After the excesses of Christmas feasting the Atelier ‘Fait Vous le Même’ appeared to be hibernating through January. This week it reopened with a invitation to create the ancient French patisserie ‘Mille Feuille’.
With great anticipation I arrived, true to style rather early, which necessitated another walk around the Quartier St Marc; an experience not diminished through frequency! This time I turned off the main streets and pushed my nose up against the windows of various antique shops and mused over old distressed chairs and gilt mirrors in a nearby ‘brocante’.
The origin of the Mille Feuille is unknown. It is however referred to in 1651 in ‘The Cusinier François. It was later improved by Marie-Antoine Carème, known as the “King of Chefs, and the Chef of Kings” who was an early practitioner and exponent of the elaborate style of cooking known as haute cuisine the “high art” of French cooking: a grandiose style of cookery favored by both international royalty and by the newly rich of Paris. Carême is often considered as one of the first internationally renowned celebrity chefs. She herself referred to the Mille Feuille as of ‘ancient origin’.
Traditionally the Mille Feuille is a patisserie formed from three layers of ‘Pâte Feuilleté (puff pastry) separated by a thick Crème Anglaise and dusted lightly with sucre glacé (icing sugar). Latterly it has been sweetened with a layer of icing often feathered through with a chocolate pattern.
We begin the class by learning a little about the Pâte Feuilleté, and I wonder if this will be a repeat of the class on Croissants, and prepare myself to be disappointed about learning nothing new. Arnaud of course has other ideas!
First he slices some pâte feuilleté in half and points to the cross-section where faint stripes can be seen in its consistancy. These he explains are the layers of pâte and butter, essential for excellent raising qualities. The pâte will ultimately be made of 6 tours of three layers. The pâte for Mille Feuille is not the same as the pâte for Croissants. It contains neither yeast nor sugar. The Mille Feuille rises grace to its layers of butter and pâte and keeping the détrempe cold and not overworked is essential. Once butter starts to warm it is absorbed into the pâte, and once absorbed it will not rise.
Arnaud shows us how to correctly roll the pâte. A small downward push and roll being infinitely preferable to a forward push whilst rolling. There are three methods for making Pâte Feuilleté; Simple, Rapide and Inversé. We have already used the Simple method in the preparation of Croissants. The Rapid method involving small knobs of butter dotted over the pâte gives vastly inferior results. Today we learn the Inverse method.
The Inverse method is the opposite to the Simple method. Rather than placing butter on the pâte détrempe, we place the pâte détrempe on the butter, which has been altered to a Beurre Marnie.
First we proceed to make the Pâte. We pour our flour onto the marble worktop and add the butter and salt. Adding half the quantity of water we begin to incorporate the two, gradually adding the remaining water, all the time remembering to keep the mixture cool. We kneed the mixture until smooth, supple and elastic.
We then begin to make the Beurre Marnie. We pour the flour onto the work table and add the butter. We incorporate the flour into the butter until an even consistancy, again remembering to keep the butter cool. If either the Pâte or Beurre marnie feel tepid we refrigerate for five minutes.
Bearing in mind that the finished width of the “pâton” (prepared but yet unused pâte feuilleté) is 15cm we form the beurre marnie into a basic rectangle by knocking it into shape on the worktop. We then repeat the process with the détrempe. We are ready to make the Pâte feuilleté!
First we place the Beurre marnie on a lightly floured worktop. We roll out the beurre marnie so that it is one third longer than the détrempe.
We place the Pâte Détrempe onto the Beurre Marnie and then fold the free part of the Beurre Marnie over the détrempe and fold again. The first ‘Tour Simple’ is complete.
We pivot the “pâton” by 90° leaving the open side to the right. (Commencing the push down and roll technique at the open edges of the pastry to effectively partially seal and prevent the détrampe from squeezing out under pressure) We roll out our pâton until it achieves the width of 15cm by a length of 3 times our desired finished Mille Feuille size of 20cm. Therefore a length of 60cm. We then make a ‘Tour Double’ turning both ends to the centre and folding in half.
