In many contemporary desserts, pastry chefs take painstaking efforts in assembling layers of different ingredients. They imagine how flavors of fruits, spices, nuts, cream and biscuits work in synergy with one another, and put them together in an artful blend. No one knows, but perhaps the concept of layering finds its roots in this pastry called the “thousand layers”.
The millefeuille comprises feuilletée (puff pastry) and pastry cream. Some people call it the Napoleon. It is simple, and basks in minimalism. What troubles me is the difficulty of enjoying the pastry in a tidy manner. Just trying to cut a slice small enough for my mouth with my fork ends with a mess. The layers collapse, the cream falls out, and everything turns into a plate resembling a bird’s nest. Although I am not particularly bothered about dining etiquette, I prefer to have something tidier. Blame it on my intermittent obsessive-compulsive disorder.
As simple as it gets, each and every element of its construction is crucial. Smooth and balanced crème pâtissière with a delicate infusion of vanilla between crisp feuilletée layers baked to perfection will be a quiet delight. There are countless variations of this traditional pastry, incorporating fruits, and perhaps even savory fillings such as cheese and spinach. I have tried once a millefeuille with raspberries and vanilla cream in a Japanese pâtisserie near Tokyo, but old is gold so I would love to taste a perfect rendition of the traditional.
This millefeuille here was from Pain du Sucre. The shopfront is divided into two, one as the boulangerie and other for the pâtisserie. I first stepped into the boulangerie, to be welcomed by the inviting smell of bread, and bought myself a sandwich called Osaka and a croissant. The Osaka was intriguing – it didn’t taste Japanese; it tasted like Japan. The savory little thing had tuna wrapped in smoked salmon, accompanied with a squid ink paste (I think) between a green tea-flavored sesame bread. Pardon me for the photo – I didn’t expect it to impress until I had a small bite. As for the croissant, I’ll write about it another day as part of my croissant study.
Let me get the limelight back to the millefeuille. As I enter the pâtisserie section, I chose the millefeuille because it had garnered rather positive reviews from the food blogging community. Sometimes, knowing what’s the ‘specialty’ from hearsay saves me from conundrum of choices. The crème pâtissèrie was well-textured and rich in vanilla; I have no complains about that. I suspect food bloggers occasionally complain for the sake of complaining, or praise for the sake of praising, so as to portray their capacity to be critical. Having said that, I am going to be critical about the feuilletée. One probable reason why I made such a mess of the pastry, despite the best of my efforts to keep it standing, is that the feuilletée layers were too thick. They were undeniably crispy, but if it helps I would make the layers just a little thinner. Moreover, they had a slight burnt taste. Perhaps the same culprit is at fault; thicker layers translate to longer baking times, which in turn leaves the exterior slight burnt and bitter. I had wished it was a bad day, and that the millefeuille from Pain du Sucre is usually way better. Sadly, it only takes one bad experience to deter me from trying it again, due to financial constraints and the vast availability of alternatives. I would reiterate that I’m not an expert on millefeuille, or in pastries in general, but I believe it could taste much better. When I’m back home in my kitchen, this would be a simple dessert that I would like to master.