“A thousand leaves.” That’s the literal translation of mille-feuille (pronounced mēl-fwē). Named for the many “leaves” formed by the puff pastry that makes up at least three layers of this delicate dessert, mille-feuilles have been around since at least mid-17th century, when François Pierre de la Varenne published what is considered the first recipe for this classic pastry in his 1651 cookbook, Le Cuisinier François. About a hundred years later, it was popularized by none other than Marie-Antoine Carême, the original celebrity chef.
Traditionally, mille-feuilles are constructed with three layers of thin, flaky pastry alternating with pastry cream or whipped cream and, sometimes, fruit. They are often topped with a thin layer of icing or fondant, but sometimes they are simply dusted with powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Early recipes for mille-feuilles are said to be precursors to our more modern layer cakes and were often stuffed with jam or marmalade.
While its elements seem relatively simple, the mille-feuille is greater than the sum of its parts. The beauty of a mille-feuille is in the perfection of each layer, from the crispy, flaky pastry to the silky smooth cream. And it can take years to master the art of perfect puff pastry.
For these mille-feuilles, the bakers in the Great White Tent were tasked with recreating Paul Hollywood’s recipe — with very little instruction. His is a fairly straightforward version — puff pastry rectangles sandwiching raspberry jam, fresh raspberries and Chantilly cream, topped with striped fondant.
Paul’s mille-feuille recipe uses his own version of rough puff pastry, which he calls “cheat’s rough puff.” I have made his version once before, for my cream horns. I wasn’t very happy with the results that time, and I admit I was less than satisfied this time, too. I just don’t feel you get the distinctive layers that a full puff pastry provides. The last time I made mille-feuilles (which was also my first time), I used full puff pastry, and they turned out much flakier.
Nonetheless, I followed the same recipe the GBBO bakers did, which calls for making a simple dough with flour, salt, butter and water. That is rolled out into a rectangle, and then frozen grated butter is spread over the bottom two-thirds of the rectangle. The top third is folded down, and the bottom third is folded up, like a business letter. This is rolled out again; more grated butter is applied; and the dough is folded a second time. After chilling, the folded dough is divided into thirds, and each piece is rolled out into a 9-by-12-inch rectangle about a quarter inch thick.
These large rectangles are placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerated for 10-15 minutes. Then they are sprinkled with powdered sugar, topped with another sheet of parchment and another baking sheet (to keep the dough from rising too high) and baked until golden and crisp. After they are cool, each piece must be cut into six 2-by-5-inch rectangles, resulting in 18 identical portions.
For the fondant topping, Paul’s recipe specifies that pink fondant should be rolled out and cut into strips, then laid atop white fondant and rolled together to form candy stripes. These must also be cut into 2-by-5-inch rectangles to fit on top of the mille-feuilles.
Once you’ve made the raspberry jam, the cream and the sugar syrup (which is used to adhere the fondant to the pastry), and your fondant is rolled and cut, it’s time to assemble the mille-feuilles:
- Start by spreading a thin layer of jam onto 12 of the pastry rectangles.
- Arrange five raspberries on each of these pieces, staggering them so they will support the layer above it.
- Pipe Chantilly cream in between the berries, then stack two of these berries-and-cream layers together.
- On each of the remaining six rectangles, brush the sugar syrup onto the surface and place a rectangle of striped fondant on top.
- These are then placed (carefully!) atop the other two layers, creating three layers of pastry with berries and cream in between and the pink-and-white striped fondant on top.
You can’t go wrong with flaky pastry, berries, and fresh, sweetened cream! While the mille-feuille may be difficult to eat delicately, it is worth the embarrassment of trying to cut it with a fork only to have the whole thing collapse on your plate like a house of cards. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you eat it as a deconstructed mess or give up on decorum altogether and pick it up with your fingers — your tastebuds, and your tummy, will thank you!
You can find Paul’s original recipe here, but I have adapted it for American bakers below.
Paul Hollywood’s Raspberry Mille-Feuille
Adapted for American bakers
For the rough puff pastry:
For the raspberry jam:
For the icing:
For the sugar syrup:
For the Chantilly cream:
- To make the pastry, mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Rub in the chilled butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Gradually add just enough water to form a dough. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out into a large rectangle.
- Spread half of the grated butter over the bottom two-thirds of the dough. Fold down the top third over the butter and fold up the bottom third, as if folding a letter.
- Rotate the folded dough 90 degrees and roll it out into a large rectangle again. Add the remaining frozen butter as before. Fold the dough in thirds, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.
- To make the jam, place the raspberries in a small pan with the sugar and pectin, and cook over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil and boil vigorously for 4 minutes or until the temperature on an instant-read thermometer reaches 225°F (setting point). Remove pan from the heat and stir in the butter. Transfer to a large bowl and leave to cool and set.
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the pastry into three equal pieces and roll each piece into a 9-by-12-inch rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Place each rectangle of pastry on one lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.
- Remove pastry from refrigerator and dust heavily with powdered sugar. Cover each piece of pastry with a sheet of parchment paper and place another baking sheet on top. Bake the pastry for 10-15 minutes or until golden-brown and crisp, rotating the baking sheets halfway through to promote even browning. Set aside to cool.
- To make the icing, roll the white fondant into a 6-by-8-inch rectangle. Roll the pink fondant into a 4-by-6-inch rectangle. Cut the pink fondant into 10, 1/2-inch strips, about 6 inches long. Lay the pink strips, evenly spaced, on top of the white fondant and roll over them with a rolling pin to fix the stripes in place. Cut the striped fondant into six rectangles, each measuring 2 inches by 5 inches, with the stripes all facing the same way, so that the tops of the mille-feuilles are matching. Set aside.
- To make the sugar syrup, bring sugar and water to a boil in a small pan and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
- When the pastry has cooled, cut six, 2-by-5-inch rectangles of pastry from each sheet of baked rough puff, so you have 18 identical rectangles.
- To make the Chantilly cream, whip the cream, powdered sugar and vanilla to soft peak stage. Transfer to a piping bag with a small round tip.
- To assemble the mille-feuilles, spread a thin layer of jam over 12 of the pastry rectangles. Place five raspberries on each of these pieces, alternating (three berries on one side, two on the other) so they will support another layer of pastry. Pipe small rosettes of cream in between the berries.
- Place one of these berries-and-cream layers on top of another so you have six, two-layer pastries.
- For each of the remaining six pastry pieces, brush some of the sugar syrup onto the surface and place a piece of the striped fondant on top. Then place one of these on top of each of the raspberry-and-cream layers, and brush with more sugar syrup to glaze. (Alternatively, sprinkle with powdered sugar.) Refrigerate until ready to serve. Best served within 24 hours.