French Napoleon Pastry Recipe (2024)

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I remember the very first time that I tried a Napoleon. I was with my mom at a quintessential French bistro, where we split one for dessert. It was one of the best things that I had ever eaten. The combination of the pudding-like pastry cream and the flaky, buttery layers topped with chocolate and vanilla glaze was unlike any dessert that I had ever tasted before. Well, years later, my French Napoleon Pastry Recipe is conjuring up mouthwatering memories of that very meal.

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What (exactly) is a Napoleon?

I'm so glad you asked!

Napoleon pastry, also known as mille-feuille, is a classic French dessert that has been enjoyed for hundreds of years. Although its origins are somewhat disputed, its name is derived from Napoleon Bonaparte, who was said to have enjoyed the pastry during his reign as Emperor of France.

This delicate dessert features a trio or crisp, buttery layers separated by a rich vanilla bean pastry cream and topped with a "feathered" decorative glaze (more on that later.) It's ideal for sharing....but you certainly don't have to.

While there are many variations on this recipe, my version, using store-bought puff pastry, makes this dessert surprisingly easy to prepare. You are more than welcome to use a homemade puff pastry, but store-bought varieties save lot of time and are of surprisingly good quality.

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Ingredients

(please check the recipe card below for quantities!)
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Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream Ingredients

  • Vanilla Bean: A vanilla bean is the best way to add that true natural vanilla flavor in a recipe like this, where the Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream has a starring role. Plus, the little black specks of vanilla seeds create a nice visual contrast to the pale pastry cream. That said, 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract can be used instead. Do not use the imitation variety if at all possible! For a tutorial on how to scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod, see the FAQ section, below.
  • Milk: Whole milk or 2% milk will yield the richest results, but you can use skim.
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Cornstarch: Helps to thicken the pastry cream upon heating.
  • Egg yolks
  • Salt
  • Cream: Heavy cream is best, but you can substitute half-and-half or whole milk.
  • Butter: Unsalted variety. Gives the pastry cream a nice glossy finish.
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Ingredients for assembly and icings/glazes

  • Frozen puff pastry: As Ina Garten would say, "Store bought is fine!" Many versions of this recipe opt to use homemade puff pastry. Guys and gals, I have attempted the homemade version before. Whilethis time-consuming method results in abuttery, flaky, and scrumptious product......I have found that the store-bought variety is just as good. My advice? Get thee to the frozen foods section. Life is too short to make homemade puff pastry for every recipe.
  • Confectioner's sugar: Also referred to as icing sugar or powdered sugar.
  • Corn syrup: Light corn syrup gives glazes and icings a glossy, luscious sheen, but you can omit it if you don't have it on hand.
  • Butter: Preferably unsalted. Helps to keep the icing/glaze from hardening completely.
  • Milk: Whole or 2% preferred, but you can substitute skim or even coconut.
  • Cocoa Powder: Sift if it is particularly lumpy.

How to make this French Napoleon Pastry Recipe

Below are some step-by-step photos to help you along the way, but if you'd rather watch a quick video tutorial, check this out!:

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream Step-by-Step Photos:

This Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream recipe comes to you directly from my first cookbook, 175 Best Mini Pie Recipes. It's great for not only Napoleons, but for cream puffs, donuts, cake and pies!

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Step 1

In a medium saucepan, combine milk and vanilla bean along with vanilla seeds. Then bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat.

(See video below in FAQ section, which shows how to scrape vanilla bean seeds!)

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Step 2

In a large bowl, whisk cornstarch, sugar, egg yolks and salt. Whisk in cream until smooth.

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Step 3

Carefully remove the vanilla bean from the hot milk and then set it aside. Gradually add milk to the egg mixture, whisking constantly, until thoroughly incorporated. This slow process will "temper" the eggs while keeping them from scrambling. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and whisk constantly over medium heat until it almost comes to a boil and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter until smooth.

