"Mille feuille is hands-down my favourite French pastry. Even in the most beautiful patisseries in Paris, filled with complex arrays of decadent cakes, I only had eyes for mille feuille! It’s beauty lies in the classic principle of simple flavours and textures executed perfectly - well caramelised puff pastry that’s such a deep golden it’s almost burnt, sandwiched with oozy, silky vanilla custard. This is a chocolate version I sometimes make for my market stall. If you’ve always been too shy to make puff from scratch, try my rough puff. It requires a fraction of the skill level and time to make traditional puff." Poh Ling Yeow, Poh & Co.
Chocolate crème patissiere
- 500 ml (2 cups) full cream milk
- 5 egg yolks
- 100 g caster sugar
- 50 g cornflour
- 150 g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped
- 250 g (1⅔ cups) plain flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 250 g unsalted butter, sliced 1 cm, slightly softened (see Note)
- 125 ml (½ cup) chilled water
- 250 ml (1 cup) thickened cream
- 25 g icing sugar
- 1 tsp natural vanilla extract
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Chilling time 5 hours
To make the crème patissiere, bring the milk to the boil in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, place the egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat with a hand-held whisk until thick and pale. Add the cornflour to the egg mixture and whisk until smooth. Whisking continuously, slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture and whisk until well combined. Return the mixture to the pan and place over medium heat. Whisking continuously (and like there’s no tomorrow!), bring to the boil and cook for 3-4 minutes or until thick and smooth and the flour tastes cooked. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and whisk until smooth. Transfer the custard to a bowl, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin forming, then refrigerate for 3-4 hours or until completely cooled.
Meanwhile, to make the rough puff, combine the flour and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Break chunks of butter into the flour and rub briefly leaving most of the chunks intact, then add the water. Using a circular motion, gently gather the mixture into a rough mass. It’s a good sign if some parts are quite crumbly. Shape the dough into a rough square, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Light dust a work surface with flour, then roll out the pastry in one direction into a rectangle 3 times longer than it is wide (roughly 39 cm x 13 cm). The pastry should look a bit of a crumbly mess and marbled at the beginning but it will sort itself out as you roll it out more times. Fold one end into the middle, then fold the other end of the top. Rotate the pastry so the layered seams are facing you. Repeat this rolling process another 3 times. It’s important to note that if at any time during the rolling or ‘laminating’ process you find your pastry is getting very limp, immediately cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes. It is important that you don’t let the butter get too soft or it will be absorbed more easily by the dough and after all your hard work, the layers won’t separate well when baking. After completing the rolling, wrap the pastry again and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.
To bake the puff, pre-heat a fan-forced oven to 190ºC. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface into a 4 mm-thick rectangle. Carefully place on a large baking paper-lined baking tray. If the pastry is too large for you baking tray, just cut it in half and place on 2 trays. Place another sheet of baking paper on top of the puff and weigh down with another baking tray so that it sits flat on top of the pastry. Place a heavy object such as a casserole pot on top of that - this it to prevent the pastry from rising so you get super thin crisp layers. Bake for about 12 minutes, then reduce heat to 180ºC and bake for another 20 minutes or until a deep golden brown. Do check it every 7 minutes if you are unsure as all ovens vary significantly.
When the puff is cooked, using a large sharp knife, cut the pastry into 4 cm x 8 cm rectangles. It’s important to cut using a sliding action from one end of the sheet to the other (rather than a pressing down action as this will cause the sheet to shatter and create chunks to fall off the edges). You need 3 pieces of pastry per milly filly.
To make the crème Chantilly, whisk all the ingredients together just until stiff peaks form. Be wary of over whipping as the cream will split. Transfer cream to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and refrigerate until required.
To assemble the milly filly, whisk the crème pastissiere with a hand held whisk until smooth, then spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1 cm nozzle. Pipe dollops of crème pastisserie to cover the surface of one piece of puff pastry. Gently press another piece of puff pastry on top, then pipe on another layer of crème patissiere. Press the final piece of puff on top, then pipe a squiggle of crème Chantilly on top. Repeat with the remaining pastry, custard and cream. It’s important to assemble these just before serving so the pastry maintains its trademark crunch.
• The trick to a successful rough puff is to handle your pastry minimally and work quickly. Watch out for the desired marbled effect, if it’s not noticeable, you might have over-handled the dough and inadvertently made shortcrust pastry via the scenic route – been there, done that! Don’t fret, you’ll just have a different but equally delicious outcome. Rough puff pastry can be made ahead of time and frozen.
• The butter for the rough puff pastry should be easily broken by hand but still firmish and definitely not soft.
• When making the chocolate crème patissiere, if you find your particular brand of chocolate is not chocolatey or dark enough, you can add a couple of teaspoons of Dutch process cocoa after whisking the chocolate in.
• If you prefer vanilla crème patissiere as I do, use the same method as the chocolate flavoured one but omit the chocolate and whisk in 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste and 40 g of cold, chopped unsalted butter instead. Crème patissiere can be refrigerated for about 1 week.