Mille-feuille, mille foglie, Napoleon, vanilla slice, Crèmeschnitte, krémes – several names, but one recipe. They all refer to a much-loved dessert eaten all over the world which is made up of puff pastry and crème pâtissière. There is only a difference in the number of pastry layers and in the topping. The top pastry layer is usually dusted with powdered sugar, but it can be glazed with icing or fondant, as well. The exact origin of the mille-feuille is unknown, but it’s sure that it was later improved by Marie-Antoine Carême. Some books mention Szeged, a Hungarian town, as the place where the form of the dessert (not the pastry itself) was invented.
This lovely dessert is known as krémes in Hungary; it’s made up of two thin layers of puff pastry and one layer of vanilla pastry cream. Opinions vary on the density of the pastry cream: there are those who prefer to add small quantity of flour or starch, others insist on that the cream has to be heavy and solid like concrete. In my family the winning consistency is soft, but not fluid, therefore I add a little more flour. Following the instructions of my great-grandmother’s recipe I add butter, too, to the pastry cream while it is hot, because butter makes the custard smooth and much tastier.
As regards the pastry, homemade always beats pre-packed, so if you have some free hours it’s worth making your own puff pastry. In this case you can be sure that your laminated dough will contain enough amount of butter. But, of course, in lack of time it’s not a devilish idea to use pre-made and frozen puff pastry, it will also serve the purpose.
- 500 g (~1 lb) frozen puff pastry
- 1 l (~4 cups) whole milk
- 10 eggs
- 10 tbsp flour
- 10 tbsp sugar
- seeds of a vanilla bean
- zest of one lemon
- 100 g (~3,5 oz) butter, cubed
Let the puff pastry thaw overnight in the fridge.
Divide the pastry into two equal parts and roll them out into 2 mm thin rectangles. Poke with a fork all over their top and place them onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Slide them into the oven preheated to 190°C / 374°F and bake for 25 minutes until golden brown.
Separate the eggs. Place the egg yolks in a sauce pan. Add vanilla seeds, lemon zest, flour and 8 tablespoons of sugar, and start to mix. Pour in the milk in small portions in order to avoid lumps and whisk until well combined. Over medium heat cook, while stirring constantly, until the custard thickens.
Add cubed butter to the hot custard immediately after you’ve removed it from the stove. Stir until butter melts completely and the custard’s consistency becomes homogeneous.
Beat the egg whites with 2 tablespoons of sugar until stiff peaks form. Gently incorporate the egg foam into the pastry cream with a scooping-and-folding motion. Set aside until custard becomes lukewarm.
Place a pastry layer on a tray, spread the custard on it evenly. Cut the other layer into 8×8 cm squares and place them on the top of the custard, close to each other. Chill the cake in the fridge for 3-4 hours before serving.