In France it’s popular during the summer to make tarts and other pastries like mille-feuille aux fruits rouges or “with red fruits,” meaning basically whatever berries are in season. We can’t obtain the tiny, intensely flavored wild strawberries or fraises des bois as easily as the French, but small, perfectly sweet, height-of-the-season berries work very well in this dessert. It’s fun and tasty to combine several types of berries, and if you have access to red currants, sprinkle in a few—not too many, or the fruit mix might be too tart.
Makes 8 individual servings
1 batch Caramelized Puff Pastry Layers (see below), cut into two 7 1/2-inch square layers
VANILLA ORANGE PASTRY CREAM
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 small orange, removed in large strips with a vegetable peeler
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
3 cups berries, a mixture of small strawberries, rinsed and hulled, and raspberries, picked over but not washed
- For the pastry cream, combine the milk, cream, half the sugar, and the orange zest in a small saucepan and whisk to combine. Bring the mixture to a full boil over low heat. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the yolks and then whisk in the remaining sugar. Sift over and whisk in the flour.
- When the milk mixture boils, whisk it into the yolk mixture. Strain the mixture back into the pan (leaving the orange zest in the strainer) and place over medium heat. Use a small, pointed-end whisk to stir constantly, being sure to reach into the corners of the pan, until the cream comes to a full boil and thickens. Cook, whisking constantly, for another 30 seconds. Off the heat, whisk in the vanilla. Scrape the cream into a glass bowl and press plastic wrap directly against the surface. Chill until cold.
- A few hours before serving the mille-feuilles, use a sharp serrated knife to cut each of the layers into 8 rectangles, each about 1 3/4 x 3 3/4 inches.
- Right before assembling, whip the cream with the sugar to a soft peak.
- Arrange 8 of the cut layers, caramelized side up, on dessert plates. Top each with a heaping tablespoon of the pastry cream. Arrange some of the strawberries and raspberries on the pastry cream, then top with a spoonful of whipped cream. Cover each with another puff pastry layer, caramelized side up, and gently press to adhere the layer to the cream.
- Serve immediately; these can wait an hour at a cool room temperature but not much longer.
CARAMELIZED PUFF PASTRY LAYERS
Makes one 10 x 15-inch layer
1/3 batch Quick Puff Pastry (see below)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- Lightly flour the work surface and the dough and roll it to a 10 x 15-inch rectangle. (It’s helpful to roll the dough part of the way, then transfer a piece of parchment for lining a pan to your work surface, flour it, and finish rolling the dough directly on the paper.)
- Slide the paper and dough into a 10 x 15-inch jelly-roll pan and use a fork to pierce it all over at 1/2-inch intervals. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for several hours.
- When you’re ready to bake the layer, set a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 400°F.
- Sprinkle the dough with the granulated sugar and place a second piece of parchment paper on top; stack a second jelly-roll pan on top of the parchment. Place the stack of pans and dough in the oven and lower the temperature to 375°F. Bake the layer until it is almost cooked through, about 15 minutes.
- Remove the stack of pans and dough from the oven and invert them, grasping both sides to avoid having the dough slide out. Increase the oven temperature to 450°F.
- The dough will now be resting on a piece of parchment on the back of a baking pan. Lift off the top pan, peel away the top paper, and slide the layer of dough, still on the second piece of paper, back into the original pan. Evenly sprinkle the layer with the confectioners’ sugar. Bake, watching carefully, until the sugar melts and glazes, 7 to 10 minutes. Don’t walk away, or it will definitely burn.
- Slide the baked layer, still on its paper, to a cutting board and slice it into the desired pieces while it is still warm. To prevent the pastry from warping, once it has cooled, slide it or the pieces back between the papers and pans until you are ready to proceed.
QUICK PUFF PASTRY
Makes about 2 pounds dough
2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon into dry-measure cup and level)
14 ounces/3 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup cold water, plus about 1 tablespoon more if necessary
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Combine the flour and 6 tablespoons/3/4 stick of the butter in a mixing bowl and rub in the butter so that no visible pieces remain. Don’t mix so much that it starts to become pasty.
- Add the remaining butter to the bowl and toss it through the flour. Use your fingertips to slightly soften and flatten the pieces of butter, making sure they stay covered in flour.
- Stir the water and salt together and sprinkle it all over the flour and butter mixture. Use a rubber spatula to dig to the bottom of the bowl, turning the bowl as you do. Don’t exert pressure on the dough, but just bring the spatula up from the bottom of the bowl. After 10 or 12 strokes, if there are any dry bits of flour remaining, sprinkle a few drops of water until they adhere to the main mass of dough.
- Scrape the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and dust the top with flour. Squeeze the dough together, shaping it into a fat sausage shape. Flour under and on top of the dough again and press it into a rough rectangle. If the dough feels soft, wrap and chill it for half an hour to firm up the butter.
- Flour under and on top of the dough and use the rolling pin to start pressing in a succession of gentle and even strokes, moving from the closest edge outward. Gently roll the dough in one direction, starting at the end nearest to you and without going over the opposite edge. Repeat, rolling from the far end back toward yourself. Repeat the rolling once more and make the dough an 8 x 16-inch rectangle.
- Brush excess flour from the dough, then fold both narrow ends toward the middle, leaving about a 1/2-inch space between. Fold the dough in half along that center line to make 4 layers.
- Position the folded package of dough so that the closed fold, resembling the spine of a book, is on your left. Repeat step 5, this time rolling across as well lengthwise, until the dough is as close to 8 x 16 inches as possible.
- If possible, give the dough a third turn by repeating steps 5 and 6. If the dough is too soft to handle, chill it for 1 hour and then perform the third turn.
- After the third turn, wrap and chill the dough; it’s ready for use once it has chilled and rested for a couple of hours.