Napoleons are made of layers of flaky puff pastry filled with rich pastry cream, cut into small rectangles, and topped with chocolate and vanilla icings. It may look complicated, but its two main components—puff pastry and pastry cream—are actually quite basic.
But there is one major difference with the way the puff pastry is treated for Napoleons as opposed to other pastries: It’s weighted down as it bakes. This prevents the pastry from rising too much—you want the layers that make up each slice to be flat and dense, not puffy and domed. The best way to do this is to place a second sheet pan over the pastry and then put a large ovenproof baking dish on top. This keeps it condensed, providing you with flat sheets to use when building your impressive, three-layer sweet.
PREPARING THE PASTRY
1. Roll the puff pastry into a 16 by 12-inch rectangle, about ¼ inch thick, between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Remove the top sheet of parchment and prick the pastry with a fork every 2 inches.
2. Replace the top sheet of parchment and slide the dough onto a rimmed baking sheet. Place a second rimmed baking sheet on top of the dough and weight the baking sheet down with a large ovenproof dish. Bake the pastry as directed, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking, and removing the weight, the top baking sheet, and top sheet of parchment for the final 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Cut the cooled pastry lengthwise in half with a serrated knife and trim the edges as necessary to make them straight. Cut each pastry half crosswise into 3 rectangles.
4. Cut each rectangle crosswise into 3 small rectangles (you will have a total of 18 rectangles). Each Napoleon will contain 3 rectangles of pastry stacked on top of one another, with pastry cream spread between the layers.
GLAZING AND ASSEMBLING
1. Spread the chocolate glaze evenly over the top of 6 rectangles of pastry and lay them on a wire rack set over a sheet of parchment paper (for easy cleanup). Drizzle a thin stream of the vanilla glaze crosswise over the chocolate glaze. Run the tip of a small knife or toothpick lengthwise through the icing to make a design. Let the icing set, about 20 minutes.
2. After layering the remaining rectangles of pastry with the pastry cream to make 6 individual portions, top each portion with a glazed pastry rectangle and serve.
Find this and other great recipes in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book.