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Step 4

Transfer the pastry cream to a heatproof bowl and then cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly onto the surface. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours or up to 3 days.

Step-by-Step Photos for Napoleon Assembly and the Icing(s)

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Step 1

On a piece of parchment paper, stack the two separate pieces of thawed puff pastry. Roll them out to one 12X12-inch square, trimming with a knife afterward to make even sides. A tape measure comes in handy here!

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Step 2

Cut the square into three 4X12 inch strips and then transfer the strips to a parchment lined baking sheet, spacing apart. Prick the dough all over with a fork and chill until firm, 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425F.

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Step 3

Transfer the baking sheet to the preheated oven. Bake the pastry sheets for 10 minutes, until golden around the edges. Set another baking sheet directly on top of the pastry strips and continue to bake for 8 minutes more.

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Step 4

Remove the top baking sheet and continue to bake until the pastry is golden brown 6-8 minutes more. Cool completely.

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Step 5

Make the icings. In a medium bowl, whisk the confectioner's sugar, corn syrup, butter and enough of the milk to reach a consistency that is pourable but still thick. Then transfer ¼ of the icing to a small bowl and whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Transfer the chocolate icing to a piping bag fitted with a ⅛-inch tip.

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Step 6

Pour the white icing onto one of the pastry strips, then spread it evenly with an offset spatula. Immediately afterward, pipe lines of the chocolate icing horizontally across the white icing, about ½-inch apart. Drag the tip of a toothpick down the length of the glazed strip in alternating directions to create a pattern. This is called "feathering." Let icing set 10 minutes.

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Step 7

Fit a pastry bag with a ½-inch round tip then fill it with half of the pastry cream. Pipe an even layer of the pastry cream onto one of the remaining pastry strips. Then fill the pastry bag a second time with the remaining pastry cream and pipe evenly onto the remaining strip. Transfer these two pieces to a serving platter or plate, and stack them on top of each other.

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Step 8

Finally, place the glazed piece of puff pastry on top of the pastry cream. Slice with a serrated knife and serve.

Frequently Asked Questions about this French Napoleon Pastry recipe:

Can Napoleon pastries be made ahead of time?

While Napoleons can be made in advance, the pastries are best eaten the day that they are assembled. They will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator, tightly covered, but keep in mind that the puff pastry will soften over time.

Can pastry cream be made in advance?

Yes! The pastry cream can be prepared up to three days in advance. Line the top surface with plastic wrap and keep chilled.

What are some common variations of the French Napoleon pastry?

Napoleons are a versatile dessert, allowing for creativity with the filling and topping. You can alter the flavor of the pastry cream, or even opt for two different flavors if you are feeling ambitious. The filling can also be supplemented with fresh berries, chocolate chips, or a layer of raspberry jam. Sprinkle the glaze with chopped nuts, toffee bits, toasted coconut, or chocolate shavings.

How do you remove the seeds from a vanilla bean?

To remove the seeds from a vanilla bean, just follow these easy steps:
1. Lay the vanilla bean on a work surface and use a sharp knife to slice it down the middle, lengthwise.
2. Use the knife to scrape along the inside of the bean, from one end to the other, pressing firmly. This will remove the small black beans from the inside.
3. Place the seeds in a small bowl and use them as desired in your recipe.

**Empty vanilla bean pods can be used to infuse flavor into liquids or other ingredients. Add the pod to your container of sugar to make vanilla sugar or steep in for several months in vodka to make homemade vanilla extract!
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Want more decadent dessert recipes? Try some of these!

  • Triple Chocolate Cherry Cookies
  • Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Macarons
  • Caramelized Apple Cupcakes with Spiced Cider Buttercream

Tried this recipe and loved it? Take a photo and tag meon Instagramor give it a review!

