Mille feuille is a French pastry that features prominently in patisseries around the world. Well, not prominently enough for me because I have often overlooked it for something else, like a croissant or a canelé (more on these later). Luckily we are all able to learn from our mistakes.
Traditionally, the mille feuille is made up of three layers of rich, flaky puff pastry with pastry cream sandwiched between two layers. A glaze can be added to the top layer. It's a beautiful creation that is almost too alluring to eat. Just kidding: that won't stop me. But as the trend is with pastry, the mille feuille is infinitely adaptable. Flavour your pastry cream any whichway. To glaze or not to glaze? Decoration is up to you. Go bold or stay true to classic designs.
Puff pastry, by the sounds of the name alone, is supposed to puff up. For the purposes of this recipe, we want to prevent too much of that puff, and we take some drastic measures to do so. The result is a flat, crisp, and buttery pastry with flaky layers.
Full puff versus rough puff
Dough lamination, the process of folding butter into dough, is a long and drawn out process (for good reason). Patience is required. But you may have heard of rough puff pastry, a devilish cheat that bakers around the world bow down to. The rough puff method foregoes the butter block completely. Butter is instead incorporated right into the dough, at a cold temperature, and the dough is folded only twice. Instead of the hours it takes to make a full puff, you can make a rough puff pastry in under an hour.
Surely there's a catch. Surely the full puff yields a better pastry. Generally, rough puff pastry will be almost or even just as good as if you were to go full puff. And so, if you are pressed for time, if you'd like to take the easy and quick way out, rough puff is the way to go.
I do get a lot of satisfaction from the slow process of making a full puff pastry. It's an excellent way to practice dough lamination. So for the purpose of this recipe, I've included the full puff pastry instructions. If you'd like to try out the rough puff instead, check out my post here.
You'll notice this recipe can take up to 3 days! What an adventure! There's a purpose to it all, promise. If you don't have the time though, there are various points throughout the recipe where you can duck out. You can take two days instead of three. Or just make it all in one. Or just make a rough puff.
I've included a vanilla mousseline recipe below. It is also easily adaptable. If you're looking to change the flavour, leave out the vanilla and add 1 teaspoon of spices or zest. For liquid flavouring, reduce the whole milk by 30ml and substitute in 30ml of another liquid, like espresso.
Getting it right
A couple of important tips so that this goes smoothly (based on my previous failure): make sure to roll the dough out quite thin before the bake. If not, you'll lose the crispness that you're supposed to get when cutting into (and eating) the mille feuille. But, the pastry also needs to be thick enough that it doesn't crack when you're cutting it into rectangles for the layers. A fine balance.
Presentation-wise, pipe the mousseline if you can because you will be able to see it from the sides of the pastry. Piping will give the mile feuille a more elegant look!
We're back to laminating dough. This puff pastry recipe involves six book folds rather than the typical three or four. We do this to achieve a higher density of layers in the pastry. My dough lamination guide can also help you figure out this recipe, but you won't be making a détrempe in the usual way for puff pastry. Start at the beurrage step of the guide for help.
Adapted from Jacquy Pfeiffer's The Art of French Pastry
Total active time: 2 hours
Total time before mass consumption: this recipe can take as little as 1 day or as long as 3 days - it's up to you
Servings: 6 mille feuilles
Full puff pastry or rough puff pastry here
3g white vinegar
180ml water, cold
10g sea salt
400g all-purpose flour
60g salted butter, room temperature
340g salted butter, room temperature
icing sugar, as needed
450ml whole milk
132g granulated sugar
2 vanilla beans
12g all-purpose flour
108g egg yolks
146g salted butter, room temperature
125g icing sugar
13g light corn syrup
28g salted butter
45ml whole milk
6g cocoa powder
Tools & equipment
Full puff pastry
In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, water, and salt.
On a large workspace, spread out the flour into a wide circle with a trough in the centre that measures 14 to 16 inches in diameter. You're basically making a giant hole surrounded by a barricade of flour. You don't want there to be any gaps in the flour "walls" so that when liquid is poured into the well, it doesn't seep out.
Ensure that the 60g of butter is on the warmer side of room temperature, that is, very soft, and add that to the trough. Then slowly pour in your vinegar and water mixture.
