I have a thing I guess for reading pastry books in a slow, analytic way, savouring the possibilities, rolling imagery around behind my eyeballs, and organizing imaginary sensations. All too often, multi-dimensional pieces attach themselves neatly to other idea-pieces and I set the joinings aside in the Great Pile of soon-to-be-realized dessert-things-that-are. More often than not, when I bring them to breathing life, everything goes as planned. Sometimes there are facets that melt out of place, however, which is fine; it’s all a part of the logistics of pastry and I like learning experiences. In this case, my carefully layered spring strawberries and tart balsamic syrup with fresh lightened pastry cream and crispy buttery pastry layers all decided they would like mostly rather become a big shmeary delicious mess. Because I added too much cream, basically. But cream is delicious and I regret nothing. Notheeeeeeeng. Mmmmmmmm creamy. I know for next time.
This also marks my third and most successful attempt at laminated doughs (ie; flaky, flaky puff layers). This is a solid, solid, recipe for quick puff pastry from the master, Gaston Lenôtre. I was so happy with how easy and pliant the dough became, just needing a few fast rolls and folds and suddenly it was done and ready to bake. It’s best to use quick puff pastry the same day that you make it, but this is a tiny sacrifice for the ease of preparation. And honestly, the results are hard to distinguish from the full version.
So, with toasty browned rectangle flake-piece established, and the first of spring strawberries purchased from the solid wall of fruit that decorates the side of my local subway station, I was ready for some layering! Well, ok, I had to make a quick balsamic syrup with a dash of bitters what for the inky-black drizzling, and prep a piping bag and whisk up a wee batch of pastry cream, and cut little strawberries into assorted shapes. BUT, now! (now?) let’s get layering!!
Bloop. Slide and scoop. Melt a bit and give mama-pastry a heart attack why don’t you. It’s ok, it’s ok. Things slid only enough to look sumptuous and the motion of the dairy ceased long enough for me to take too many pictures of it’s blushing wine-red beauty, and the satisfaction of cleaving into the giant crispy-square was probably even greater for knowing how eager the contents were to spill lusciously out.
SO yeah, less cream next time. I adjusted the recipe for all y’all lovelies, if you decide to use it, or components of it (I do highly recommend the quick puff pastry).
Strawberry Balsamic Millefeuille
Quick Puff Pastry (for approx. 9 ounces / 250 grams dough)
- 1 cup, scant (125 grams) all purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons (50 grams) softened unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon (4 grams) salt
- 3 tablespoons (45 grams) water
- 3 tablespoons (50 grams) cold unsalted butter
Lightened Pastry Cream / Crème Légère
- 1 cup (250 grams) homogenized milk
- 1/4 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
- 3 egg yolks (60 grams)
- 1/3 cup (75 grams) sugar
- 2 tablespoons (20 grams) flour or cornstarch
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) heavy whipping cream
- 1 pound (454 grams) ripe strawberries
- 1/3 cup (83 grams) good quality Aceto balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons (36 grams) brown sugar
- a few grinds fresh black pepper (optional)
- dash Angostura bitters (optional)
For the quick puff pastry:
In a medium sized bowl, mix the flour and softened butter together with your hands until crumbly. Add the salt and water and knead just enough to form a smooth dough ball. Place the ball in a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour in the fridge. (fig. 1)
Place the cold butter between two sheets of plastic and bash it with a rolling pin to flatten it somewhat. (fig. 2)
On a floured surface, roll out the dough ball to a rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Place the flat butter pieces onto ⅔ of the dough, then fold it into thirds (like a letter) beginning with the third that is not covered in butter. (fig. 3)
Turn dough perpendicular (lengthwise away from you) and roll out to a rectangle slightly less than ½ inch thick this time. Fold it into fourths, like a book. (fig. 4)
Turn dough perpendicular to you once again, roll out and give it one more “book turn”. At this point it has been given 2 double turns. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour. (fig. 5)
After one hour, take dough out and give it two more “letter turns,” and chill if needed. (fig. 6)
When ready to bake, line a sheet pan with parchment or silicon. Roll the dough into a rectangle 8″ by 12″ (20 by 30 cm) and about 2mm thick. Fold the rectangle in two and leave for 1 hour (or overnight) in the fridge.
Preheat oven to 425℉.
Unfold the dough and place on baking sheet. Prick all over with a fork. Place a cooling rack flat side down onto the baking sheet in order to contain the “puff”. Bake for 20 minutes or until it is thoroughly browned and crispy.
For crème légère:
In a heavy saucepan, bring milk and vanilla to a boil. Whisk egg yolks with sugar together until they lighten and form a ribbon, then add the flour or cornstarch and whisk to blend.
Gradually pour the hot milk into the eggs while whisking, then pour everything back into the pot and bring back to a boil. Stir constantly with the whisk while it boils for 1 minute, then scrape the pastry cream into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Cool completely.
In a cold bowl, whisk the whipping cream to soft peaks and fold into the cold pastry cream to blend completely. Scrape into a prepared pastry bag fitted with a round tip.
For balsamic strawberries:
Clean the strawberries with a dry cloth and remove the stems and leaves. Select ½ of the most beautiful and uniform in size and slice them into thin slices about 2mm thick. Cut the rest into small cubes.
In a small saucepan, heat the balsamic vinegar and sugar together and reduce to a thick syrup about half the volume. Season to taste with pepper and bitters and let it cool. Pour the syrup over the cubed strawberries. Let them sit and absorb the flavour.
With a serrated knife, carefully cut the puff pastry into 6 or 12 pieces. Take the most beautiful pieces intended for the tops and dust them lightly with powdered sugar. Grill the pieces carefully under the broiler to melt the sugar and glaze the pastry. Let cool. (optionally, you can skip the sugar glaze and just dust them with powdered sugar).
Strain the strawberries well that are soaking in balsamic vinegar. Reserve the liquid for drizzling/decoration. Pipe cream around the edges of the bottom two pieces of each millefeuille. Spoon the balsamic berries into the centre of the cream and top with slices of fresh strawberry.
Drizzle with vinegar, stack up the slices, admire and eat.