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French Napoleon Pastry Recipe

Julie Hession

Also known as "mille feuille," this classic French Napoleon recipe features layer upon layer of flaky puff pastry separated by rich vanilla bean pastry cream. Topped with a decorative "feathering" of chocolate and vanilla glazes, this is dessert certain to impress anyone who is fortunate enough to try it!

Prep Time 45 minutes mins

Cook Time 35 minutes mins

Total Time 1 hour hr 20 minutes mins

Servings 10

Calories 462 kcal

4.94 from 31 votes

Print Recipe Pin Recipe

Equipment

  • 1 Rolling Pin

  • parchment paper

  • 1 tape measure or ruler helpful when rolling out puff pastry

  • 2 piping bags optional, for chocolate glaze and pastry cream

  • 2 piping tips ⅛ inch and ½ inch, optional

  • 1 offset spatula optional

Ingredients

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream

  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean split, seeds scraped out, bean reserved
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter

Napoleon and Icings

  • 1 package puff pastry Thawed. Approximately 1 pound--usually comes in 2 pieces.
  • 1 ½ cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter melted
  • 4-6 tablespoon milk whole or 2%
  • 2 tablespoon cocoa powder

Instructions

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream

  • In a medium saucepan, combine milk and vanilla bean and seeds. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.

  • In a large bowl, whisk cornstarch, sugar, egg yolks and salt. Whisk in cream.

  • Remove vanilla bean from hot milk. Gradually add milk to the egg mixture, whisking constantly, until thoroughly incorporated. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and whisk constantly over medium heat until it almost comes to a boil and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter until smooth.

  • Transfer the pastry cream to a heatproof bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly onto the surface. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours or up to 3 days.

Napoleon and Icings

  • On a piece of parchment paper, stack the two separate pieces of thawed puff pastry. Roll them out to one 12X12-inch square, trimming to make even sides.

  • Cut the square into three 4X12 inch strips and transfer the strips to a parchment lined baking sheet, spacing apart.

  • Prick the dough all over with a fork and chill until firm, 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425F

  • Transfer the baking sheet to the preheated oven. Bake the pastry sheets for 10 minutes, until golden around the edges.

  • Set another baking sheet directly on top of the pastry strips and continue to bake for 8 minutes more.

  • Remove the top baking sheet and continue to bake until the pastry is golden brown 6-8 minutes more. Cool completely.

  • In a medium bowl, whisk the confectioner's sugar, corn syrup, butter and enough of the milk to reach a consistency that is pourable but still thick. Transfer ¼ of the glaze to a small bowl and whisk in the cocoa powder.

  • Transfer the chocolate glaze to a piping bag fitted with a ⅛-inch tip.

  • Pour the white glaze onto one of the pastry strips, spreading it evenly with an offset spatula. Pipe lines of the chocolate glaze horizontally across the white glaze, about ½-inch apart. Drag the tip of a toothpick down the length of the glazed strip in alternating directions to create a pattern. This is called "feathering." Let set 10 minutes.

  • Fit a pastry bag with a ½-inch round tip and fill it with half of the pastry cream. Pipe an even layer of the pastry cream onto one of the remaining pastry strips. Fill the pastry bag with the remaining pastry cream and pipe evenly onto the remaining strip. Transfer these two pieces to a serving platter or plate, stacking on top of each other.

  • Place the glazed piece of puff pastry on top of the pastry cream. Slice with a serrated knife and serve.

Video

Notes

  • The pastries are best eaten the day that they are assembled, however they will keep overnight, covered and refrigerated. The puff pastry will soften with refrigeration.
  • If you don't have pastry bags and piping tips, simply use two zip-top bags with the corners snipped off. These are a great, inexpensive alternative to piping bags and one I've used many times!

Nutrition

Calories: 462kcal | Carbohydrates: 57g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 14g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 107mg | Sodium: 204mg | Potassium: 130mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 517IU | Vitamin C: 0.1mg | Calcium: 77mg | Iron: 2mg

Did You Make This Recipe?Please leave a comment below or pin it to your Pinterest account!

