Today is Chopin's 200th Birthday and I want to celebrate. Chopin was born in Poland, but he spent his adult life in Paris, so I dusted off my copy of Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets and settled on making a mille-feuille. With store-bought pastry puff. I know it's a bit of a cop-out, but I didn't have time to make it from scratch. I also didn't have the patience as that recipe called for two doughs and too many turns and folds. Inside-Out Puff Pastry will have to wait.
Though I have tried making pastry cream only a few times, I always enjoy scraping the seeds from the pod and simmering the vanilla bean in the milk. The aroma is heavenly. After adding cornstarch and egg yolks to the mixture, I pushed it through a sieve.
I must admit that I was feeling a bit discouraged at this point, as the cream was on the heavy, thick side, and as it cooled, it became increasingly rubbery. I could have dropped it on the floor and it would have bounced right back up. As I didn't want to start back at square one and was out of vanilla pods and whole milk, I decided to whip up some heavy cream and add my scary, squidgy cream to it. Wouldn't you know,
it turned out alright. Egg yolks+milk+sugar+vanilla bean+heavy cream= it's all good.
A wonderful dessert to celebrate the masterful Chopin's birth.
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped
8 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
6 1/2 T. cornstarch, sifted
5 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
Bring the milk and vanilla beans (pod and pulp) to boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Cover the pan, turn off the heat, and infuse for at least 10 minutes or for up to 1 hour.
Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and set aside a small bowl that can hold the finished cream and be placed in this ice bath. Set aside a fine-mesh strainer too.
Whisk the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Whisking all the while, drizzle a quarter of the hot milk into the yolks. Still whisking, pour the rest of the liquid over the tempered yolks in a steady stream; remove and discard the pods.
Place the saucepan over high heat and, whisking vigorously and without stop, bring the mixture to boil. Keep the mixture at the boil- whisking energetically- for 1 or 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and press the cream through the sieve into the reserved small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath (you can add some water to cubes now) and, stirring frequently, cool the cream for about 3 minutes. (It should be 140 degrees F.) Remove the bowl from the bath and stir in the butter a tablespoon at a time. Return the bowl to the bath, and stirring occasionally, cool completely. (The cream can be wrapped airtight and refrigerated for 2 days.)
14 oz. puff pastry, homemade or store-bought
Cut a piece of parchment paper to line a rimmed baking sheet that is 18x12 inches. Lightly moisten the parchment with a wet pastry brush.
Working on a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a rectangle about 10 inches wide by 14 inches long and 1/8 inch thick. Roll the dough up around rolling pin, then unroll it onto the parchment covered baking sheet. Cover the dough with a piece of plastic wrap and chill it for 1 or 2 hours. The time is needed to allow the gluten to relax so the pastry will rise evenly and maintain its size and shape under heat.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Remove sheet from refrigerator, discard the plastic wrap, and slide the sheet into the oven. Close the oven door, and immediately lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Gently place a large cooling rack over the pastry to prevent it from rising more- and bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until it is golden and puffed.
Remove the sheet from oven, lift off the cooling rack, and cool for at least one hour.
Assembling the Mille-feuille
Put the puff pastry on a large cutting board and using a serrated knife and a sawing motion, cut it crosswise into 3 pieces. Spread half of the filling smoothly over one of the pieces, then top with a second piece of pastry, gently settling it into place. Spread the remainder of the filling over this second piece of pastry and top with the third strip and gently press down.
You can present the mille-feuille as a large cake or cut the strip into 6 portions. If left whole, dust with confectioner's sugar.
It is best to assemble the mille-feuille shortly before serving time- no more than 4 hours ahead.