Back to Europe. One of our favorite visits during our recent Mediterranean cruise was a beautiful little city just north of Marseilles. Aix-en-Provence is about the same size as Santa Fe but a lot older. We think that Santa Fe is old and it is for the USA, going back to 1510. But Aix-en-Provence dates back at least to 300 BCE and was a Roman outpost in 150 BCE. The main part of the “old” town, though, dates to the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while the “new” city is filled with modern buildings and young students from the several universities and colleges located there.
We spent a too-short-day strolling up the Cours Mirabeau from the elegant fountain set in the center of la Rotonde to the statue of the “Good King” René at the head of the street before turning into narrow streets lined with beautiful old houses and interesting shops. The Cours Mirabeau is a narrow street set between two wide sidewalks under palisades of towering plane trees. Moss-covered fountains sit in roundabouts in the narrow street. Banks line one side of the boulevard, and there are several cafés on the other side. The cafés include the Deux Garçons famous for hosting Cézanne, Zola, and other famous artists and writers.
Instead of stopping in one of those cafés, we chose to continue our stroll through the old town. One of our stops was a farmers’ market in the place de l’Hotel de Ville. There were rows and rows of stalls filled with fresh fish and shellfish, meats, sausages, eggs, vegetables of all sorts, jellies, soaps, and even a smiling bronze boar peeking from behind a refrigerator truck. The market stood under the shadow of a sixteenth century clock tower and flags of the European Union, France, and Provence.
Enticed by a windowful of elegant pastries, we took a break at La Boutique du Glacier with tea and coffee and pastries including a delicious napoleon.
We walked past the carousel before boarding our tour bus to end a most enjoyable day that we would like someday to repeat.
Inspired by our visit to Aix, this is an effort to make a simple napoleon with absolutely no pretenses of duplicating the wonderful pastry we enjoyed in France.
First task is to make the pastry cream. This is a cousin to the three sibling creams I wrote about a while back: creme anglaise, creme brulee, and crema catalana. The main difference with this cousin is the addition of flour which enables you to boil the sauce without worrying about scrambling the egg yolks. It is actually fairly easy to make..
Puff pastry is beyond most home cooks – at least this one – so frozen sheets of pastry become the ticket to making an easy, quick, but tasty “home-made” napoleon.
- ¼ cup sour cream
- ¾ cup milk
- ¼ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- In a medium, heavy saucepan, heat the milk just to boiling
- In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, flour, and salt. Then pour in the heated milk gradually, stirring to eliminate lumps. Then return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a gentle boil, stirring continually until the mixture is thickened and smooth.
- Remove from the heat and cool just slightly before beating in the egg yolks. Stir constantly while returning to a boil. The eggs will not curdle with the added flour.
- Cook for about 1 minute. Then remove from the heat and, beating constantly, let it cool for about another minute before adding the vanilla and butter.
- Continue to beat until the butter is completely melted and incorporated into the sauce.
- Transfer the sauce to a small bowl. Cover with plastic film directly on top of the sauce to prevent the formation of a skin, and cool in the refrigerator for an hour or mor
- 1 sheet commercial frozen puff pastry
- 1 batch creme patissiere
- 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons confectioner’s sugar
- Remove one sheet of frozen puff pastry from the package and thaw according to package instructions
- Place the thawed pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface and roll very lightly with a rolling-pin to smooth the folds in the pastry.
- With a sharp knife, cut the sheet in half and then each half into 6 equally-sized bar shapes.
- Transfer the shaped pastries onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned
- Cool the baked pastries on a rack. Then split each in half so that you have 24 individual layers
- Spread pastry cream between layers, stacking them so that each pastry has four layers. You will probably need to flatten the top of the bottom pastry by slicing a thin layer off the top with a very sharp knife.
- Brush the tops of the assembled pastries with milk and then sprinkle with a mixture of the cocoa and confectioner’s sugar using a tea strainer.
Makes six napoleons