Tuesday, March 30, 2010

pastry the lazy way

As I mentioned on Friday, my husband's grandmother, MD, visited with us over the weekend. She is by FAR the coolest grandma I've ever met (we took her to get her nose pierced for Christmas last year if that's any indication) and I treasure having her around since losing both of my grandmothers years ago. Well, I wanted to shower her with all kinds of homemade goodies from my kitchen - including a show-stopping chocolate-glazed Napoleon - when she was up north. Despite all my planning and preparations, I didn't end up cooking a damn thing during her visit. I didn't even toast my own bagel.
We didn't have much time to spend with her so, we opted for pizza, beer and munchies instead of the spring feast I had planned. As much as I love cooking (especially for those I adore) I'm glad that I let go of my plans. The time that I would have been chopping, boiling, sauteing, and baking was spent laughing, joking, shopping, and catching up with her. Initially, I was a little disappointed that we wouldn't be having a proper dinner but, it was definitely time well spent. And you know what? Taking a little break from cooking was kinda nice. (There, I said it. Now don't tell my husband.)
Come Sunday though, I was itchin' to get back in the kitchen. And since I already had all the ingredients, I decided to make that chocolate-glazed Napoleon in honor of MD. I took a few short-cuts to expedite the process and it was still a project-- but the results were well worth it. My quick 'n dirty Napoleon doesn't even compare to Martha's exquisitely assembled pastry - in fact, my rushed assembly mixed with crappy lighting makes this treat look rather sloppy - but don't be fooled. It was a-freakin-mazing. One bite oozing with pastry cream, and I'm sure you'd agree.

Lazy Lady's Chocolate-glazed Napoleon

{adapted from Martha Stewart Living Annual Recipes 2003}

Serves: 4 - 6

  • 1 package frozen pre-made puff pastry dough, thawed
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon corn syrup
  • 1/4 ounce white chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • few drops of vegetable oil
  • pastry cream* (recipe follows)
1. Thaw both sheets of pastry dough as directed. Once thawed, you may flour a work surface and roll the dough out a bit if you like OR if you're a Lazy Lady like me, you can just cut each sheet of pastry in half (the resulting pastry will be thicker but, just as good). Take 3 of those 4 strips and lay them side by side on a large baking sheet (you'll have one strip of pastry leftover; wrap it, stick it back in the fridge and make some turnovers or empanadas with it later). Prick the dough all over with a fork, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

2. Preheat your oven to 425 F. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the strips are puffed and golden all over, about 14 minutes. Set another clean baking sheet directly on top of the pastry strips and bake for another 6 minutes or so, until the pastry is cooked through and browned. Remove the second baking sheet and bake for an additional 4 minutes. Cool strips on a wire rack before trimming the edges of each piece. (Martha says to trim them to 4.5" x 12" but, so long as the pastry strips are uniform in size, it really doesn't matter.)

3. To make the chocolate glaze: bring the heavy cream just to a boil in a small saucepan. Put the chopped semisweet chocolate in a bowl and pour the hot cream over it; whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is combined. Whisk in the corn syrup. Set aside. (Martha says to strain the glaze through a fine mesh sieve but I didn't bother with it and my glaze was fine. Oh, Martha and your frivolous steps...)

4. Place the chopped white chocolate and a drop or two of vegetable oil in a small resealable plastic bag. Microwave on high for 25 - 30 second intervals until the chocolate is melted-- you'll have to squish some of the chunks with your fingers to make sure it melts completely. Set aside.

5. Take the flattest strip of pastry and coat one side entirely in the chocolate glaze. Take your baggie of melted white chocolate, snip the corner of it with a pair of scissors and use your faux pastry bag to pipe thin lines across the width of the glazed pastry strip, a little less than an inch apart. If you like, you can create the distinctive flourish design by dragging a tooth pick, skewer or tip of a knife lengthwise through the white chocolate stripes in alternating directions. Or you can skip this step completely and just go with the chocolate glaze. Your call.

6. Assemble your Napoleon: start with one strip of unglazed pastry, top with half of the pastry cream and spread evenly over the strip leaving a slight border all around. Top with the second unglazed pastry strip and repeat with the remaining cream. Top with the glazed strip of pastry. Chill for about 30 minutes if you can stand it (we couldn't!). Use a long serrated knife to cut into 4 to 6 pieces - the cream will undoubtedly ooze out but it won't matter. Serve & enjoy!

*Pastry Cream
(makes about 4 cups)

  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1. Ready an ice bath and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the cornstarch, flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt, and stir to mix. In another medium bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth. Add the flour mixture into the egg mixture and whisk to combine.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine milk and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Slowly pour into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.

3. Transfer mixture to a clean saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly until the mixture has thickened, about 3 minutes.

4. Transfer mixture to a large heat-proof bowl. Whisk in the butter and vanilla, and set the bowl in the ice bath, stirring occasionally until chilled (about 10 minutes). Cover finished pastry cream with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until ready to use (no more than a day, or else it may become thin and runny).

 Luscious vanilla cream, sandwiched in between layers of flakey pastry and glazed in chocolate: a decadent take on this classic French treat and worth every bit of effort. x

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