We ensure the pâton is still cold or refrigerate for 5 minutes. Once again, we turn the pâton by 90° with the opening to the right, and make another ‘Tour Double’. We leave it and ourselves to repose for a few meager minutes (or it can at this point be suitably covered and frozen.) We turn the pâton through 90° again and do one final ‘Tour Simple’. At this point we divide the pâton in two in order to make two 15×20 cm Mille feuille, always keeping the opening to the right hand side and we cut in half from front to back.
We roll out the pâton to a dimension slightly greater than 15x 60 cm allowing for potential shrinkage of pastry on a lightly floured surface.
We leave the pâton, the finished pâte feuilleté, to repose for five minutes.
Using a ‘Pique-Vite’ or alternatively a fork, we prick the pastry all over, turning and repeating the process on the other side. This encourages even rising.
We transfer the Détrempe to the lined baking tray using the rolling-pin and leave it to rest for half an hour. No repose for us though, we have more important things to do!
Whilst we wait for the pâton we begin the Crème Anglaise.
Arnaud gives us a lesson in gelatine. Crème Anglaise can be frozen successfully, but is usually ruined by the quantity of water in the recipe. It is essential to correctly dissolve the gelatine. The quality of gelatine is referred to by its bloom quantity. Professional gelatine is 200 bloom. Shop-bought gelatine is usually 150 bloom. For professional gelatine the quantity of water added to the gelatine should be 50g water for every 10g gelatine; For shop-bought gelatine the quantity of water added should be 40g for every 10g gelatine. For a recipe specifying 8g of 200 bloom gelatine, increase the weight of 150 bloom gelatine to 10g. Gelatine prevents the cream in our recipe from flopping after whipping.
We place the milk and sugar into a saucepan and put to heat.
We place the poudre à flan (cornflour or farine d’amidon with vanilla), the sugar and the egg yolks into an inox bowl and mix.
Once the milk is warm we add half to the inox bowl of egg mixture, place the pan to the side and mix thoroughly. Once mixed, we pour the contents of the inox bowl back into the pan. We mix again thoroughly. We relight the flame and bring to the boil whisking constantly. Once thick we retrieve it from the flame and add the gelatin and water mixture and mix thoroughly.
We cover a wire rack with clingfilm. We overpour with the Crème Anglaise andd cover it with clingfilm to prevent it crusting and leave it to cool.
After the Pâte Feuilleté has rested for its 30 minutes we place it in an oven at 180°, overlaying it with a metal grill rack to prevent the pâte feuilleté from rising. (If a grill rack is not available, remove the pâte feuilleté mid cooking, and press down to remove air).
We remove the pâte feuilleté from the oven when it is crisp and golden on both the top and bottom surfaces.
At last comes the really fun bit – we are ready to assemble the Mille Feuille. We remove the Crème Anglaise from the chiller, and place the now jelly like pieces into the Kitchen Aid and beat till light smooth and creamy. We then add 50g of an alcohol such as Kirsch or Marashino and continue beating before folding in first one half and then the remainder of the whipped cream.
Cutting horizontally with a bread knife (serrated) we divide the length of Pâte feuilleté into three parts choosing the most attractive for the top surface. We load generous quantities of Crème Anglaise filling onto the base, firmly pressing down the middle layer and using a palate knife clear the sides of cream before continuing to the top layer.
Once the sides are neat we dust with sucre glacé (icing sugar) and proceed to make a caramel decoration.
In a pan we melt spoonful by spoonful caster sugar continuing to agitate over a flame until a deep golden colour.
Arnaud shows us how to crunch up a sheet of greaseproof paper and restraighten, before pouring the molten caramel over it. Lifting the sheet into the air he turnes the sheet vertically in a rotating motion until the caramel sets in a thin layer over the sheet. The crumpled paper gives a wonderful crackle effect to the caramel pieces.
Once hardened Arnaud peels the caramel off the sheet and breaks into large leaf shaped pieces.
We all laugh alot when Arnaud owns up to not having any cake boxes tall enough to close round our Mille Feuille. Two of us are going home by bus! We might be mobbed! But we shall fight them off …
Safely home and dressed with its caramel leaves the Mille Feuille is ready to eat.
Oh, If only I could describe the taste….
For the recipe please click here.