French Napoleons

Homemade Vanilla Napoleon

Photograph by Sabrina Vasquez


This past week was my mother’s birthday and although most families celebrate birthday with cakes, my family easily finds other alternative desserts to celebrate with instead of the traditional cake that is commonly served. In the past, we have hosted birthday parties with desserts such as gelato, icees, doughnuts, and cheesecake. But, for this year in particular, my mother wanted to have a French inspired dessert which was napoleons. This dessert is complex in the processes of creating each component and then assembling it together in an appetizing way. Napoleon, also named mille-feuille, vanilla slice, or custard slice are usually consists of three layers of puff pastry alternating with two layers of pastry cream. Yet, this classic French pastry can differ from a variety of countries. An Australian version uses passion-fruit icing and infuses passion-fruit into the pastry cream as well. While a Italian version is a savory napoleon which usually has spinach, cheese, and pesto. Although, the exact origin of the napoleon is still unknown, the French name for it mille-feuille literally means cake of a thousand layers which refers to the many layers in the puff pastry first while the puff pastry is being made and as it flakes in layers as it is baking in the oven.

So as my mother’s birthday was approaching, I had to figure out a way to make one of the best napoleon to top all napoleons she has ever eaten as her birthday present. My sister agreed to help me as making the dessert is not complicated just complex.  So we agreed that she would make the pastry cream and bake the puff pastry while I would assemble the dessert to its entirety.

Napoleon Recipe

First, bake the puff pastry I purchased the Pepperidge Farm brand one and it works well. Simply, thaw it out first and then unfold it onto a cookie sheet. Then, bake until golden brown.

Now, the pastry cream …..



2 cups half-and-half

½ cup sugar

Pinch salt

5 large egg yolks

3 tablespoons cornstarch

4 tablespoons (½ stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract



  1. Heat the half-and-half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 20 seconds.


  1. When the half-and-half mixture reaches a full simmer, gradually whisk the simmering half-and-half into the yolk mixture to temper. Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula; return to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl.


Note on straining: This is key step because it will ensure that your finished pastry cream will be silky smooth with no lumps or bumps.

Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

Recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

Assembling the pastry:

Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut the pastry into thirds.

In a small bowl whisk together:

1 cup powdered sugar

2 tsp corn syrup, light

1 TBS butter, unsalted , melted

Slowly mix in:

3 TBS milk, whole

Add enough milk to keep the icing thick, but pourable.

Pour half of the icing into another bowl, and whisk in:

1 TBS cocoa powder, unsweetened

Pour chocolate icing in to a squeeze bottle.

To assemble your napoleon, place the bottom layer of baked puff pastry onto your serving dish. Spoon half of your cooled pastry cream along the center of the pastry.

Place your middle layer of baked puff pastry over the cream, gently pressing the pastry down and pushing the cream to the edges. Spoon the remainder of the cooled pastry cream along the center of the middle pastry layer.

Top with the icing-decorated top layer and gently press over the pastry cream, again, pushing the cream to the edges. And smooth out the pastry cream around the sides.

Choose one of the three cut pieces of puff pastry to be your top layer and using a soft scraper, cover with the white icing. Using the squeeze bottle containing the chocolate icing, pour horizontal chocolate stripes over the white icing. Working quickly and use the tip of a knife to drag through the chocolate stripes and mix into the white icing.

Allow to set in the refrigerator 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Recipe adapted from Family Spice