Using one hand only, circle your fingertips around the well, gradually incorporating small amounts of flour at a time. The goal is to incorporate the flour together with the other ingredients without kneading the dough. Kneading the dough will develop the gluten strands in the flour. Puff pastry needs to be flaky and delicate, and developing gluten strands would inhibit this result! Hence the giant crater approach.
Once you've incorporated all the flour into the mix, your dough will look shaggy but not dry. And it shouldn't be sticky. If you think your dough is too wet or too dry, do not fret! If too dry, add one tablespoon of cold water at a time until there are no more bits of dry flour hanging about. If too wet, add small amounts of flour until the dough is no longer sticky.
Without kneading, shape the dough into a ball. With a knife, cut a 3/4 inch deep X into the top of the dough (to slow that gluten down), and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour.
Start preparing the butter block about 15 minutes before your dough is ready.
Place the softened butter between two sheets of parchment paper and roll it out to a 7 1/4 x 9 inch rectangle.
Place the butter in the fridge to chill for 5-10 minutes, until solidified slightly. All fridges are different. Your butter may need more or less time to cool down. The purpose of refrigerating the butter here is to solidify it slightly in order to prep it to be rolled in the dough.
Dust your work surface with all-purpose flour. Remove the dough from the fridge and place on floured surface. Gently pat the dough down with your rolling pin to flatten it. Roll it out to an 18 x 7 1/2 inch rectangle and have the long end of the dough facing you.
Before placing the butter block onto the dough, gently scrape both sides of the butter in the parchment against the side of your counter. We want to make it pliable so that the butter doesn't break up in the dough.
Once you have determined that your butter is ready for it, place the butter block in the middle of the dough with its short end facing you. The butter block should extend right to the edges of the dough. Fold both sides of the dough over the butter so that the short sides of the dough ends meet in the middle and completely cover the butter. Gently pat the seam closed with the rolling pin.
This part is tricky! Roll the dough out to a 18 x 7 1/2 rectangle. Again, we don't want the butter to shatter in the dough. It should spread out nicely in between the dough layers. Making sure your dough doesn't stick to the counter periodically (keep that work surfaced floured), roll your dough out gently and evenly. Try not to press down too hard. Roll in one direction and if you see or feel the butter breaking apart, put the dough in the fridge to chill for 10 minutes. Then try again.
With the short end of the dough facing you, fold the bottom third up over the middle and the top third down over the bottom fold. You have your first few layers: three layers of dough and three layers of butter. This is your first book fold. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes (and as long as the butter is cold), roll the dough out again to a 18 x 7 1/2 rectangle. In order to have consistent layering, the key to these folds is to make sure that the book opening is facing the same direction every time you do a turn (you’re rotating the dough 90 degrees after each turn). Fold the bottom third of the dough up over the middle and the top third down over the bottom fold. This is your second fold.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
After the 30 minutes, repeat the book folds two more times, rotating by 90 degrees after each one.
On day 2, make two more folds in the dough with 30 minutes of rest in the fridge in between. For this recipe, you'll only need half of the puff pastry. It freezes extremely well, so cut the dough now parallel to the short open ends.
Wrap one half of the dough in plastic wrap and freeze for future use.
If you made a rough puff pastry, jump in here! You'll use the full amount of your rough puff (~700g) or half of the full puff for the next steps.
Prepare a baking tray with parchment paper and roll your dough out to a 12 x 17 inch rectangle. The dough will be quite thin and these measurements may seem impossible, but you can get it there! Refrigerate periodically if the dough gets too warm.
Place your dough rectangle on the prepared baking tray and using a fork, pierce the dough every 3/4 inch.
Put the tray, uncovered, in the fridge to dry out for 2 hours or overnight.
Mousseline (make on any day)
Line a shallow glass dish or baking tray with plastic wrap.
In a bowl, mix together the cornstarch, flour, and 66g sugar. Whisk in the egg yolks and 144g whole milk.
In a pot, combine the remaining 306g milk and 66g sugar.
Slice open the vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds using the back of a knife. Add the seeds and pods to the milk mixture.
Bring the milk to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
When boiling, remove from heat and remove the vanilla bean pods. Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg and flour mix, whisking constantly.
