You may have made croissant or other laminated doughs before, ones where you enfold a slab of butter and flour inside a sheet of dough, then roll both parts together to yield a layered butter-and-dough concoction perfect for flaky pastries. This interesting "inverse" technique reverses the traditional method, rolling dough inside a “butter block.” The result? Pastry that’s just as flaky but even lighter than the original. This novel lamination method comes to us courtesy of author and teacher Gesine Bullock-Prado, who shows you how to turn the resulting pastry into Maple Cream Napoleons.
To make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the water, salt, flour, and butter. Mix on speed 2 until the dough just comes together, about 5 minutes. It’ll be fairly rough and chunky; don’t worry.
Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet and shape it into a rough 8” x 6” rectangle. Cover securely with plastic wrap or a reusable cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
To make the butter block: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and cake flour, mixing until smooth and paste-like.
Transfer the butter mixture to a piece of parchment and place a second piece of parchment on top. Using a rolling pin, shape it into an 8 1/2” x 12 1/2” rectangle; this is your butter block. Chill for 10 minutes to firm up, then use a bench knife or chef’s knife to trim just enough from the edges to make a perfectly rectangular block.
Refrigerate the butter block before using to firm the butter up, about 30 minutes. It’s important to get the temperature just right here: too cold and the block will break into pieces; too warm, it’ll melt. When ready, the butter block will be cold, but will still bend without breaking.
To prepare and roll the dough: Place the chilled butter block on a lightly floured work surface. Place the dough block on the lower half of the butter block. Fold the top half of the butter block over the dough, like a turnover, and press on the three open edges to “lock in” the dough.
Turn the dough 90º and roll it into a 10” x 16” rectangle. Fold the dough in thirds like a letter; this is called a letter fold. Turn it 90º, re-roll into a 10” x 16” rectangle, and perform another letter fold.
Wrap the dough securely in plastic wrap or a reusable wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Repeat step #7, rolling and folding twice.
Cover the dough and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours (overnight is fine) before using.
Use the dough to make your favorite flaky pastries. Or freeze it, well wrapped, for up to 1 month before using.
To make the maple cream filling: In a medium-sized saucepan, stir together 2 1/2 cups (568g) of the milk, the maple sugar, and the salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch, flour, and egg yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup (113g) milk.
Whisk some of the hot milk mixture with the egg yolk mixture to temper the yolks, then pour it back into the remaining simmering milk. Doing this through a strainer will help prevent lumps later. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the mixture thickens and the boiling bubbles reach the center of the saucepan.
Remove the mixture from the heat and strain it through a fine strainer into a bowl set in a larger bowl of ice water. Stir in the butter and vanilla extract.
Rub a piece of butter over the surface of the pastry cream, top with a piece of plastic wrap (make sure it touches the top of the cream so it doesn't develop a skin), then refrigerate until cool.
To make the napoleons: Preheat your oven to 375°F with a rack in the middle.
Portion off a generous one-third of the pastry dough; use the remainder for something else, or wrap and freeze for later.
Roll the pastry into a 1/8”-thick rectangle, about 11” x 16”. Place it into a parchment-lined half-sheet pan (12” x 18” baking sheet).
Place a piece of parchment on top of the pastry, then put a second half-sheet pan on top; weigh it down with a cast iron pan, bricks, or something else heavy and oven-proof. Counterintuitively, you don’t want the puff pastry to puff too much; it should remain fairly flat as it bakes, thus the weights.
Bake the pastry for 20 minutes, then remove the weights, top pan, and top piece of parchment. Continue baking until the pastry is a deep golden brown, 10 to 20 minutes more. Remove the pastry and cool it right on the pan. Trim the ragged edges before using.
To assemble the napoleons: Cut the pastry in half crosswise, so you have two pieces about 10” x 7 1/2”. Cut each half into five strips lengthwise, to make 2” (approximately) x 7 1/2” strips.
Place five pastry strips on a clean work surface. Pipe the chilled pastry cream onto the strips. Top with the remaining five pastry strips, and pipe the remaining pastry cream on top.
Garnish, if desired, with caramelized sugar drops: Melt the granulated sugar in a heavy saucepan until it’s starting to color. Carefully drop half-teaspoonfuls onto a piece of parchment; the sugar will continue to brown and at the end you’ll have a mixture of lighter and darker drops.
Serve the napoleons immediately, or chill briefly, lightly covered, before serving.
Storage information: Store any leftover napoleons, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to a day or so; the pastries are best enjoyed within 24 hours of their assembly. That said, it's possible to make and store both the pastry and pastry cream several days ahead, then assemble the napoleons shortly before serving.
Tips from our Bakers
If possible, choose a higher-fat European-style butter (83% butterfat is ideal) rather than standard grade AA butter. It'll make the pastry dough easier to work with and the final results even more tender.
Inverse puff pastry serves as the base for a rich, delicious pastry called Gâteau Saint-Honoré. Watch Gesine Bullock-Prado make this elegant dessert in Episode 9 of The Isolation Baking Show. And, heads up: you’ll top the gateau with pâte à choux; see our Easy Mini Puffs recipe to learn how to make pâte à choux.