Friday, 20 August 2021

Not Tonight Josephine...


I love French Patisserie - I could spend hours looking at the display of cakes and pastries in shops like Patisserie Valerie. Rows of beautiful, identical tartlets, embellished with perfect raspberries, neat rows of piping. Whorls of cream, chocolate shapes, snowy dusting of icing sugar... Sweet pate sable, crisp choux, soft mousse fillings... 

My mouth is watering just thinking about these delights [and my waistline is getting larger] 

In the weird world of synchronicity, patisserie was in my thoughts for two different reasons on the same day recently. 

I was talking to a friend whose son was working reduced hours during lockdown, and got interested in the GBBO. He decided to master various different baking skills. She was telling me that when they visited recently, he had been making mille-feuilles.

Mille-feuilles means one thousand leaves and refers to the three layers of thin, light puff pastry, sandwiched together with cream and jam, and iced with a 'feather' pattern. People argue about the origins - but these have been around since the 16th century, and the name first appeared in an English cookbook, written by a Frenchman. The name is correctly pronounced meel-foy although many English supermarkets and bakeries just call this a cream slice or a custard slice.

Later that evening I was reading my library book. "B is for Burglar". The second of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone's mysteries. I collected the whole series- then got rid of them, but the library here has plenty so I thought I'd re-read them. She refers to her landlord, a retired pastry chef baking "Napoleons". I just could not remember what they were, so I looked them up. And discovered they are basically* the same as mille-feuilles.

Of course I then fell down a rabbit-hole of patisserie research. Why that name? It appears that nobody really knows. There are three theories

  1. That feathered design on the icing looks like a row of capital Ns
  2. This was Bonaparte's favourite cake
  3. It was first baked by an Italian chef in Naples,**who called it a Napoletano in honour of his city. The French named it Napolitain, and then it was Anglicised to Napoleon.
Personally I find none of these particularly convincing explanations! 
What do you think?
Whatever they are called, they are certainly delicious. 

* Napoleons have a layer of almond paste in them
**Further evidence for the Naples theory comes from the fact that although the ancient Romans didn’t have pastry as French chefs know it today, but they did have layered desserts made with thin cakes or sheets folded together with honey and cream or soft cheese. Called placenta [ugh!], this elegant dessert was the most distant forerunner of the modern napoleon. It also has ties to another nation’s most famous sweet export, Greek baklava, but unlike the other Mediterranean treat, the Roman version always involved a creamy filling instead of or alongside chopped nuts.


  1. I'm shopping today, think you've 'forced' me to buy the supermarket version!

    1. I take no responsibility for your waistline, Sue

  2. I've read & enjoyed a large (early) part of the Sue Grafton series - it's good to have such a feisty female lead character. I think they hold up surprisingly well with time, despite the lack of modern devices such as mobile phones etc, which is due to a good background storyline.
    Sara Paretsky's series featuring (Victoria) V I Warsholski is also good, especially the early books, if you haven't yet tried it.

    1. We both enjoyed Sara's VIW series. Bob ended up buying a pair of Saucony running shoes

  3. No matter what they are called, they are delicious!

  4. Well, I dont need breakkfast now! Mille feuilles are my favourites. I've never tried to make them but my Aunt used to, many years ago, and I can still remember how delicious they were.

    1. I am sure that during your time in France, you have sampled the delights of many patisseries!

  5. When we visited my Nana for Sunday tea, she would always buy the same cakes for each of us: Me & my siblings would have a sort of palmier sandwich with cream and jam, my dad always had an eccles cake and my mum a "custard slice" (I used to feel my dad got hard done by!) Mum would always turn it on its side to cut it carefully and elegantly into three pieces, so custard didn't squirt out everywhere!
    I do have to resist temptation when I go to buy bread - our boulangerie does rather nice cakes. Not very, very refined, but certainly tempting enough! If I buy a couple of fruit tarts, I feel I've taken the healthy (?!) option, despite the delicious creme pat that is part of the tart!

  6. This sounds terribly ungrateful, but I find Millefeuille really difficult to eat with either a fork or hands so I tend to avoid them! But I concede that they are tasty! My patisserie item of choice would be an Eclair BUT I prefer the English version with cream inside and a more set chocolate layer on top as when I have had them in France, they have chocolate cream inside and more of a sauce on top. I quite like a Religieuse in France or a Paris-Brest.
    Hmmm...just about to go past a Patisserie Valerie in Woodford ...

  7. Couldn't find a patisserie today but there is a rather lovely Sicilian Ice Cream Parlour which has just opened up locally and they also sell Cannoli so I'm now having one with my cuppa in your honour!!Have a good weekend Ang and Bob. x

  8. The tartlets I can leave, but that Millefeuilles pastry had me sighing with longing. I'm just as happy to call them Custard Slices. If I were to come to the UK I think I would have to have one. Haven't seen any in the "sticks" where we live! Maybe its time for a trip to the capital for something other than DH visiting the periodontist!


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