What is a Napoleon?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A Napoleon is a pastry which is made with puff pastry dough and layers of pastry cream. Other fillings including jam, custard, and almond paste can be used, and there are also savory versions of the Napoleon; the defining feature of this food is the puff pastry. Napoleons are also known as custard slices, mille-feuilles, and mille foglie. This food is widely made through Europe, and it also appears in North America and other former British colonies.

Almonds, which are often used to make Napoleon.
Almonds, which are often used to make Napoleon.

Puff pastry is a special type of pastry which has been repeatedly folded and rolled out, creating a multitude of very thin layers of pastry. When the pastry is baked, these layers puff up, creating flaky layers of delicate pastry which are made rich and buttery by the high amount of butter in the puff pastry dough. One of the most well known uses of puff pastry is in the croissant, a classic French pastry, and numerous other sweet and savory pastries call for puff pastry.

Napoleons are usually filled with either custard or jam.
Napoleons are usually filled with either custard or jam.

It is believed that puff pastry may be Hungarian in origin, although the French have also laid claim to the credit for this unique pastry dough. It is certainly heavily used in French and Italian cuisine, with a myriad of fillings and toppings to create a wide assortment of dishes. The Napoleon is a very popular puff pastry dessert in many regions, thanks to the pairing of sweet, flaky pastry, tender pastry cream, and the flavored icings which are commonly drizzled on top.

Spinach and other dark leafy greens can be used to make savory Napoleon pastries.
Spinach and other dark leafy greens can be used to make savory Napoleon pastries.

Most Napoleons are made in big baking sheets, meaning that they are cut into slices like cakes. They are commonly decoratively iced, with many bakers creating icing patterns to make their Napoleons more decorative. Flavors can include vanilla, orange, almond, strawberry, or chocolate, among others. It is also possible to find versions with cheese, spinach, mushrooms, and other savory ingredients.

Some versions of the Napoleon incorporate mushrooms.
Some versions of the Napoleon incorporate mushrooms.

If you want to make a Napoleon at home, you can try your hand at making your own puff pastry, or you can cheat and get some at the store. In either case, roll out the puff pastry dough, cut it into equal segments, and toast it in the oven until it is golden brown. You should end up with three to four sections, ideally. Use one segment as the base for the Napoleon, spreading custard cream or jam onto it before applying another layer and repeating the process. When you reach the top layer, add icing, decorating if you like, and then chill the Napoleon before serving.

Croissants, popular breakfast items in the United States and Europe, are made from puff pastry.
Croissants, popular breakfast items in the United States and Europe, are made from puff pastry.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Misscoco

The possibilities for the filling in a Napoleon recipe are endless. One of my favorites is a Lemon Cream Napoleon. The cream filling is made one day and then stored in the fridge overnight.

Lemon zest and lemon juice in the cream filling are the low calorie ingredients. But listen to this - you need to add 8 whole eggs, two egg yolks, three cups of sugar and three sticks of butter!

Most people buy the fillo pastry. Prepare according to package directions. It's much easier than preparing your own.

When preparing the layers - use four layers of pastry and three of the filling. Prepare some blackberries and crush them - add berries and sprinkle some powdered sugar on top. This makes about eight servings. That amounts to quite a bit of sugar and butter per person - oh well!

It takes some time and patience to make this delicate dessert, but well worth it!

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