Strain the mixture using a sieve and return to the pot. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. It will take about 1-2 minutes for the mixture to begin to thicken.
Once it begins to thicken, remove from heat and whisk constantly for 30 seconds until thick and uniform.
Return one final time to medium heat and whisk for one minute to cook out the starch (we do this so you won't taste it in the mousseline).
Using a spatula, put the pastry cream into your prepared dish. You've made pastry cream hurrah! Freeze for 15 minutes.
Remove from freezer and place the pastry cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high speed for 1 minute.
Add your room temperature butter and whisk until smooth. If your pastry cream and butter are not at the right temperature, you'll notice that the pastry cream becomes grainy. If this happens, fill a large bowl with very warm water and place your stand mixer bowl in the water for 2-3 minutes to warm up the pastry cream. Resume whisking until smooth. Refrigerate for at least an hour before using. Congrats! You've made mousseline. It should have a creamy consistency and hold its shape when piped. It might be quite firm after being in the fridge, so let it warm up slightly before piping.
Day 3 - bake!
Preheat your oven to 400ºF and prepare by having a piece of parchment paper large enough to be placed on top of your dough as well as a baking tray to go on top of that.
Remove your puff pastry dough from the fridge. If the dough edges are uneven, leave them be until after the bake.
Bake for 10 minutes. When the pastry has started to puff and is about 1/3 inch thick, place your parchment then baking tray on top of the pastry. This will prevent the pastry from puffing up further. We want to keep it relatively flat and even, and this will help with that!
Continue baking for a further 10 minutes with the baking tray on top of the puff.
Remove the baking tray and parchment and reduce the oven temperature to 300ºF. Bake for another 35-40 minutes, until the pastry is a nice golden brown.
Remove the puff pastry from the oven. Turn on the broiler. Generously sprinkle the top of your pastry with icing sugar. Return the pastry to the oven, this time about 3 inches from the broiler. We did not come this far for you to burn your puff - so watch it carefully! We are caramelizing the pastry here to create a barrier between the mousseline and the pastry, preventing the pastry from getting soggy. My pastry caramelized within 30 seconds, but for some, it might take a little longer. You're looking for a very very slight change in colour. The pastry will darken only slightly, but we don't want it to burn. If it starts to burn in one spot, remove from the oven.
Cool completely on a wire rack.
Once cool, even out the edges of the pastry with a knife. Then cut out 18 2 x 3 inch rectangles. You’ll use three rectangles per mille feuille.
Mille feuille assembly
Remove the mousseline from the fridge and put into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch round nozzle. Make sure the mousseline isn't too stiff. If it is, leave on the counter for 30 minutes to warm it up.
Place one of the puff pastry rectangles onto a plate with the caramelized side facing up. Pipe three rows of five round mousseline balls.
Top with another puff pastry rectangle with the caramelized side facing up or down (doesn't matter for this middle layer) and pipe the same three rows of five mousseline balls onto the top of this second layer.
Finally, place a third rectangle on top of the cream, caramelized side face down. Repeat steps 1-4 for all mille feuilles.
Icing (optional but fancy)
Whisk together the icing sugar, milk, butter, and corn syrup, making sure to remove all lumps. Add more icing sugar if the glaze seems to be too liquidy. It will need to be both stiff enough not to run off the mille feuille but liquid enough to be spread evenly on the pastry, since the puff is quite delicate.
Spread some of the glaze on the top layer of each mille feuille, wiping off any drips.
Immediately, add the cocoa powder to the remaining icing and mix until incorporated.
Add the cocoa glaze to a piping bag and pipe the icing across the pastry using a small round piping tip.
Using a toothpick, drag the cocoa icing down, creating the classic mille feuille pattern. Adapt your decoration here as you like.
Allow the glaze to dry for 30 minutes.
Don't want a glaze? Sprinkle some icing sugar onto the tops of your mille feuilles.
Using a serrated knife, cut into the mille feuille. If you can do this without making a giant mess, I’d love to hear from you! If you prefer, forgo the knife and eat it whole.
Mille feuille is best eaten the day it is baked. Puff pastry dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to two months. Baked puff pastry can be stored in a ziplock bag at room temperature for 3-4 days.