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Tender sheets of pastry interspersed with creamy filling, and topped with a sweet glaze with just a hint of chocolate. Napoleons might very well be the stuff from which dreams are made. Anyone can make bakery-worthy Napoleons in their own kitchen. And if it is a “wow” reaction you crave when presenting your baked goods to the general public, trust me, these things do more than “wow.”
The nice thing about this recipe is that it can be as simple or as complex as you want. The number of layers, types of filling and the amount of filling can all be customized. Want to add a layer of jam, fruit, or chocolate with the cream? What about a yummy layer of bananas next to the cream? Want to just use sweetened whipped cream as the filling, or just pudding? It is totally up to you! However they are made, they are sure to be both delicious and impressive!
I have listed hints and tips below the directions, or just visit the “Related Link” for this post and to see some picture tutorials.
Directions For Pastry:
1. Defrost puff pastry according to package directions and pre-heat oven to 400F.
2. Cut each strip of puff pastry into 3 pieces, and pierce with a fork.
3. Place pieces of pastry on parchment lined cookie sheet, place another sheet of parchment on top, and top with second cookie sheet. Make sure your top cookie sheet can nest inside the bottom cookie sheet, the point is to keep the puff pastry flat. Bake for 15-20 minutes on center rack. Watch bottoms so they don’t over-brown.
4. Cool pastry pieces on wire rack until completely cool. Then place in groups of 3, and split each piece in half. You’ll make 2 napoleons from the resulting 6 halves. Repeat for all pieces.
5. For all designated top pieces, combine confectioner’s sugar and water, and brush or pipe the glaze onto the tops.
6. Stripe melted chocolate across the tops and make a pattern on tops with a toothpick dragged perpendicularly across the chocolate lines in alternating directions. Let tops dry.
Directions For Filling and Assembly:
1. Beat softened cream cheese and condensed milk together until fluffy and well combined. Fold in Cool Whip. Set aside.
2. In separate (large) bowl, whip the pudding mix, heavy cream and milk until stiff peaks form.
3. Fold cream cheese mixture into pudding mixture and fold until well combined.
4. Starting from the bottom pastry, pipe filling into Napoleon, press middle pastry gently into the bottom layer of cream, and repeat for the top layer.
5. If desired, wrap wax paper around the outside of the Napoleon for storage
6. Store in the fridge.
HINTS AND TIPS:
What makes this post a particularly easy one is that the most labor intensive part, the puff pastry, is already done. Pepperidge Farm sells a wonderful frozen puff pastry that is relatively easy to work with, all you have to do is let it defrost at room temperature for about forty minutes. Then, you can gently unfold the pastry. When you do so, you will have 3 long strips of dough that are mostly separated. For the Napoleons, I generally cut each of these strips into 3 smaller pieces, yielding 9 pieces per package, and 18 per box since there are two packs of dough per box. I made 2 boxes worth of puff pastry since I was bringing this into an office party, but you can always halve the recipe and make only one box, depending on what you want them for. You can also cut each strip into only 2 pieces, which I have done in the past…but then the Napoleons will be HUGE. I’ve learned from experience that no one will take them when they are that huge, everyone tries to cut them in half and makes a general mess of things. So, my advice is to go ahead and use 3rds, because it will save a lot of grief in the long run.
After you have cooked them and once the pastries are completely cooled, I always match and stack them. Choose 3 pieces of roughly equal size, and stack them together, and repeat until all of the pieces are grouped by 3’s. If you split the pieces as per the directions below, each stack of 3 pieces will represent 2 napoleons by the time you are done, and will ensure that the layers are all roughly the same size.
Now that you have your stacks ready to go, you can start splitting each piece in half to get 2 thinner layers. Each stack will yield 6 halves (3 bottoms, 3 tops), which you can group into 2 3-layer Napoleons. Repeat this for all the pieces, and have the Napoleon groups ready to go. Occasionally, the centers will have softer flakes that stick to the knife, like the innards of pate a choux if anyone has made cream puffs before. You can tear out that soft stuff if you want, instead of leaving it dangling in an unsightly way. Remember, the splitting step itself is fungible, and you can adjust it according to your needs. If you want to use thicker pastry, don’t split your pieces, and have each stack of 3 become 1 Napoleon (I’d still use a bottom as a top layer to frost, however).
At the bare minimum, each Napoleon will have a top and bottom layer of pastry. To frost the tops, you make a quick confectioner’s sugar glaze, and pipe or brush it onto the tops. Before it hardens, stripe melted chocolate in thin lines across the top, and drag a toothpick perpendicularly across the lines in alternating directions to create the distinctive pattern found on the tops of napoleons. You can make your own disposable piping bag for the chocolate (or the glaze for that matter) with a Ziplock bag. If you are doing this for the chocolate, snip off a teeny tiny part of the corner (I mean miniscule!) and you can squeeze out the chocolate in stripes from this, and then just throw the bag away when you are done. These tops can harden while you make your filling.
Now, not gonna lie, this recipe is not difficult at all, but it can take a few hours depending on how many Napoleons you are making. So, if you want, you can stop after the puff pastry is baked and the tops are frosted and store all the pieces (once the tops are dry) covered at room temperature until the next day. If you have a carry along case meant for a rectangular cake, that is ideal since you can leave the pastry stacked into layers.
When I make these, I make the full recipe for the filling, but even if you were short on time and just made the pudding part to fill them, they will still be delicious. I promise. The filling has two parts. The first consists of beating cream cheese and condensed milk until well combined, and then folding in either freshly whipped cream or Cool Whip. Do yourself a favor and have a little taste of the cream cheese/condensed milk mixture before you add whipped cream. Isn’t that tasty? It would make a great base for a fruit tart. Just sayin’. The second part is making 2 boxes of French Vanilla pudding with cream and milk, and whipping until stiff. Make the pudding in the biggest bowl you have, because then you fold the cream cheese mixture into the pudding mixture. I was burned once, and I couldn’t fit all of my cream cheese mixture in the bowl with the pudding. It wasn’t a tragedy, they still tasted great. But forewarned is forearmed, so if you have a big bowl, now’s the time to bust it out.
Once everything is combined to your satisfaction, you can fill and layer. I generally do this on a piece of wax paper on the table, since it is easier to slide the Napoleons off the table than trying to pick them up from the sides. I like piping the filling because I have more control, and you can do the same, with or without a tip. I used my 1M tip because I wanted the filling to look semi-fancy, but that isn’t necessary. You can also just use a Ziplock bag with maybe a half-inch wide snip off the corner. You start building the Napoleons bottom-up, pressing each pastry layer gently down into the cream as you go. Once you have one assembled, I usually take a strip of wax paper, and wrap it around the outside. Wax paper has a natural curvature because it was stored as a roll, and it is much easier to bend the paper in the direction of this roll as opposed to against it. The wax paper should adhere to the filling as you wrap it around, and then you can slide the Napoleon off the table and gently put it into whatever container you are storing them in. The wax paper also really allows you to pack them into the container, because you don’t have to worry about keeping them separated. Store them in the fridge and enjoy at your leisure.
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