The napoleon episode started last week when, in an attempt to entice my grandmother to come for dinner, I promised to make napoleons. My grandmother often alludes to napoleons. Based on passing remarks, I would say that her vision of an elegant and delicious meal consists of an old fashioned with a cherry, cheese souffle, and, for dessert, a napoleon. Someone will pay for the meal with a Charga-Plate.
So, last week, using Beranbaum's Pie and Pastry Bible, I made the fondant and the pastry cream that are essential to a classic napoleon. Then I mixed and rolled and chilled and rolled and chilled and rolled etc etc. the puff pastry. All was well and I had a beautiful slab of buttery dough. Beranbaum calls for weighting the puff pastry with a cookie sheet as it bakes and while I suspected a piece of parchment belonged in there somewhere, she's Rose Levy Beranbaum who wrote her master's thesis on sifting flour and who am I to question? I forged ahead. As I feared, when I tried to lift the top cookie sheet off the baked puff pastry, I ended up with torn, buckled shards.
My grandmother came to dinner anyway. We rued the failed napoleon as we ate hamburgers and Stir french fries.
Aside about Barbara Lynch's fries: excellent. In case you are wondering, the Stir fries are on the left, loathsome frozen Safeway fries on the right.
Since I still had the pastry cream and fondant, I made a new batch of puff pastry the other day -- this time using Jacques Pepin's recipe -- baked it up, and assembled the napoleon according to Beranbaum's directions. I greatly admire Beranbaum, but it is wrong to assume that just because her recipes are written in obsessive, maddening detail they will actually work. The pastry cream was soupy. Her formula for making the chocolate drizzle: addled.
That said, just pouring that fondant and watching it harden into a glossy pearlescent shell on the pastry gave me a thrill I don't get anymore from making a rustic fruit cobbler. Tackling an absurd French pastry dessert was exciting, however lame the results. I want to do more of this.