French Napoleon Pastry Recipe (2024)

FAQs

What is Napoleon pastry made of? ›

A mille-feuille (French pronunciation: [mil fœj], "thousand-sheets"), also known by the names Napoleon in North America, vanilla slice in the United Kingdom, and custard slice, is a French dessert made of puff pastry layered with pastry cream. Its modern form was influenced by improvements made by Marie-Antoine Carême.

What is the difference between French and Italian Napoleon pastry? ›

Mille-feuille is very similar to the Italian dessert, Napoleon. The main difference between the two desserts is that a Napoleon is layered with almond paste instead of cream. A traditional mille-feuille will consist of three layers of puff pastry alternated with two layers of pastry cream.

Is Napoleon cake Russian or French? ›

Standing tall with at least eight tiers (and sometimes more than 20) of alternating layers of pastry and custard, the Napoleon cake has become a national Russian dish, inspired by the French mille-feuille.

What makes French pastry so good? ›

High-Quality Ingredients: Traditional French recipes emphasize quality ingredients like rich butter, fine flour, and fresh cream. Culinary Heritage: French baking is deeply rooted in history and tradition, with each region boasting its unique specialties.

Why is it called Napoleon pastry? ›

Napoleon pastry, also known as mille-feuille, is a classic French dessert that has been enjoyed for hundreds of years. Although its origins are somewhat disputed, its name is derived from Napoleon Bonaparte, who was said to have enjoyed the pastry during his reign as Emperor of France.

What is the name of the famous French pastry? ›

What dessert is France known for? France is known for macarons, mille feuille, eclairs, cannele, Paris-Brest, profiteroles, opera cake, financiers, floating island, and more.

What is French pastry dough called? ›

Pâte à choux is a classic French dough that's used to make a wide range of pastries, from cream puffs to éclairs to cheesy gougères and more. Choux (pronounced like “shoe”) means cabbages in French; the baked puffs resemble small cabbages. The dough is made from basic ingredients: flour, water, butter, salt, and eggs.

What country has the best pastries? ›

Portugal takes the two top spots in the Best Pastry in the World ranking.

What is the most famous pastry in America? ›

Among the most famous American desserts there is the classic apple pie, the one celebrated in many books, movies and even songs. This cake is so representative of the American tradition that it is called American Pie.

Who invented the Napoleon pastry? ›

The great French chef and pastry artist Careme was the first to popularize the dessert in the early 1800s, but even then, he described it as being “of ancient origin.” He was right to credit the chefs of Naples for this invention.

What is a mille-feuille in English? ›

Translated to English, millefeuille (pronounced meel-foy) means one thousand sheets, layers, or leaves.

What country is Napoleon dessert from? ›

Where are Napoleon pastry from? ›

the Napoléon. There has been a tradition of pastries with alternating layers of pastry and pastry cream since the Roman Empire, specifically in Naples. Because of this tradition in Naples, this style of pastry was sometimes called "napolitain" (adjectival form meaning "from Naples").

What makes French pastry different? ›

They are extra flaky in texture as a lot of butter is used in their preparation. It requires attention to detail, dedication, and a lot of patience to bake such pastries. These are made with different layers that reflect many rich flavours separately. The use of custard in these desserts make it much creamy and rich.

What is the difference between a vanilla slice and a mille-feuille? ›

A vanilla slice is usually a very thick slab of custard sandwiched between two thin puff sheets. A mille feuille is more decorative, could have multiple custard (or diplomat cream) layers and looks very sophisticated. It is one of the simplest things you can make with a puff sheet, yet looks so elegant!

What is a traditional Neapolitan dessert? ›

Among the most beloved Neapolitan sweets are sfogliatelle. There are two versions, riccia (curly) and frolla (shortcrust), and the former is the most popular. Outside of Italy, these shell-shaped pastries are often known as lobster claws. Characterized by a crisp and flaky exterior, they are true works of art.

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