It started with butter. A lot of butter…
After a few summers of taking classes at La Cuisine Paris, I’m never surprised to see how much butter is used in their baking classes. Because all great pastries begin with butter, right? What is amusing, however, is watching other people’s reactions to the amount of butter – not many people stop to ponder just why their croissant is so melt-in-the-mouth flaky… The Mille Feuille class I took this past summer was no exception – other students were all “We’re not going to use ALL that butter, right?” whilst our lovely chef-instructor, Frances, calmly assured them that they were
A mille feuille (or mille-feuille or millefeuille) is a classic French dessert consisting of layers of puff pastry (usually three) sandwiched with layers of crème mousseline (a silky smooth combination of pastry cream and – you guessed it – butter!) and topped with either confectioners’ sugar (icing or powdered sugar) or poured fondant icing.
French for “a thousand leaves”, mille feuille refers to the layers of puff pastry, made in the fashion of a laminated dough (croissants are also made with this process). Lamination refers to the process of alternating layers of dough and butter when making the pastry by wrapping the butter in the dough rolling it out, then folding that dough layer (called a “turn”) – one sheet of dough comprises 729 laminations, resulting in 2187 layers per dessert square with three layers of pastry!
To start with, you need a very thin layer of butter to enclose in that dough. It’s a great way to get rid of any built-up tension… (yes, you have to bash the butter hard with a rolling pin…)
There don’t seem to be any photos of the rolling out of the dough part of the process – either on my phone or my camera. I remember at one point, I just had to move all electronics away from the work bench because it was such a frenzy of flour – also, this recipe requires you to kind of just get on with it and work fast (it was fairly cool in the kitchen that day with the aircon at full blast but still… pastry doesn’t like to sit around while it has its photo taken…). The next images were taken when the bench was somewhat cleaned up and Frances showed us the fun part (well, one of them, it was all pretty fun!) where we got to hide the butter in the pastry…
We repeated this stage multiple times, placing the pastry in the fridge or freezer between “turns” to cool down. Frances explained that this recipe is really one to make when you have a day spare – the “turns” should not be rushed like they were in a three-hour class, although it’s proof that you can achieve gorgeous flaky puff pastry in a shorter time if you need to (and know the right technique!).
Meanwhile, in between steps, we got to making the pastry cream which we would later use to fill the pastries…
(a great way to cool down a pastry cream filling quickly – pour it onto a silicone mat, cover with plastic wrap then refrigerate until you are ready to use. You’ll need to whisk it to loosen slightly once it comes out of the fridge but not much but this was also when we added, you guessed it – more butter!)
Meanwhile….. there was more rolling and folding….
While ours were chilling, Frances showed us how to decorate the tops with both pouring fondant as well as simple powdered sugar. I loved the technique for making the traditional pattern in the fondant with melted chocolate…
Overall, this class was very enjoyable for me – it’s not a sit-back-and-watch-the-teacher-do-all-the-work pastry class but if you are ready to roll your sleeves up and work and are really keen to learn the (not-so-complicated) process of making laminated dough, you’ll love it. I mean, look up there ^^^ – wouldn’t you be thrilled to bits if you made that? I couldn’t stop looking at my mille feuilles – thinking “I made this!!!”
I’ve made “rough” puff pastry before (and taught my students how) and whilst it’s a great alternative to the real deal, once you’ve made the full monty, you might never go back (well, unless you don’t have 3 hours to a day to make it! As Frances kept assuring us, it’s not difficult, it just takes a little bit of time and some knowledge of the technique. And once you get into it, it’s actually really fun (and, dare I say it, relaxing in a strange way – very calming to roll and fold that pastry that many times…).
If you love French pastry and are intrigued to learn how to make them at home, this is the class for you! I love how bakers of all sorts of levels (we had a professional baker in our midst as well as a self-professed “non baker, just pastry-eater”) were able to achieve layers of loveliness – Frances and the team at La Cuisine do a great job of making fancy French pastries so accessible, which I love.
Check out all the mille feuille classes offered at La Cuisine Paris here.
Disclosure: I was a guest of La Cuisine Paris at this class. I was not asked to write about it, nor am I being compensated for doing so. All opinions 100% my own.
NEW: Want to experience Paris differently? Join me in March 2015 with AYA Life for a trip to Paris like no other – “like a local” Details here.