
1 teaspoon fine salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled (57g)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen (143g)
½ cup cold water (4 ounces)
*1 cup cake flour (125g) + 1 cup bread flour (125g) can be substituted for a flakier consistency
1. Grate the frozen butter using a box grater. Place the grated butter in the freezer while preparing the rest of the dough.
2. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Whisk in the salt.
3. Use a rolling pin or the palm of your hand to flatten the 4 tablespoons of chilled butter. Break into pieces. Using your fingertips, incorporate it into the flour. Once no large chunks of butter remain, pour in the ½ cup water. Use your hands to gently stir to form a rough dough. Add an additional 1-2 tablespoons of cold water if needed (the dough does not need to stick together completely. It will come together as it's turned and rolled in the next steps.)
4. Use a pastry scraper to scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Use your hands to form a rough rectangle. Using a rolling pin, gently roll the dough into a rectangle about 12 inches long. Lightly flour the dough to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin, but use a pastry brush to dust off any excess flour in between turns. (Only roll front to back, do not roll side to side.) Place half of the frozen butter on the bottom 2/3 of the dough rectangle. Gently pat the frozen butter into the dough. Fold the dough into thirds like a letter. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and gently roll into a rectangle and repeat the folding process with the remaining frozen butter. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and gently roll into a long rectangle, about 20 inches. Again, fold like a letter (except without adding butter). Wrap the block of dough in plastic and let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the pastry cream.
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/3 cup custard powder (50g)*
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar (125g)
2 cups whole milk (16 ounces)
1 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons bourbon
*Bird’s Custard Powder is available at most grocery stores and is also available on Amazon.com
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolks, custard powder, and half of the granulated sugar. Whisk well, until the mixture lightens in color.
2. Add the two cups milk to a medium-sized saucepan. With a small paring knife, cut the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk. Add the pod and remaining sugar. Heat over high until the milk just begins to boil. Remove from the heat.
3. Immediately pour 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Discard the vanilla pod. Pour the egg mixture into the pot, whisking constantly. Place the pot over medium heat and whisk in a figure eight motion until the mixture just begins to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the bourbon.
4. Pour the pastry cream into a bowl or shallow baking dish or pan. Cover with plastic wrap so that the plastic is touching the custard (this will prevent a film from forming on the custard). Set aside to cool until room temperature, then place in the refrigerator to cool completely.
Mille-feuille and Assembly
½ batch quick puff pastry dough (~300g)*
1 batch pastry cream
½ cup heavy whipping cream (100g)
1-2 tablespoons bourbon
2 cups fresh raspberries
powdered sugar for dusting
*puff pastry dough freezes well, so just put the rest in the freezer until you’re ready to use it!
1. On a lightly-floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle that’s ¼ to 1/6 inch thick. Be sure to sprinkle with flour to prevent the rolling pin from sticking (if the dough sticks to the surface or the rolling pin, it will mess up the layers). Place the rectangle on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Use a fork to prick all over. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the cream. Using an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Remove the pastry cream from the refrigerator and place in a bowl. Using a spatula, fold the pastry cream until it is creamy in consistency. Fold in the whipped cream with an additional 1-2 tablespoons of bourbon. Once the cream is incorporated, transfer to a pastry bag with a large star nozzle. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
3. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the dough, and place an additional baking sheet on top to weigh it down. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the dough is mostly golden brown (the thinner the dough is rolled, the faster it will bake). Remove the top baking sheet and continue to bake a few more minutes until the puff pastry is baked and brown completely through (Don’t be afraid to let it get brown! If you remove the pastry too soon, the layers will stick together and you won’t get the flaky consistency that’s the hallmark of puff pastry.)
4. Once the pastry is baked completely through, remove it from the oven and let it cool. Once cool, use a ruler to mark three equally-sized rectangles. Using a serrated knife (e.g., a bread knife), carefully saw the puff pastry until you have three rectangles.
5. Now for the fun part—assembling the mille-feuille! Place one rectangle of puff pastry onto the serving dish. Pipe the lightened pastry cream on in a zig-zag design. Add the second rectangle of puff pastry. Repeat with the lightened pastry cream. Add the third rectangle of puff pastry and repeat with the lightened pastry cream. Arrange the fresh raspberries on top, and dust with powdered sugar. Serve by cutting directly into the mille-feuille with a sharp knife. It’s best to serve within a few hours, as mille-feuilles do not keep. Give this elegant dessert a try and impress your friends!